Sask. throne speech touts addictions supports, investment growth and expansion of policing
Opposition says speech ignores current COVID-19 situation
The Saskatchewan government's latest throne speech featured plans to expand policing and increase support for people dealing with addictions, but no new initiatives to deal with the pandemic's fourth wave.
Lt.-Gov. Russell Mirasty delivered the government's speech on Wednesday afternoon.
"Our most important and immediate task is dealing with the pandemic," the speech said.
"COVID-19 has proven to be an enormous challenge for Saskatchewan and every province and territory across Canada. The surge of patients caused by the fourth wave of the pandemic has put significant stress on our health-care system."
The government said it is grateful for the sacrifices made by workers in all parts of the health sector.
"The clear path to end this pandemic is through vaccination," it said.
The government said it plans to introduce legislation this fall to "prevent demonstrators from restricting access to hospitals."
Asked earlier in the day about how much COVID-19 would be mentioned in the throne speech, Moe said health-care funding "has been and will continue to be provided until the pandemic is over."
"COVID is still important for everyone," Moe said. "We still need to take it seriously, but there are other topics of conversation and policy that people want their government to deal with."
Opposition slams speech
Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said the speech is a "deflection from fourth wave failures" of the government.
"What we need from this government is an immediate plan of action to address the crisis Scott Moe created."
Meili said the government was "living with their heads in the sand."
He said the speech does not include a plan for people affected by health-care cancellations or delays, and has no new support for families and businesses affected by the pandemic.
"We all want to focus on the future. That starts with getting the present right," Meili said. "If Scott Moe doesn't get the fourth wave under control, too many Saskatchewan people will no longer be able to participate in that future."
Meili said the government's plan to restrict access to protests near hospitals was a positive step.
Focusing on policing
The throne speech included many new details about increasing the provincial government's policing.
The government said violent crime and property crime have been on the rise over the last five years, specifically in rural Saskatchewan, and promised to "address gaps" in policing by making law enforcement in the province "more visible."
The speech said the government plans to reduce crime through the creation and expansion of policing teams, and adding 60 new police positions.
The government plans to bring several different agencies under the new Provincial Protective Services Unit. It will include:
- Conservation officers.
- Highway patrol.
- Provincial Capital Commission officers.
- Safer community and neighbourhood officers.
- Deputy sheriffs working in provincial courts.
The government also plans to create a Saskatchewan Trafficking Response Team to focus on drug and weapons trafficking and human trafficking.
It also will establish a Warrant Enforcement and Suppression Team to "target dangerous offenders with outstanding warrants."
In addition, the government will expand its crime reduction teams to Meadow Lake, Moose Jaw, and La Ronge.
2020s to be 'Saskatchewan's decade', premier says
The government said the drought of the last few months is "the most significant challenge we face today in Saskatchewan," next to the pandemic.
The government said it has worked with the federal government to support impacted producers.
"A bold, confident province will emerge on the other side of the pandemic," the speech said.
The government also said economic signs are improving, with job growth beating the national average in September and unemployment below the national average.
It also pointed to exports, which increased nearly 35 per cent from last year.
The government touted recent investments totalling $10 billion for projects in potash, canola crushing plants, mills and manufacturing.
"If Saskatchewan can attract that kind of new investment and opportunities in a difficult year like this one,
our potential is almost unlimited in the years ahead," Moe said.
"Even with the challenges we are facing today, the 2020s will still be Saskatchewan's decade."
Support for those with addictions
The government said it will create 150 new addictions treatment spaces over the next three years.
It plans to increase accessibility to the Take Home Naloxone Program with community pharmacies.
It said it will also launch three community wellness buses that "will provide professional supports and harm reduction supplies."
The government said new urgent care centres to be built in Regina and Saskatoon will include supports for those battling addictions.
A 'more independent Saskatchewan'
The final major section of the speech outlined the government's intention to "build a stronger, more independent Saskatchewan within Confederation."
It mentioned the recent Alberta referendum result, in which 62 per cent of voters indicated they supported a bid to amend the federal government's equalization section in the constitution.
The constitution can't be changed without the consent of two-thirds of the provinces. Those provinces must hold at least 50 per cent of the country's population combined.
"The federal government is now compelled to enter into good faith negotiations with the provinces on changing the equalization section of the constitution," the speech said.
It said Saskatchewan plans to be "a full participant in those negotiations, representing Saskatchewan's interests to achieve meaningful reform to equalization."
The government said during that during the new session it will "consider other measures to build provincial autonomy," including taking back administration of corporate income taxes from Ottawa and "the creation of a provincial police force to complement municipal police forces and the RCMP."