Saskatchewan legislature spring session set to start Monday

Photo courtesy Joe Hargrave

The Saskatchewan Party and the Saskatchewan NDP look as if they’ll be doing battle over budgets and the economy when provincial politicians return to the legislature for the spring session starting Monday.

The first priority for both the government and the opposition is the annual budget, which is set for March 20. This time, both sides know a little bit better what to expect, as it’s been a full year since both the NDP and Sask. Party picked new leaders, and the legislature got a new Speaker and a new Lieutenant Governor.

“I think you get a better sense of what each of our strengths and weaknesses is in the house,” NDP leader Ryan Meili said about himself and Premier Scott Moe during a visit to Prince Albert Thursday.

“(The NDP) has had a chance to work together and see how Scott Moe is operating and to further develop our plans. There has been a lot of building in terms of patterns that we’ve seen from this government and its inability to answer pretty clear questions. As we are able to piece those things together, we get a better sense of who we’re dealing with.”

Meili will be watching closely on March 20. The Sask. Party has said that’s when it plans to bring forward a balanced budget, the province’s first in a few years. According to Prince Albert Carleton MLA and Minister Responsible for SGI Joe Hargrave, that remains the plan.

“We’ve been working hard to get three. It is our plan to deliver a balanced budget,” he said.

“That’s what we committed to and we’re optimistic that that’s what is going to show on March 20.”

Meili, though, isn’t as confident that’s what the province has in store.

“Every time this government says we’ve got to balance, we see far higher expenditures and far lower revenues by the end of the year. We see operating debt go up and we see things like cities having to raise their taxes because they’ve had costs downloaded to them,” he said.

“We’re really going to be pointing out all the ways in which they’re really off balance in terms of their financial management as well as with the priorities of Saskatchewan people.”

The NDP will also be focusing on ethics, Meili said. He pointed to the ongoing SNC Lavalin scandal the federal Liberal government is facing, stressing the importance of ethical politics.

“We’re going to be looking hard at some of the questions around ethical decisions …. All of the ways in which the corporate donors to the Sask. Party keep being given special deals and how that needs to change.”

But Meili is also committing to do more than just criticize. With a provincial election coming up in 2020, he wants to try to tell Saskatchewan how he would govern should they choose him as the next premier.

“We think Saskatchewan can and should be the best place in Canada to be a kid, to raise a kid. But right now, when you look at what’s going on with kids using the food bank, so many kids in poverty, so many kids in care and deep cuts to our classrooms, we’re not there,” he said.

“If we want a positive future for this province, let’s do the upstream work. Let’s make life good for kids today so they’ve got a strong future tomorrow. You’re going to see more and more of our ideas of what’s going to be in the platform coming out We’re not going to wait until the last minute, a couple of weeks before the election, we’re going to start telling that story of what kind of Saskatchewan we want to build starting now.”

The first part of that platform, the Renew Saskatchewan plan Meili says will help residents transition to renewable energy, has already been released.

“We’ve already started talking about some of that,” he said.

Hargrave also spoke about what he is out to do as a minister, and what sets his party apart from the opposition across the aisle.

His first priority, he said, is the mandatory truck driver training regulations that have been proposed. His other priority is the budget.

“We’re reviewing truck driver training and all kinds of training as far as SGI for all the different classes of licenses,” he said.

“It’s time to look to make sure we’re e=updating even the class five, which is just a regular driver’s license. We’re going to continue to look at that.”

Hargrave said he would also continue his push to rid the province’s roads of distracted and impaired driving.

“The two leading causes of death and accidents on the highway are those two things. We want to make sure we’re constantly looking at … ways to improve  and minimize the number of deaths and injuries that come from both impaired driving and distracted driving.”

As for his party, Hargrave said they will set themselves apart by continuing to stand up for Saskatchewan.

 “Our biggest thing is we’re showing how we’re going to stand up for the people of Saskatchewan. There ‘s going to be lots and lots of things and lots and lots of comments, but we want to make sure that Saskatchewan is a priority for the federal government. We think that we need to hear our voice, the people of Saskatchewan’s voice, in the nation of Canada. That’s our priority,” he said.

“That sets us apart from the other guys who are not standing up for Saskatchewan. We’re going to continue to speak loudly and defend Saskatchewan and listen to the people of Saskatchewan and do our work that the people want us to do.”