Opposition NDP leader Ryan Meili focused on the province’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic as he addressed the Municipalities of Saskatchewan’s annual conference on Tuesday. He hearkened back to his comments from November to respond to Moe’s assertions from the day prior.
In Moe’s address on Monday he said that further restrictions were not necessary at this time and will not end the pandemic. The premier also implied that those asking for further restrictions had the ability to work from home.
“We called for a three week circuit breaker to protect people’s health against the coming surge of COVD-19 and avoid much longer and more damaging lockdowns,” Meili said.
“The Premier chose not to act decisively then and now not even three months later over 10 times that many people have died with 200 deaths in the last six weeks alone,” Meili said.
“Those half measures, while they have lingered on and on and on, and all of this were done in the name of protecting business. As though the virus spreading widely through our communities was somehow good for the bottom line. Pitting lives against livelihoods, that are not the choice, it’s the pandemic that is bad for business,” Meili said.
Meili said that not getting the COVID-19 pandemic under control has been more harmful to the economy.
“It’s the worst of both worlds, which is why so many of those that have been able to stay afloat have had to let most of their staff go. It’s true times are tough all over,” he said.
The Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL) also addressed Moe’s comments about workers.
“The Premier clearly isn’t listening to those on the front lines- the nurses, care aides, and health care workers who are leaving their homes every day to care for those who are sick with the virus,” president Lori Johb said in the release.
“They are the ones who are calling for increased public health measures, because they are the ones are dealing firsthand with the Premier’s lack of action that has led to us having some of the highest rates of COVID-19 in the country. It really shows just how little respect the Sask. Party has for workers in this province.”
Johb added that if the government were serious about stopping the spread of COVID-19, they would enact stricter restrictions while making sure that those who are unable to work have access to appropriate benefits, along with ensuring paid sick leave for all workers. “The premier needs to stop trying to pit one group of workers against another. This isn’t about those who are working from home and those who aren’t- it’s about taking action to make sure all workers are kept safe. Instead of trying to divide us, he should be leading the effort to get the virus under control,” Johb added.
Meili explained earlier in his remarks that in the early days of the vaccine rollout he was able to assist in his other role in life as a physician. He shared stories of hope that came from that time as the vaccine delivery began in a senior’s home.
“The hope of being able to connect with each other and their grandkids and their loved ones once again and when that immunization plan gets swinging again when those vaccines are here I can’t wait to get out and deliver more shots,” he said.
He agreed with Moe that the vaccine is the best hope to get out of the pandemic.
“But in the meantime we can’t forget that just because we can see the finish line that doesn’t mean we can stop running,”
Meili said that the province’s run hasn’t been excellent as of late.
“In the last two weeks Saskatchewan has had more new cases, more deaths per capita than any place in Canada, and that touches us all. I want to take this moment to express my deep condolences and regrets to anyone who has lost someone close to them due to COVID-19 and I am sure everyone here has had some connection to those losses that’s just Saskatchewan we are all connected. And the frustrating thing is we didn’t have to lose this many people, it didn’t have to be this way.”
Meili noted that despite positive reports by the government, the unemployment rate is the highest in over 40 years. Throughout his address he used the theme of the conference ‘Stronger Together’ to make points about many issues.
“Coming out of this time of separation stronger means recognizing that it is more than COVID-19 that has been keeping us apart. So many of the people that are struggling the most today weren’t doing all that great before the pandemic either. Municipal leaders have been leaders in raising those issues and speaking up,” he said.
He pointed to numbers related opioids and crystal meth with record numbers for overdoses in 2020 and a bad start to 2021. He saluted Tristen Durocher participating in the conference as an advocate for suicide prevention in the province.
“Because the reality is too many people, especially young people, First Nations and Metis people, too many northerners are still facing a kind of desperation that can lead them to believe their only option is to take their own lives,” Meili said.
Meili explained that one way to do be stronger is to invest in mental health, addictions treatment, harm reduction, suicide prevention, housing and addressing poverty rates and helping the most vulnerable including seniors.
“For far too long have been shuttered away in overcrowded, understaffed, unsafe care homes. For years we have known that long term care in Saskatchewan is broken. It shouldn’t take 43 seniors dying at Extendicare Parkside and dozens more in facilities across the province to realize we need to change. But if after this we don’t change than shamed is too kind of a word. We are stronger together,” Meili said.
One way not to solve the problems was through austerity according to Meili. He said that the idea that cuts will help the province bounce back is counterfactual.
“The opposite is true, austerity hurts people in the short term and it slows down our long-term economic recovery, it’s the wrong road to go down. The right road is to invest in people and that includes doing everything we can to make sure everyone can get a job, a good job that pays a fair wage,” Meili said.
Meili’s talk had much lower attendance than Moe’s from the day prior. While Moe attracted a couple hundred, Meili ended up speaking to only a few dozen.