Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan legislative sitting abruptly adjourned amid COVID-19 pandemic

Within 60 minutes on Wednesday, an announcement was made that cases of COVID-19 had doubled in Saskatchewan, a state of emergency was declared, details of the provincial spending plan were released and the legislature was suspended.

Government will use special warrants to obtain money when legislative assembly isn't in session

Scott Moe, premier of Saskatchewan, speaks at a COVID-19 news update at the Legislative Building in Regina on Wednesday March 18, 2020. Saskatchewan declared a provincial state of emergency Wednesday as the number of COVID-19 cases in the province doubled to 16. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Bell (Michael Bell/Canadian Press)

Within 60 minutes on Wednesday, an announcement was made that cases of COVID-19 had doubled in Saskatchewan, a state of emergency was declared, details of the provincial spending plan were released and the legislature was suspended.

The decision to suspend the sitting, made with the consent of the Opposition, came on the same day the province declared a state of emergency due to the spread of COVID-19.

Saskatchewan joined the federal government and other provinces that have announced suspensions due to the pandemic.

Any additional provincial money needed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects in Saskatchewan will be issued through special warrants, which allow governments to obtain money when the legislative assembly is not in session.

"If emergency legislation needs to be passed, the government can ask the Speaker to recall the House," said a government spokesperson.

Opposition Leader Ryan Meili had raised the possibility of suspending the sitting and using special warrants during question period earlier in the week.

Adjournment overshadowed by COVID-19, state of emergency

The majority of the seats in the assembly were empty Wednesday as House Leader Jeremy Harrison rose and asked for an adjournment of the assembly. It took all of four minutes.

Just two days earlier, Moe told reporters the full budget would be presented and proceed to the debate stage.

On Wednesday, the government introduced its "scaled-back" budget, releasing its spending plan but not its revenue forecasts.

The details were publicly available at 1:30 p.m. CST Wednesday. Fifteen minutes earlier, the province had reported that COVID-19 cases in the province had jumped from eight on Tuesday to 16 on Wednesday.

At 2:15 p.m., the province announced it was declaring a state of emergency.

Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab told the media Wednesday he found out about the increase Tuesday evening.

On Thursday, Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said the government should have disclosed the new cases earlier.

"They chose to go ahead with the public announcement of the estimates, which was a very unnecessary public announcement. They chose to still do the scrums.

"I would like to see better communication and sharing of information. Let's get the politics out of the way," Meili said.

Special warrants used to fund government operations

In the last 13 months, the province has issued two special warrants for additional funding of up to $563 million.

In February 2019, cabinet approved $194 million to be spent across various ministries.

Last month, before the start of the spring sitting cabinet an order in council was signed asking the lieutenant-governor to sign off on a special warrant equalling $369 million.

In the order in council, the province said special warrants are issued for items that are "urgently and immediately required for public good."

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 12 years. He hosts the CBC podcast On the Ledge. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca