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Home News Local MLAs say throne speech will put Saskatchewan in a good position post-pandemic, reject NDP claims government is deflecting from fourth wave failures

Local MLAs say throne speech will put Saskatchewan in a good position post-pandemic, reject NDP claims government is deflecting from fourth wave failures

Local MLAs say throne speech will put Saskatchewan in a good position post-pandemic, reject NDP claims government is deflecting from fourth wave failures
The Saskatchewan Legislature. -- Herald File Photo

Prince Albert’s two Sask. Party MLAs touted the provincial government’s throne speech as an ambitious set of priorities that would help prepare Saskatchewan for post-pandemic life.

They also took issue with provincial NDP leader Ryan Meili, who said on Wednesday the government was deflecting from its failure to control the fourth COVID-19 wave.

“Yes, we’re still dealing with the pandemic, but we have to be able to deal with more than just the pandemic,” Prince Albert Carlton MLA Joe Hargrave said during an interview Friday morning. “We’re the government. We have to look further. We have to look down the road.”

Meili said the throne speech failed to outline how the government plans to reduce the backlog of surgeries that’s built up due to cancellations and suspensions.

Meili accused the government of having its head in the sand, and said the premier has no plans to reduce the strain on the intensive care units around the province, and failed to come up with any new supports for families and small businesses failing to make ends meet.

“The Premier is trying to change the channel on his failures,” Meili said in a media release. “We all want to focus on the future – that starts with getting the present right.”

Hargrave said the throne speech outline a long list of priorities the government has that go beyond COVID-19, something the NDP doesn’t have, he argued. He’s confident it will help Saskatchewan’s economy hit the ground running when COVID-19 is under control.

“Yes, we have to deal with the pandemic. Yes, that’s crucial. That’s an extremely important thing that’s not taking a back seat to anything, but we still need that (economic) advancement,” Hargrave said.

Prince Albert Northcote MLA Alana Ross said the province has made great strides recently in reducing the number of new COVID cases, which will translate into fewer patients in the ICU.

Like Hargrave, she said the province needs to prepare for a time when COVID-19 is under control, and that means focusing on reducing crime, improving economic opportunities, and outlining plans for further cooperation with Indigenous leaders.

“We’ve had a strong year economically, and we’re looking at a brighter future,” said Ross, who moved the throne speech during Wednesday’s session in the Legislature. “We do need some programs, and we’re always going to need to make sure the programs are available for those who really need them. But in order to do that, we need to be strong economically.”

The speech from the throne outlined an province’s new plan to reduce crime, attract businesses, and work with Indigenous leaders.

The list includes a number of measures designed to address rising crime rates, especially in rural areas, with the creation of three new policing units: the Provincial Protective Services Unit, the Saskatchewan Trafficking Response Team (STRT) and the Warrant Enforcement and Suppression Team (WEST)

The government plans to add 60 new police positions and 11 new civilian positions as part of a Provincial Protective Services Unit. The unit will also draw on assistance from more than 325 Conservation Officers, Highway Patrol Officers, Provincial Capital Commission community safety officers, Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods (SCAN) officers and deputy sheriffs working in the provincial court system.

The Saskatchewan Trafficking Response Team (STRT) will target drug dealing and human trafficking. The unit will include 30 RCMP officers, six municipal police officers, and two criminal analysts.

The Warrant Enforcement and Suppression Team is designed to target dangerous offenders with outstanding warrants. WEST will have an eight person staff made up of both RCMP and municipal police officers.

The government also plans to give courts the option to order GPS electronic monitoring for repeat offenders who have committed serious crimes.

When asked if the province needed to do more to prevent crime instead of react to it, Hargrave said he’s confident the new teams will help with both.

““It’s not just adding police officers to walk the beat. They’re strategic police officer (positions),” Hargrave said. “You don’t want to be reactive, you want to be proactive, and we’re being proactive.”

Hargrave added that his constituents in Prince Albert want more police officers, not fewer.

“A lot of the cities, a lot of the towns that have municipal police forces, like ours in Prince Albert, they’ve been asking for additional police support there for some time, so I think it’s a good thing on both ends,” he said. “Yes, it will help on the reactive side, but I believe strongly it will also help on the proactive side.”

Ross echoed those comments, saying the new officers would help control the drug trade, which would reduce addictions and poverty as well as crime.

When asked if the new resources would be enough to meet the province’s ambitious goals, Ross said they would have to wait and see how effective the new units and staffing levels prove to be.

“I think it’s going to help significantly, but it’s like any other program—we have to get it started,” she said. “The goal is to try and be more proactive and stop the drugs and everything from coming into our city. I think it’s an ambitious plan, and I believe it’s going to help the province.”

Ross also stressed that the province still plans to increase addictions treatment and detox services over the next three years. She also said one of the three new community wellness buses the government proposed will be coming to Prince Albert.

The economy was a prominent figure in Wednesday’s speech, with the government trumpeting recent announcements, like a new $250-million OSB mill in Prince Albert that will create more than 700 jobs.

Hargrave and Ross both said the government needs to make sure Saskatchewan is an attractive place to do business with minimal red tape.

“The government is there to make sure they have the tools .. and let most businesses go out and do their business,” Hargrave said. “We’re getting out of our way and letting them do that.”

“The province is supporting and making it easy for these industries to be able to do business in our province and to want to stay in our province,” Ross added. “That’s a very important part of what we do.”

On Truth and Reconciliation, Hargrave hinted that more child-care agreements similar to the one signed with Cowessess First Nation may be on the table. However, he said it’s too soon to make any promises.