Meili defends promises, addresses local concerns

(Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald) Prince Albert NDP candidate Troy Parenteau speaks Tuesday as (left to right) local resident Louis Fauchoux, Mahli Brindamour, her husband NDP leader Ryan Meili and local NDP candidate Nicole Rancourt look on. Meili arrived to the press conference, held across the street from the campaign office of Saskatchewan Party candidate Joe Hargrave, inside of the former STC bus.

Ryan Meili addressed questions relating to his own party’s platform as well as his assertions about the true intentions of Scott Moe while speaking in Prince Albert Tuesday.

Taking questions from reporters, Meili also spoke about topics important to Prince Albert residents such as crime prevention and a new French school.

The NDP, throughout this year’s election campaign, has painted the Saskatchewan Party’s agenda as one of cuts and privatization.

Moe has denied this, instead emphasizing his own party’s plans for increased supports in some areas.

Meili said he believes the Saskatchewan Party did it once and will do it again — promise one thing and then turn around to do the exact opposite.

“This thing tells you the whole story,” he said, gesturing to the decommissioned STC bus parked behind his podium.

“In 2016, the Saskatchewan Party said STC was safe — a year later it was gone. They promised us no cuts — a year later we had $54 million cut out of our classrooms, $25 million out of our universities. This is the pattern with Scott Moe.”

Meili said that during the most recent budget, then-Finance Minister Donna Harpauer used the word “austerity” and that Moe has since refused to rule out cuts.

“He is saying one thing now, he will say another thing entirely if he’s re-elected,” Meili said. “That’s how the Saskatchewan Party operates.”

He also rejected Scott Moe’s criticism that the NDP has a $4-billion hole in their budget. Moe said the NDP’s promises aren’t real as they aren’t costed.

“They are absolutely costed in our platform,” Meili said.

With the two parties trading barbs, the Regina Leader-Post has attempted to ask third-party observers to suss out the truth in the two platforms.

The truth, they’ve said, is muddy.

The allegation about the $4 billion hole, the Saskatchewan Party says, comes from the lack of inclusion of infrastructure projects and the undervaluing of four more promises.

“Scott Moe’s making up his own numbers,” he said. “Those are not legitimate. We’ve costed our platform, and we’re fully confident in the numbers we’ve put forward.”

Both parties fired off multiple statements to the Leader-Post purporting to fact check the competing claims and counterclaims. Haizhen Mou, professor and graduate chair at the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, examined them and concluded that the truth is “murky.”

“I think both sides are trying to use the difference to their own benefit,” she said.

Mou said the NDP should be clearer by including its capital projects on its fiscal tables, for the sake of transparency. But the party is justified leaving them out of the bottom line for its annual deficits.

The NDP said those promises would be funded under existing capital plans. But the Sask. Party came back saying that won’t work, since about $779 million of the $1.3 billion pot is already allocated. It said Meili would have to close planned schools before they even open.

NDP press secretary Sally Housser the Sask. Party has “high-balled” the cost of her party’s projects. Even so, she argued there’s almost exactly enough wiggle room to pay for them.

Meili responds to local concerns

Meili was also quizzed on how his party would respond to local issues — such as rising incidents of violent crime — during his most recent Prince Albert visit.

“We need to be looking at the root causes of crime,” the NDP leader said.

“We know that addiction and mental health challenges are driving crime. We know we’ve got high rates of poverty in Saskatchewan and that we’re the only province without a poverty reduction strategy. We have not seen serious action when it comes to crystal meth and opioids. We are going to work with law enforcement to ensure they have the resources necessary. But also with community services and communities themselves to make sure people have what they need to get away from drugs, to get support and to stay away from crime.”

Meili also addressed a pair of other local priorities previously put to Scott Moe earlier in the week.

When it comes to shelter beds, Meili said an NDP government would “absolutely” support more beds for the homeless open for longer hours, as requested by the YWCA.

This year’s emergency shelter received one-time funding to operate for 20 beds for 18 hours per day, as opposed to ten beds for 12. Historically, the province has only funded four male shelter beds in the city.

It was a concern addressed at city council last week, and one Moe said he would be open to discussing.

Meili, on the other hand, said that ‘one of the things that disappointed (him) the most during the pandemic response was the unwillingness of the Saskatchewan Party to engage with supporting underserved communities, to engage with frontline organizations with housing and food security.

“This province was the least willing to support the most vulnerable at a key time,” he said.

Moe, though, said the province has an emergency cold weather program and said the province has been working to give homeless people with COVID-19 symptoms a safe place to self-isolate and recover.

SCFPA looking for stronger commitment on new school’s future

Meili also said a new French school for Prince Albert is “an important investment” for the francophone community and for Prince Albert at large.

Moe also agreed to continue existing discussions around a new French-language school in Prince Albert. He said he has family who have attended Ecole Valois, the current school, and is “intimately aware” of the challenges.

“We would continue where we left off with the conversations we have had on the three French schools (in Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert),” Moe said.

On Thursday, the Société Canadienne-Française de Prince Albert (SCFPA) issued a press release expressing disappointment that no local candidates had spoken about their position on the future of the former Rivier Academy, which the local francophone community wants to convert into a school and community centre.

While they acknowledged the leaders’ commitments to a new school in the city, a spokesperson clarified that they still have no answers as to whether that new school will be a repurposed Rivier or a new build entirely. The local francophone community is hoping the province agrees that what used to be Rivier academy should be their new home.

The last update provided by the government to the Herald, issued in August, said a decision was still pending. It’s likely not to come forward until after the Oct. 26 election.

“All of the candidates should be aware of the intense work put in by the francophone community over the past 18 months to purchase and convert one of the most important facilities in the city,” said society president Estelle Hjertaas in a press release.

“Yet our local political representatives … have not presented their vision for this institution in re-elected. This investment will create many good-paying jobs, tremendously improve the region’s only francophone school and create profit-sharing opportunities,” she continued.

“We are near the end of an election campaign and this would be an opportune time for candidates from all parties to express their view on this important local project.”

–      With leader-post files from Arthur White-Crummey