Sask. Premier Moe offers 'unequivocal apology' for Thatcher throne speech invite
MLA Lyle Stewart stripped of legislative secretary position
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe stood in the legislative assembly Monday and offered an "unequivocal apology" for convicted killer Colin Thatcher being invited to last week's throne speech.
Thatcher, 84, was invited to Wednesday's throne speech by his longtime friend and Saskatchewan Party MLA for Lumsden-Morse Lyle Stewart.
On Monday, the provincial government announced it was relieving Stewart of his duties as a legislative secretary.
Thatcher, 84, was found guilty in 1984 of the first-degree murder of his ex-wife JoAnn Wilson, who was found beaten and shot to death in the garage of her home the previous year.
He was sentenced to life in prison with no parole for 25 years and granted full parole in November 2006.
Thatcher was a cabinet minister under the Grant Devine government. He resigned from cabinet four days before Wilson was murdered.
Before question period started on Monday, Moe stood to give a statement.
"This individual was invited by a government MLA and while I do not review or approve MLA invitation lists, as premier and leader of the government caucus ultimately I am responsible. To all of those who attended the speech from the throne and to all members of this assembly and to the people of Saskatchewan, I offer my unequivocal apology," he said.
Moe's statement was a shift from last week. On Thursday morning, reporters asked the premier if he would apologize for Thatcher being invited.
"What would I apologize for?" he said.
"The fact of the matter is we had an individual MLA extend that invitation. I most certainly would not have extended that invitation."
On Monday, Moe said Thatcher "should not have been invited" and called the invitation a "terrible error in judgment."
Moe said he took time over the weekend to reflect and listen to family, friends, colleagues and Saskatchewan province "directly and indirectly."
"The message that was conveyed with last week's attendance by Mr. Thatcher during the speech from the throne is not a message that is acceptable to Saskatchewan people, nor is it indicative of a government that has a duty to provide leadership on such an important issue," Moe said.
"As individuals, we need to make sure we are doing all that we can to stop interpersonal violence in our families, in our friend circles, in our communities, and across the province."
Saskatchewan has the highest rate of reported intimate partner violence among all provinces and more than double the national rate, according to statistics from 2019.
Following question period, Moe said he needed to apologize for, "quite frankly, not providing better leadership last week."
Asked why it took five days to make an apology, Moe said "things happened quickly last week."
"I did have some days to reflect on more broadly what the message was with the attendance of Mr. Thatcher at the speech from the throne," Moe said.
"I certainly realize that this province does require a much larger leadership role from our government. And I'm here speaking on behalf of that government today when it comes to how we can drive those statistics down and most certainly support those that have experienced domestic abuse."
Opposition Leader Carla Beck had called for Moe to apologize on Thursday.
"We welcome the apology, but the premier shouldn't have to be shamed into doing the right thing," Beck said Monday.
She said the apology should have been made after it was apparent Thatcher had been invited to the throne speech.
"It was a stain on the throne speech day and our province."
Moe has said he was not aware of the guest list and does not want to determine who MLAs invite in the future.
Opposition calls for second-stage shelter funding
The Opposition called for the government to provide operational funding for second-stage shelters that assist victims of domestic violence with long-term shelter and services. Eight other provinces provide that funding, but Saskatchewan does not
Beck said shelters should not have to "fundraise for operational funding."
Moe called organizations that provide second-stage shelters "important" and said his government provides capital funding.
"We are open to all conversations on how we can support those individuals and families that have been subject to domestic and interpersonal violence."
Following the throne speech Wednesday, Minister of Corrections, Policing, and Public Safety Christine Tell told reporters Thatcher had "a right to be here just like anyone else. He is a free citizen."
"Colin is not somebody who is active on warrants, has anything to do with the justice system at this point in time. He is free to come and go," Tell said Wednesday.
However, Thatcher was sentenced to life in prison and upon his release in 2006, remains on parole and lives in the community subject to conditions.
Beck said Monday that Tell should be removed from cabinet for her comments, if she does not apologize.
"There were some very hurtful things the minister said on record, in addition, she showed a basic misunderstanding of her portfolio, speaking of Mr. Thatcher as a private citizen who is free to do what he wanted. He is someone who is on parole."
Tell did not speak Monday. Moe said both Tell and Stewart made "an error in judgment."
Moe said he chose not to remove Stewart from caucus or Tell from her cabinet role because of the efforts both have made in the past.
Stewart, who is a former cabinet minister, had been the legislative secretary for provincial autonomy. Stewart was tapped by Moe to lead in-house meetings on autonomy in several communities over the summer.
On Wednesday, after the throne speech, Stewart told The Canadian Press that Thatcher was a "fine individual."
"Colin was a longtime MLA, and he's a constituent of mine and a friend of mine and that's why I [invited him] and I'm happy that I did," Stewart told The Canadian Press.
"If anybody has a right to be here, it's Colin Thatcher."
The next day, Stewart released a statement on his decision to invite Thatcher.
"Each MLA is given the opportunity to invite a number of guests to the Throne Speech. It was my decision alone to invite Colin Thatcher, who is a constituent and long-time friend. In retrospect, this was an error in judgment as his presence was a distraction from a very positive and forward-looking Throne Speech, which included a number of new initiatives to keep Saskatchewan families safe in their communities," Stewart said.
with files from The Canadian Press