What lies ahead for Sask. politics after fall sitting begins in controversy, ends with $500 cheques in mail
Session wraps with NDP attacking government for failing to fix health system, ignoring affordability crisis
The fall sitting of the Saskatchewan Legislature started with controversy and ended quietly on Wednesday with confirmation $500 affordability cheques have been mailed.
The past seven weeks have seen the typical disagreements on what the government's priorities ought to be, but it began with an incident that made international headlines and led to an apology by the premier.
On Oct. 26, Lt.-Gov. Russell Mirasty delivered the government's throne speech. Seated in the crowd was convicted killer and former Saskatchewan cabinet minister Colin Thatcher.
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 invited by Thunder Creek MLA Lyle Stewart, who initially defended the decision, before calling it an "error in judgment."
The Saskatchewan Party government relieved Stewart of his legislative secretary duties. Five days after the throne speech, Premier Scott Moe apologized.
On Wednesday, deputy premier Donna Harpauer met with reporters, as Moe was in Washington, D.C.
"It was a mistake, one that the premier addressed on behalf of all of us, but we are very focused on the government agenda and got back to our agenda very quickly," she said.
NDP Leader Carla Beck said the invitation was a "slap in the face" to survivors of domestic violence, those that work in the field, and the assembly.
"We're looking at a government that is out of touch," the Opposition leader said.
"The fact that they did not see a problem with inviting a convicted wife killer to the legislature on throne speech day and then took five days and international embarrassment to even table the weakest of apologies," said Beck.
"It sent a terrible message in a province that has twice the rate of domestic violence in the country.
Saskatchewan First Act
A day after Moe's apology, Justice Minister Bronwyn Eyre introduced the Saskatchewan First Act, which the government said will confirm the province's autonomy and jurisdiction over its natural resources.
"This isn't about fed-bashing for kicks," Eyre said on Nov. 1.
"This is about quantifying, assessing, and defining economic harm. It's about our place in this federation and our responsibility to the people of Saskatchewan to foster economic growth."
The Saskatchewan First Act has been overshadowed by new Alberta Premier Danielle Smith's Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act which was introduced on Nov. 28 and is already going to be tweaked by government.
On Wednesday, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations called for the proposed Alberta Sovereignty and the Saskatchewan First acts to be withdrawn.
- Saskatchewan First Act introduced, meant to 'confirm' provincial jurisdiction over natural resources
Moe and Eyre have said the Saskatchewan act is inclusive.
"It doesn't change the intentions the government has to include all Saskatchewan people, Indigenous or otherwise, in the economy," Moe said last week.
"What the act is focused on is to make sure we have the focus on Saskatchewan so we can collectively benefit."
Last week, Beck and members of her caucus received some criticism for voting to move the bill to committee.
Beck said it is not clear what the bill accomplishes.
"My observation is that this was an act that was designed to have a political motivation behind it, but really materially wouldn't have had that much of an impact on the people of this province. It reasserts rights that already exist."
Beck said she has concerns about a lack of consultation with Indigenous and Métis communities.
$500 cheques not enough, says Opposition
Beck and the Opposition spent much of the sitting calling on the government to spend more to help people facing increased cost-of-living.
The government said it had responded with its decision to spend $450 million to send $500 cheques to more than 900,000 adults.
After an initial delay in getting the cheques mailed, they have been sent to people who filed their income tax by Aug. 31.
Harpauer said Wednesday the government is addressing needs by spending in areas of need like health care and education.
"We have committed additional dollars in a plan for health care for recruitment, retention, training and incentivizing more workers, recognizing that there is stress in the health-care system," she said.
"We also addressed stresses within education by providing additional dollars for inflation for our school divisions as well as an increase in student enrolment."
Beck said the government's priorities do not match the Opposition's, mentioning the government's decision to create a Crown corporation, the Saskatchewan Revenue Agency.
The bill to create the agency was introduced this week. The government said its aim is to "pursue greater autonomy in tax collection."
"We think this is a priority," Harpauer said.
"The piece of legislation I introduced this week is a very high-level piece of legislation that won't come to fruition for a few years. But at some point, we do want to explore it, and this lets the public know what our agenda is."
Beck said the public was not looking for a new tax collection and administration agency.
"There's a very big distinction between the priorities that we brought forward because these are concerns that people in the province have," she said.
"The government seems very pleased with in this building I don't think translates very well to the people out there who are struggling to just get by right now."
Harpauer disagreed, saying the proposed revenue agency is a response to what the government has heard.
"We are listening to stakeholders around the province, to different groups as well as our own constituents. This isn't just coming from nowhere. This is something that people are raising concerns about."
With files from Yasmine Ghania
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