NDP leader Ryan Meili made a stop in La Ronge on October 11 during his northern tour. During this stop, he made an announcement about his plans for the north.
“I’m here to support northern Saskatchewan and to let you know that you have a choice,” Meili said.
“We have a choice this election between a government that ignores the north and one that will invest in northern people.”
The NDP say they plan to invest in mental health care. The Saskatchewan Party promises to “(grow) Indigenous participation in the economy through the growth of Saskatchewan’s natural resource industries and labour market development.”
Meili says the Saskatchewan Party doesn’t care about northern Saskatchewan.
“Scott Moe has shown us how much he cares about northern Saskatchewan, how much wealth that comes out of this part of the province,” Meili said. “And yet, so little of it stays here. So many people unemployed, having a hard time making ends meet. He has disrespected trappers and traditional land users. He has failed to help out of work miners, he was part of closing down NORTEP. He was the minister of advanced education when that decision was made.”
NORTEP, or Northern Teacher Entrance Program, which also offered Northern Professional Access Program, was a program that offered university classes with small classrooms in La Ronge. A person on the north could get a bachelor’s degree while staying in their community, or close to their community, without attaining large student debts. This program was well-liked by students as many people who live in far northern, small communities tend to be shocked of the pace of life in a city compared to their much smaller communities. This program was cut in 2017.
“One story really, really stands out.” Meili said. “There was a young man, you all know Tristen (Durocher). He walked all the way from here down to Regina and when he was in Regina, he went on a fast for 44 days. One day for each of the Sask Party MLAs that voted against Doyle Vermette’s bill for a suicide prevention strategy. And what did Scott Moe do, did he go meet with him? No, he sent two of his ministers across the street to tell that young man to get off the lawn. That’s how much he respect he showed to the family who lost loved ones, to those who are grieving today and those who are struggling with hopelessness in their own lives.”
Tristen Durocher had walked from La Ronge to Regina in July to protest the Sask Party that had unanimously voted down a northern suicide prevention bill. The walk and 44-day fast was also ceremonial as it began in the graveyard of the LLRIB. The spirits were invited to join the walk, hence the name Walking with Our Angels. As stated by Meili, Moe did not meet with Durocher. However, FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron met with Durocher and subsequently put forward a plan to address suicide prevention in Saskatchewan.
Moe also addressed Durocher during the leaders’ debate.
“There are two ministers in the Government of Saskatchewan that did meet with Mr. Durocher. And I think it’s important for us all to realize that everyone agrees with what Mr. Durocher is advocating for. He’s advocating for the investment and the recognition of something that we all need to do and we all need to work collaboratively on, in reducing indigenous suicides and reducing suicides in northern Saskatchewan.”
Moe spoke of the Saskatchewan Party’s “Pillars for Life” strategy for dealing with suicide prevention. He said, “The Pillars for Life strategy, you say it is not endorsed by experts, but it’s endorsed by the Canadian Mental Health Association. It does lay out the strategy, the efforts, the action that needs to take place in the months and in the years ahead. One of those actions I mentioned already was a letter of commitment with the FSIN (Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations) and the federal government, to work specifically on indigenous and northern suicides in this province. This is a plan. This is a strategy for the provinces, a strategy that needs to be invested in in the years ahead.”
The moderator asked if Moe regretted not meeting with Durocher and taking him to court.
Moe responded, “Our ministers met with Mr. Durocher. They had a fulsome conversation with Mr. Durocher, and this is a government that takes suicides, it takes mental health takes addictions, very, very seriously.”
Moe pointed to a $30 million increase in the most recent budget for mental health, building on a $30 million increase the year before.
“We’re making sure that that investment is coming with real outcomes for our communities and for our family members,” but added, “It is going to take some time.”
Moe also said the ministered “gleaned some good advice from Mr. Durocher.”
Meili said Pillars for Life was “described by experts as so vague as to be meaningless.”
In La Ronge, Meili promised to invest in education, so every kid gets a great start, and in healthcare, in particular in mental health with a crystal meth and opioid strategy and a commitment to a legislated suicide prevention strategy to save lives across Saskatchewan and especially here in the north.”
The Sask Party’s plans for healthcare include covering the cost of insulin pumps for anyone living with diabetes under the age of 18, reducing senior’s ambulance charges by 50 percent, hiring 300 more continuing care aides to work in long-term facilities and home care, and expanding individualized funding for children under 12 diagnosed with autism. There is nothing noted in particular for northern residents or for mental health.
Speaking in Prince Albert over the weekend, Moe criticized Meili’s plan and said there is no plan to pay for it. He also touted his own party’s record on increasing supports and funding for mental health and addictions programming. He acknowledged more needs to be done but said it remains a priority for his party.
Meili, meanwhile, promised to keep jobs in the province.
“We’ll be working for more local jobs.” Said Meili. “So that northern workers, when there’s roads being fixed, when there’s new buildings being built, long-term care centre being built, it puts northern workers on the job.”
Sask Party does mention increasing labour and jobs, although the only mention for Indigenous people is to grow Indigenous participation in the economy through the growth of Saskatchewan’s natural resources. Existing government tenders score bids with a point system, and additional points, in some cases, are awarded for companies involving local labour.
“We’ll work hard to close the gap working with federal government, First Nations and Métis governments to close the gap in employment, in justice, in education, and in health,” Meili said.
“We will bring back a ministry of northern affairs. We know that right now in Regina the voices of northern people are not being heard under the Sask Party, they’ve been ignored. With a new government, with Doyle Vermette and Buckley Belanger in government, northern MLAs who know and care about their communities and stand up for their communities and a ministry of northern affairs will see a different road for northern Saskatchewan. Scott Moe, he’s going to tell you that all this can’t be done… because he’s satisfied with the way things are.”
Sask Party’s plan can be found online at saskparty.com and NDP’s plan can be found at saskndp.ca to see more of the party’s plans for the province and to be better informed on both platforms.
–With Daily Herald files from Peter Lozinski and Estevan Mercury files from Local Journalism Initiative reporter Brian Zinchuk