Premier Moe defends call he made to leader of group opposing COVID-19 health measures

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe is taking heat for a lengthy phone call he made to the leader of a group that opposes COVID-19 public health measures and frequently posts links questioning vaccine effectiveness.

'I think it would have been really wise for him to do his homework before he made that call'

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe is being criticized for a call he made to the leader of the Unified Grassroots, an organization that challenges COVID-19 public-health measures. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

Premier Scott Moe is defending a lengthy phone call he made to the leader of a group that opposes COVID-19 public health measures and frequently posts links questioning vaccine effectiveness.

On Tuesday, Moe said it was important to reach out to people who are pushing back against COVID restrictions.

"These are our family, these are our friends, these are people in our community," Moe said during Question Period.

"We should not be labelling them with right wing wacko terms like the leader of the opposition is. We should be, Mr Speaker, engaging with them, taking the time to make a phone call to someone that maybe has a different perspective than you might have."

According to Nadine Ness, founder of Unified Grassroots, Saskatchewan's premier called her on Dec. 3 and they spoke for quite awhile and had a "productive" chat.

She said the premier's call followed several failed attempts to reach him.

"I'm surprised he didn't brush me off to be honest," Ness said in a video posted to YouTube.

Moe told reporters Tuesday that the call did take place, but he hasn't seen the videos Ness has made. The group took the province to court over the province's vaccination policy.

Moe said MLAs and a health professional had asked him to make the call.

He said he and Ness had a conversation ranging from stigmatizing unvaccinated people to the fact that vaccines to help protect people from adverse affects of COVID-19.

"We most certainly should be continuing to talk to those that may have a different view point [than] we have," he said.

Moe says he didn't regret making the call, adding he has asked his MLAs to make a point of calling people who are trying to contact them, even if they know their viewpoints are different. 

"These are calls the government members should be making. We may not agree with the point of view of a number of individuals on both sides of this conversation from the government's perspective, but that should not restrict us from engaging and making those calls to those folks," Moe said. 

Moe says if the province wants to increase vaccinations and decrease hospitalizations — knowing that the majority of hospitalizations are among unvaccinated people — the unvaccinated are exactly who government should be talking to. 

When a reporter asked Moe what the process was for speaking with him directly, referring to health care workers who have said they can't get him on the phone, the premier said he doesn't have time to talk to everyone in the province.

He encourages people to reach out to their MLAs, and says he could be doing better at getting back to people in his constituency.

Failed court case from Unified Grassroots 

On its website, the Unified Grassroots says its mission is to "spread unity and love ... regardless of vaccination status."

That mission took the form of a failed court application in October aimed at overturning the province's vaccination policy, which requires people to provide proof of full vaccination to enter many spaces, including restaurants, gyms and cinemas.

The Unified Grassroots, along with the People's Party of Canada and Concerned Citizens, argued proof of vaccination violated their charter rights. 

The Court of Queen's Bench threw out the application.

Moe's call to the leader of a group challenging COVID-19 public health measures and vaccine legitimacy angered Opposition NDP Leader Ryan Meili.

"I think it would have been really wise for him to do his homework before he made that call, and to look into what Unified Grassroots represents, and what it represents to give that group the platform of saying, 'We just talked to the premier and he had loads of time for us,'" he said Tuesday. 

"That really further validates and justifies their approach."

Saskatchewan recorded its deadliest month of the pandemic in October 2021, logging the highest death rate per 100,000 people of any province in Canada. 

The province's COVID-19 infection rate started to climb after the government removed several public health measures in July, including lifting mask mandates and removing gathering limits.

By October, Saskatchewan was recording hundreds of new COVID-19 infections daily.

The province has been forced to postpone thousands of surgeries and therapies as the government grappled with a health-care system collapsing under the weight of COVID-19.

During this time, ICU patients were transferred to Ontario as Saskatchewan's ICU units reached capacity.

The military was flown in to support the health-care system and just left this past week.

"Yes, we should have conversations with anyone, but it's pretty striking that he was willing to have that conversation but got a letter from hundreds of doctors and blew them off. Got a letter from [medical health officers] across the province, blew them off," Meili said. 

As of Dec. 6, 931 people have died in Saskatchewan due to COVID-19, according to the province's website.