‘Let’s get to what’s causing crime:’ Meili focused on reducing poverty and addictions

NDP leader Ryan Meili. (Herald file photo)

In order to reduce crime, the provincial government needs to go “upstream” and address issues such as poverty and addictions—that’s one topic of interest for NDP leader Ryan Meili leading up to the election later this year.

The leader of the opposition was in Prince Albert and area on Monday for meetings with the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) and One Arrow and Muskoday First Nations, to name a few. Meili joined Prince Albert Northcote MLA Nicole Rancourt and Prince Albert Carlton NDP candidate Troy Parenteau for a news conference that morning.

“Let’s get to what’s causing crime. It’s not just about locking people up longer. It’s about making sure that we are addressing poverty, addictions, the things that lead to criminal behaviour. That’s the only way that we get that under control,” said Meili.

He referenced Child and Family Poverty in Saskatchewan: 2019 Report, which was released last week by the University of Regina. It states that approximately one in four children in the province are living in poverty.

“It’s making sure that people have opportunities, that there are jobs available, that people are able to succeed, that we’re addressing poverty. We’re the only province without a poverty reduction strategy,” said Meili.

“The poverty report is an indication of poverty across our whole province because if children are living poverty, so are there families,” added Rancourt, who’s also the NDP’s social services critic.

Prince Albert Northcote MLA Nicole Rancourt speaks to media in Prince Albert on Jan. 20, 2020. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

The Saskatchewan report was released in conjunction with the national report card by Campaign 2000. It listed a number of recommendations for government, including increasing the Canada Child Benefit and implementing a public pharmacare plan.

“People in the city and the province are seeing that people are struggling, and we have a lot of people who are accessing the food bank. They’re having a hard time keeping food on the shelves,” said Rancourt.

“The homeless shelters are also saying that they’re having a hard time meeting the needs that are out there.”

In terms of addictions, Meili said “People’s lives are being ruined by crystal meth.”

“It’s leading to more crime, it’s leading to more pressure on our emergency rooms. We absolutely need a strategy to address it, and that includes making sure that those drugs are off the streets, but also making sure that anyone who’s struggling with addiction or at risk is getting the support they need early on.”

Meili said the NDP is proposing separate emergency rooms for mental health and addictions to take the pressure off of emergency staff and give patients access to better, more immediate care.

“We have very little in terms of availability of addictions beds and longterm support. We also see these folks coming to emergency rooms that aren’t prepared to help them,” said Meili.

According to 2018-2019 data brought to light in May of 2019, on average, Saskatchewan residents are waiting 3.9 hours in the emergency room before seeing a doctor.

Last week, Prince Albert police held a news conference on the city’s 2019 crime statistics. Chief Jon Bergen said the drug’s prevalence is also putting more pressure on officers.

Police seized double the amount of methamphetamine in 2019 than 2018 at almost three kilograms. Their calls for service are the equivalent of a city with a population of 100,000 people.

Keeping Northcote seat, gaining Carlton seat ‘absolutely key to us’

Despite being “the underdog” heading into the provincial election, Meili said the NDP are “in it to win it.”

In order to do that, he said it’s essential that the party holds on to the Prince Albert Northcote seat and gains Carlton from the Saskatchewan Party’s Joe Hargrave.

“We need to change this government and have a government that’s going to make a real difference in people’s lives,” said Meili.

“People are starting to look for a change and we’re ready to provide that turn.”