NDP: Increased spending on social services nothing to brag about

Trent Wotherspoon (left) and Ryan Meili (right) share a laugh during the Northcote Gala on Wednesday in Prince Albert. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

The government should be doing more to improve education and economic development, instead of boasting how much it is spending on health and social services, NDP leader Ryan Meili says.

Meili and other members of the provincial NDP caucus were in Prince Albert Friday to attend meetings and to honour former MLA Don Cody at an evening gala. Meili stopped by the Daily Herald office to give his take on some of the Sask. Party’s budget initiatives.

He took issue with the increased spending on health and social services touted in the provincial budget.

“If somebody is thinking they’re not investing in getting people employment and training in the north, but it’s ok because they’re putting money into social services – that’s a very good description of where this budget is going glaringly wrong,” he said.

“One of the things that really struck me was last year, and again this year, they boasted that it was the highest budget for social services ever. That sounds like they’re being generous to people in poverty; what they don’t point out is that the rates have been frozen for years. Nobody is getting any more money.”

Meili argued the funding increase, instead, is to cover an increase in the number of people accessing social services. That means, in his eyes, that the people of the province are getting poorer.

“That’s not a way to run your province,” Meili said. “That’s not something to boast about. It’s an embarrassment.”

Instead, the NDP leader said, the province should be investing to make sure those who are now living in poverty get a chance to get out, and those not living in poverty have the education, training and opportunities they need to avoid resorting to social services.

The Cumberland MLA and NDP critic for northern Saskatchewan, Doyle Vermette, agreed.

“It’s not like those families who were on assistance are getting an increase in their allocations to pay rent or pay utilities or buy nutritious food,” he said.

“I can’t see how the government wants to be proud of spending more dollars on social services when it’s not going to improve clients already on it. It’s because we’re getting more people going on social services because they’re EI is running out or there are no jobs for them. This is not something I would want to think is something I’d be proud of.”