Promises aimed at helping victims of crime while cracking down on offenders, as well as planned legislation aimed at improving road safety on Saskatchewan highways are two of the priorities of Scott Moe’s provincial government during this sitting of the legislature.
The session began with the Throne Speech, delivered by Lt. Gov. W. Thomas Molloy at the legislature Wednesday afternoon.
The speech, titled “Standing up for Saskatchewan,” outlines the government’s plans for the coming months.
The speech begins by stating that three years of low resource prices created “both economic and fiscal challenges” for the province, and says that while the economy and finances are showing signs of improvement, challenges remain, created by world economic conditions, US trade sanctions as “unfortunately, in some instances, by our own federal government.”
Much of the speech was used to tout the Sask. Party’s accomplishments during the 11 years it has been in power, including job and GDP growth, as well as an increase in population.
In terms of the economy, the speech reiterated Moe’s promise that the 2019-20 budget will be balanced. He also committed to expanding existing incentives for the oil and gas industry, and introduce new oil well drilling and production incentives.
A significant portion of the speech from the throne was focused on crime prevention and safety.
Moe touted the success of the Provincial Response Team, formed to help address rural crime. The group, consisting of RCMP and city police officers, as well as conservation officers and members of the Saskatchewan Highway Patrol, has responded to 83 911 calls, including finding a missing 82-year-old woman and responding to the Humboldt Broncos bus crash.
Wednesday, the government announced it is looking to amend the police act to allow rural municipalities and municipalities with populations of less than 500 people to join regional police services.
The government said it also plans to make it easier for property to be seized by authorities if it has been acquired due to, or used in, unlawful activities such as firearms offences or sexual offences involving children. The intention of the planned legislation, the speech said, was to make sure that crime doesn’t pay.
The government also expects to introduce legislation this session to better address the appropriate balance between the rights of rural landowners and members of the public when it comes to trespassing laws. The province has been conducting consultations to hear from residents about what they would like to see in a new trespassing law.
Two other pieces of legislation are designed to help victims of crime. The Saskatchewan Party, in the speech, said they intend to bring Clare’s Law to Saskatchewan, which would make it the first province in Canada with such legislation.
Clare’s law “will provide a framework for Saskatchewan police services to disclose relevant information about someone’s violent or abusive past to intimate partners who may be at risk,” the speech said.
Planned new legislation would also expand interpersonal violence leave to include sexual violence of any kind. That would give people ten days of unpaid leave to seek medical attention, access supports, get legal or law enforcement assistance or relocate if they or their children are victims of any type of sexual violence.
In terms of safety, the Throne Speech highlighted work underway between Saskatchewan and other western provinces to introduce changes to commercial driver training in an attempt to improve safety on Saskatchewan roads and ensuring consistent standards across provinces. Joe Hargrave, Minister responsible for SGI, had previously confirmed that the provinces were close to such an agreement.
The Saskatchewan Ministry of Highways is also implementing an intersection safety strategy to reduce the potential for collisions at highway intersections. The department has already conducted a preliminary review of more than 900 intersections and dedicated $700,000 this year to clearing sight lines and improving intersection safety. The government will also increase funding for safety initiatives such as turning lanes, lighting, guardrails and rumble strips in next year’s budget.
Little was said in the budget about any new major health care infrastructure projects. The upcoming completion of both the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital in Saskatoon and the Saskatchewan Hospital in North Battleford were highlighted, but nothing was included about new projects, such as a renewal or replacement of the Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert. The government is looking to contract out a study as to which option for Prince Albert is the most economical.
What the speech from the throne did include, though, were commitments to improved access for mental health services across the province and a continuation of the work started with the amalgamation of the health regions.
The province said that in this session, it plans to establish performance-based ambulance contracts with the goal of reducing rural response times and ensuring the closest ambulance available is dispatched. Ambulance reform was previously promised as part of the health system restructuring.
The government also committed to establishing three more accountable care units, in addition to the ones already in place, which bring together a variety of medical professionals to create a team-based approach to care, a project it said has reduced wait times for inpatient beds in Saskatoon and Regina.
Investment in individualized funding for home care to reduce wait lists and provide support will also be increased.
In terms of mental health, the province plans to have crisis teams pairing police officers with mental health professionals fully operational this winter in Moose Jaw, North Battleford, Yorkton and Prince Albert. Community recovery teams made up of 40 full-time employees offering services in eight communities for people with complex and persistent mental illness will also be up and running by the end of 2018. Next year, the government will also be launching a pilot program to engage youth in mental health promotion through schools in North Battleford, Sandy ay, Regina and Balgonie.
No new funding operational was promised for education beyond the $30-million increase already delivered this year. That increase followed a larger cut enacted by then-premier Brad Wall.
New curricula to help students improve their understanding and skills in financial literacy, as well as new opportunities in coding and robotics, will come to classrooms sometime in 2019.
The Saskatchewan government is looking at making a few more adjustments, including a possibility of increasing income assistance, helping people generate their own renewable power and expanding parental leave.
Under a section of the speech titled “supporting Saskatchewan People,” the government promised to amend the employment act to create a new 15-week leave that will enable family members of critically-ill adults to care for their family member in their time of need. Also promised is an extension of parental leave from 37 weeks to 63 weeks, as well as increasing maternity leave by one week from 12 to 13.
The Saskatchewan Party also plans to review the income assistance income exemption clients can receive before their benefits are adjusted as people on income assistance work to start a career.
“This means those accessing income assistance will be able to work in a job of their choice to gain valuable experience to help them transition into a self-sustaining career,” the speech said. Consultation on those proposed changes is planned to begin sometime during this legislative session.
In a section dedicated to climate change, the government decried the federal carbon tax, but also announced that during this legislative session, it plans to “renew programming” to help Saskatchewan residents to generate renewable power for their own use. The Sask. Party also plans to announce further actions to increase the use of renewable electricity generation in 2019.
Earlier this month, the Saskatchewan NDP announced a policy of its own it would enact if it were in power that would help residents finance energy efficiency improvements and green technologies.
The speech also included two promises to benefit serving military members, their families and veterans.
The government has vowed to offer free fishing and hunting licenses to all Canadian veterans and to give a cost exemption for a first-time registered vehicle inspection for vehicles brought in from other provinces by military personnel and their families.
The same section of the speech, titled “recognizing the past,” also included a promise to, during this legislative session, apologize to those impacted by the sixties scoop. Sharing circles to help shape that apology are underway, with one being held at the Senator Allen Bird Memorial Gym in Prince Albert Saturday.