Debate on Saskatchewan pronoun policy bill set to last 40 hours

Kayle Neis/Regina Leader-Post. Minister of Education Jeremy Cockrill answers questions from the press after Question Period at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building on Thursday, October 12, 2023 in Regina.

Alec Salloum, Regina Leader-Post

The schedule is set for passing Saskatchewan’s school pronoun bill — with double the amount of time to debate and discuss, but substantially fewer calendar days for people to sit with, read and mull the implications of the provincial government’s use of the notwithstanding clause.

On Monday, MLAs will reconvene at the Legislative Building with the possibility for 40 hours of debate on Bill 137, a move that could result in politicians sitting long hours starting next week ahead of the Throne Speech on Oct. 25.

Nicole Sarauer, deputy leader of the Opposition, spoke for more than two hours Thursday to stall a vote on the motion that would have had MLAs sitting on Friday and Saturday of this week, while also sitting Monday to Sunday this coming week to get through debate on the bill. The decision to run out the clock on Thursday as well as the offer to double debate time are both pieces of political gamesmanship from the government and the Opposition.

“This government is seeking to limit that debate and limit that input. And I can’t see a reason why other than for political purposes. So we are seeing a government willing to call a special sitting in an unprecedented way — thanks for making history, guys,” said Sarauer.

She made the point that through normal channels of introducing a bill there would be weeks and months for people to scrutinize the Parents’ Bill of Rights, for experts to weigh in and for sober second thought to occur in the crafting of policy.

“We are always happy for more question time. We are always happy for debate time. We take our role here in the opposition very seriously,” said Sarauer. As such, she felt the current plan was insufficient.

To call that extra time, extra scrutiny, is an absolute joke. And it’s a farce and it’s a slap in the face to democracy in this province.”

Minister of Education Jeremy Cockrill said the public has had a month and a half to mull over the bill, though it was only publicly presented on Thursday.

“This legislation reflects the policy that was made public in August,” Cockrill said on Wednesday, adding that the timeframe government offered was an “incredible number of additional hours” for the bill to be debated.

In her marathon speech, Sarauer touched on a few procedural points proposed by the government.

“Introduction of guests won’t be happening anymore. Petitions won’t be happening anymore during the special sitting once these rules pass. I mean talk about limiting public input into the works of this Legislature,” said Sarauer during Thursday’s proceedings.

Matt Love, education critic, said the Opposition wasn’t going show its hand with respect to how it will handle the 40 hours of debate which, among other things, will not allow for the introduction of guests to the legislative assembly.

“I coached high school football for 17 years we don’t usually tell the other team what our strategy is going to be,” said Love.

“What we’re doing is we’re saying very clearly we will not allow them to shred the rules so they can trample on the Charter rights of children.”

Love said the House Leader, Jeremy Harrison, is giving “a bit of a show” to make it appear “they’re giving ample time for the democratic process to take place. That’s not happening here.”

Instead, Love argued, what would normally have taken weeks and months will be condescend to 40 hours over a few days next week.

Sarauer ended her speech on Thursday by saying “I know we can’t stop these rules from passing eventually. I understand that. But we felt it was important to stand up for democracy, to stand up for the public’s right to participate in their democracy.”