Saskatoon·Opinion

Premier is embarrassing Saskatchewan by ignoring doctors during pandemic

Saskatchewan's response to COVID-19 has been a shameful testament about what Premier Scott Moe values over health care and the province's citizens.

Sask. premier's reluctance to ask for help is 'stubborn' and 'dangerous'

Scott Moe addresses a news conference on May 25, 2021. (Matt Duguid/CBC Saskatchewan)

This Opinion piece is by Sarath Peiris, who spent his career at the Moose Jaw Times Herald and Saskatoon StarPhoenix, and was the StarPhoenix's opinions editor and editorial writer.

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A province that once punched above its weight on Canada's political stage with leaders such as Allan Blakeney, Roy Romanow and Brad Wall has today become an object of embarrassment and pity, thanks to a premier who prioritizes economic growth and battles with Ottawa over protecting citizens' lives.

Picking fights with the feds certainly has proven a good political strategy for Saskatchewan leaders facing tough times.

However, Premier Scott Moe has taken things to a whole new and dangerous level by refusing stubbornly, until late last week, to accept medical assistance offered by Ottawa to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic that's killed 817 provincial residents so far — about 154 in the past 30 days alone.

That Moe waited until his officials had pursued all other alternatives, including begging American states for help without success, says it all about the current dire federal-provincial relationship and the ugly direction it's headed as Canada tackles challenges on the energy and climate fronts.

The announcement that the federal government would be sending up to six critical care nursing officers from the armed forces to help overstressed intensive care nurses in Saskatchewan hospitals came in a tweet by federal politicians on Friday, not by Moe or leaders of the convoluted public safety reporting structure he seemingly set up to bypass direct public communications by the health sector.

Rather than public accountability, what Saskatchewan people are getting is message management by a political gang that's not doing a very good job of it.

Moe's tweets about Saskatchewan's job numbers and his latest brag about the province's retail trade rising by 4.2 per cent attest to a political stubbornness and lack of compassion at a time when his government cannot even convey a clear message to families about how many Saskatchewan COVID patients will be airlifted for intensive care in Ontario.

That this arduous measure is necessary at all is a testament to the Moe government's absolute refusal to accept scientific evidence or listen to expert advice from the medical and academic communities about the measures needed to combat the spread of this fatal virus.

From the onset, Moe's actions have been a reminder of the old parable about babies floating down the river, where villagers remain too preoccupied with pulling the baskets with kids out from the river to send someone upstream to find out why so many are being thrown in the water.

It's utterly incomprehensible why Moe and Health Minister Paul Merriman continue to push vaccination as the sole answer to solving what the Saskatchewan Medical Association has described as a "full-blown crisis" in the province's health-care system. 

When 50 per cent of people only discover they have COVID when they are being admitted to hospital, and when the test positivity rate in the province has remained consistently above 10 per cent, the problem runs deep and will persist for months to come. 

Saskatchewan needs to limit the size of gatherings in such locales as personal homes and in places of worship where medical experts say the virus is spreading, never mind the nonsense being peddled by the premier about protecting the "freedoms" of the 70 per cent of those who've been vaccinated.

The longer the pandemic continues, the more everyone's freedom is curtailed. 

Moe's "apology" for the sorry state of the health system referred to those who've had their shoulder and knee surgery postponed, but didn't mention the cancer patients and transplant hopefuls whose lives are at risk with delays. What about their freedom?

The spectacle of 14,000 people being allowed to crowd into a music concert in Saskatoon while Ontario ICU personnel are jumping in to care for flown-in Saskatchewan patients sends a clear signal about how utterly the Moe government is failing to enact the stronger public health measures advocated by medical experts.

Moe may vehemently disagree with the policies of Liberals in Parliament, but he needs to act in the interest of citizens across Saskatchewan and Canada on important issues of national interest. Partisan fights with the prime minister are a sickening manifestation of self-interest at this juncture.

Moe needs to bring dignity to the job, stop embarrassing Saskatchewan, heed science to prevent the collapse of the province's medical system, and actually show respect for the front-line professionals instead of paying lip service to their incredibly hard work.

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