Saskatchewan

Moe and Meili offer differing perspectives on pandemic recovery, reopening and masks

COVID-19 will be an election campaign issue as both Saskatchewan Party Leader Scott Moe and NDP Leader Ryan Meili have been asked about the pandemic's effect on the provincial economy, restrictions and mask use.

Economic recovery from impact of COVID-19 key campaign issue

Saskatchewan Party Leader Scott Moe (left) and Ryan Meili (right) have different messages when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Matthew Howard/Trent Peppler CBC)

COVID-19 will be an election campaign issue as both Saskatchewan Party Leader Scott Moe and NDP Leader Ryan Meili have been asked about the pandemic's effect on the provincial economy, restrictions and mask use.

Both Moe and Meili have made the economic effects of the pandemic central in their election messages.

In his campaign opening media conference on Tuesday, Moe said the election is about who the voters "trust" to recover the Saskatchewan economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NDP slogan is "People First," with Meili claiming the Saskatchewan Party plans "dangerous cuts during a pandemic."

While both leaders have zeroed in on a message that their party is best suited to take on the economic fallout from the pandemic, they do not agree on the response and measures that should be taken.

Reopening plan

Saskatchewan was the first province to announce its "reopening" plan but not the first to execute it.

On April 22, Moe made an address declaring the province had "flattened the curve" and would reopen its economy in phases.

Various businesses and services reopened in five phases over four months and have remained open, with only a few exceptions when cases of COVID-19 caused temporary restrictions.

On Tuesday, Moe criticized the NDP  saying it wanted to "slow down or even stop our reopening plan."

Moe said the province was able to control the spread of COVID-19 and reopen the economy "safely."

In May, Meili called on the government to delay Phase 2 of the reopening. At the time he said, "business owners have more questions than answers about how to open safely,"

On Wednesday, Meili said the idea the NDP wanted to stop the reopening plan was "preposterous."

"We want to come out of COVID-19 as successfully as possible, but we want to make sure is that we do that safely and wisely. We do not want to see a situation where we're back in lockdown," Meili said.

Meili again criticized the government's school reopening plan which he said was a "last-minute scramble." 

Restrictions debated

COVID-19 guidelines have forced campaigns to adjust, announcements have moved outdoors and candidates are, in some cases, introducing themselves to voters with a mask on.

As of Wednesday, Saskatchewan was reporting 139 active cases of COVID-19, with nine people in hospital.

For the past six months, rules and restrictions have been a major point of political debate.

Early on in the pandemic, Meili held daily video news conferences which focused on criticizing the government response or offering suggestions.

Moe has said consistently the government was acting on the advice of its public health officials, led by chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab.

"Dr. Shahab provided his best public health advice, which has steered us into a very strong position here in the province. But ultimately, that's because of what's the Saskatchewan people have done. They have taken their personal responsibility to adhere to those recommendations very seriously. Our collective success in this province is due to that," Moe told CBC recently.

Moe said the lack of information early on in the pandemic was "very challenging". 

He said the current challenge is related to people not following public health guidelines, which have led to cases or clusters happening "when someone or a small group of people are not following those public health orders."

Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba have recently seen a spike in cases. Quebec has moved to close bars and restaurants in Montreal, Quebec City and other hotspots. Saskatchewan has not seen a similar increase and Moe said further restrictions are not likely at this point.

"There are no discussions with respect to imposing restrictions. We don't feel that will be necessary. We have a set of public health guidelines and recommendations that are in place. We feel they're very effective," Moe said.

Moe said Tuesday, Shahab has the ability to "enact public health orders" during the election period.

"As long as everyone is following the public health guidelines and recommendations that are in place, there will be no need for further restrictions or even this discussion with respect to further restrictions. We have no intent of heading down that road of further restrictions," Moe said.

Saskatchewan Party Leader Scott Moe launched his campaign in Regina on Tuesday. He was joined by each of the Regina Saskatchewan Party candidates. (CBC)

Meili told CBC last week, Moe was too focused on a snap election call in the spring and not the pandemic.

"He should have been spending that time planning for the pandemic. He was really behind. We were fortunate that cases arrived here later than in other places."

Masks messaging

Since the pandemic was declared in March, guidance on mask-use from public health officials and political leaders has shifted.

In early April, Meili made a video demonstrating how to make a homemade mask. 

In July, Moe posted a picture of himself wearing a Saskatchewan Roughriders mask.

The government set rules for certain industries in regards to mask use and made school divisions decide whether students and staff would be required to wear them.

There is no mandatory indoor mask rule in Saskatchewan.

In July, Moe encouraged people to "wear a mask" when physical distancing is difficult. This remains his message.

Moe has not condemned anti-mask protests. He has said no one should be stigmatized if there are or are not wearing a mask.

Ryan Meili launched his campaign in Regina in front of the Legislative Building surrounded by Regina NDP candidates. (CBC)

Meili said Moe has failed in delivering the proper messaging on masks. 

"Those anti-mask protests aren't helping — they are hurting us. And put lives at risk to our economic recovery. And it's really foolish. It's disappointing to see a premier who was so worried about currying favour among people for votes that he won't actually speak the truth," Meili said.

Meili said he would send clearer messaging on masks including what would trigger mandatory mask use, although he said current rates of transmission in the province do not warrant that.

Last week, Moe told CBC there are "very diverse views" on mask use both in and out of the province.

He said the current mask guidelines in the province "mirror what the science says when you cannot create that distance you should wear a mask."

Last month, Health Minister Jim Reiter said, "we know that wearing a mask reduces community transmission of the COVID-19 virus. High levels of mask usage in other jurisdictions have been associated with reductions in COVID-19 cases."

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

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