Saskatchewan·On The Ledge

Quickly passed vaping laws a rare example of elusive bipartisan support in Sask.

This week, a bill passed a day after introduction, with support from both the provincial government and the Opposition — a fairly rare event in Saskatchewan's legislative assembly, says provincial affairs reporter Adam Hunter.

MLAs' unanimous support for vaping law this week an exception to usual process

Premier Scott Moe, right, NDP Leader Ryan Meili, left, and their caucus colleagues often have trouble finding common ground, even when they agree an issue needs to be dealt with. (The Canadian Press)

This week something happened inside Saskatchewan's legislative assembly that is fairly rare — a bill passed a day after introduction.

In this case, it was the government's changes to the Tobacco Control Act, which regulate vaping in the province.

Saskatchewan was one of two provinces without vaping regulations. The need for some rules around where sales can happen, who can purchase vaping products, how they can be advertised, and where they can be consumed were accepted as needed changes by MLAs from both the governing Saskatchewan Party and the Opposition NDP.

After the legislation was introduced on Tuesday, anti-vaping student advocates from Youth4Change held signs behind Health Minister Jim Reiter that said "Thank You MLAs."

The legislation made it through multiple stages on Wednesday and was unanimously passed without any pushback from the Opposition.

Health advocates had to make back-to-back trips to question period — one to hear the legislation introduced, and another 24 hours later to hear the bill pass.

In short, the bill skipped the debate stage (second reading) and committee review, and went directly to passage. After receiving royal assent, the new regulations could be in place before the spring of 2020, due to the expedited passage.

But seeing a bill speed through the legislative process in this way is a rarity in Saskatchewan.

It only happens about once a year. Here are the recent examples of bills passing through all stages upon introduction, or having leave granted to pass through several stages at once:

  • Bill 146 — The Vital Statistics Amendment Act, 2018.
  • Bill 166 — The Election Amendment Act, 2018.
  • Bill 172 — The Saskatchewan Employment (Paid Interpersonal Violence and Sexual Violence Leave) Amendment Act, 2019.

Regulating vaping, giving victims of interpersonal violence paid leave, and letting individuals remove their gender from their birth certificate are the lone examples of expedited bipartisan support in legislation. 

Parties agree on provincial challenges

Now, not all bills or amendments should be blindly passed. Debate, review and examination are important. Drafting of bills and amendments can be complex and issues can be tackled without legislative changes.

But to make changes, MLAs play a role in representing the needs of their constituents, regardless of party affiliation.

Take a step back and look at the issues raised in the legislature this week and you will actually see much more agreement than disagreement between the Saskatchewan Party and NDP. 

The rub is how to tackle these agreed-upon challenges.

Take ER overcrowding. The NDP is calling it a serious issue that needs to be addressed. The minister of health, Jim Reiter, agreed. The topic was already an almost daily debate topic before the death of a patient in a Saskatoon ER Thursday.

NDP MLA for Cumberland Doyle Vermette introduced a private member's bill on Tuesday asking for a provincial suicide strategy. Again, Reiter agreed that the issue deserves careful examination — but he would not commit to supporting the bill as written.

When it comes to school classroom composition, Education Minister Gord Wyant said it is a challenge. His NDP counterpart, Carla Beck, has referred to a "crisis in our classrooms." 

Both Beck and Wyant talk about the conversations they are having with parents and teachers, but have not come to an agreement on how to address the problem. 

Carbon tax issue illustrates different approaches

Perhaps the starkest contrast in seeing a problem, but taking drastically different approaches, happened this week on the issue of farmers facing hundreds of dollars in fees for drying their grain.

NDP Leader Ryan Meili sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking him to send an expedited carbon tax rebate to producers who use natural gas driers on their crops. 

In question period, Premier Scott Moe said, "this is somewhat refreshing to have this kind of initiative come from the leader of the Opposition."

Moe said he would not co-sign the letter, but he has sent previous letters asking for a cancellation or a one-year pause on the carbon tax.

Moe suggested Meili send the letter to federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh to sign. Meili told reporters he would.

Attend any question period and you get a sense of mutual dislike between the government and Opposition. If you're brave enough to scroll through the social media feeds of the parties, you will see personal shots.

One doesn't have to make too much of a leap to see why finding common ground on dealing with substantial issues has proven to be elusive.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Hunter

Journalist

Adam Hunter is the provincial affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. He has been with CBC for more than 14 years. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca

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