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Home News NDP says provincial government needs to trust local leaders in COVID fight

NDP says provincial government needs to trust local leaders in COVID fight

NDP says provincial government needs to trust local leaders in COVID fight
NDP leader Ryan Meili. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

NDP leader Ryan Meili said northern communities should have more independence when it comes to establishing COVID-19 policies, including more control over when people can enter or leave.

Meili made the comments following a trip through northern Saskatchewan that took him to Beauval, Île-à-la-Crosse, and La Loche, among other places.

“They wanted to make changes to help protect their communities and be able to be selective about who was coming in to avoid the transmission,” Meili said during a brief stop in Prince Albert following the trip. “They weren’t allowed to do that, but instead got locked in themselves when things did get bad.

“Later, when we had the outbreaks this summer and early fall, we had community leaders demanding the ability to enforce isolation and gathering limits and a government that just ignored them.”

Northern communities created checkpoints in 2020 to help stop the virus’ spread, but complaints started increasing when the provincial government took over control. In May 2020, FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron and other Indigenous leaders complained the province was preventing residents from travelling to get groceries.

At the time, the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency said residents should not travel for food or medical care when it was available within their community. However, some northern leaders, like Beauval Mayor Nick Daigneault, said residents were prevented from travelling, even when stores were closed.

Meili said northern residents have shown great initiative in stopping the spread, and the provincial government needs to work with them, not against them.

“I think we need to trust our local leaders more,” he said

“I was so impressed by the activism and the leadership that is shown. What we really need to do is be there behind them, resourcing them, (and) helping them.”

Finding ways to respectfully engage with members of the community will be one of the biggest talking points as the NDP prepares for a nomination meeting.

No date has been set to replace former Athabasca NDP MLA Buckley Belanger, who resigned to run federally for the Liberals. However, Meili said they’re vetting candidates in preparation for a by-election.

“We’re hoping to see a candidate come forward who’s connected to multiple communities, who has experience and is ready to come and be outspoken for northern issues,” he said. “It’s hard to get the ear of this government for anything (in the) north, and it’s going to take somebody who is really willing to stand up and fight.”