'The right plan at the right time': High marks for government's pitch to restart Sask. economy

The Saskatchewan government's plan to gradually lift the coronavirus restrictions is earning mostly praise.

Some say low-wage workers, child care, First Nations ignored

Dentists, chiropractors and other medical professionals will be allowed to open their doors next month during the first phase of Saskatchewan's plan to re-open its economy. (CBC)

The Saskatchewan government's plan to gradually lift the coronavirus restrictions and restart the economy is earning mostly praise.

CBC News asked experts in business, labour and health to assign a letter grade to the Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan unveiled Thursday by Premier Scott Moe.

The five-phase plan begins with reopening of physical therapy and other medical services, golf courses and boat launches next month. Phase two openings, also next month, will include hairdressers, shoe stores and other retail businesses.

Gyms, restaurants, bars and other businesses will open in the third phase, but no date has been set for that. The fourth phase — also with no date assigned — will include fitness centres, bingo halls and swimming pools. The fifth phase may include lifting limits on the size of gatherings and other measures.

During all phases, residents are expected to maintain physical distancing where possible, hand hygiene and other precautions. The elderly and vulnerable must also remain protected, according to the plan.

University of Saskatchewan economist Joel Bruneau says the Saskatchewan government's plan to reopen the economy is balanced and practical. (University of Saskatchewan)

Joel Bruneau:  A

Bruneau, head of the University of Saskatchewan's department of economics, said he likes every aspect of the plan, calling it measured and sensible. He said each phase is gradual and explained in detail. It also allows the government to delay or even reverse course, if necessary, with minimal disruption.

"You can pause a little bit or even step back without really going herky-jerky on businesses: 'You get to open. No you have to shut down'. It's going to be phased," Bruneau said.

Bruneau said many questions remain, such as when schools and universities can open, for example. But he said the government was right to focus narrowly on the shorter-term elements they can control, and leave the rest flexible.

Bruneau said this top mark could plummet if the government fails to maintain travel restrictions or doesn't test extensively.

Steve McLellan, CEO of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, gives the government an A for its plan to restart the economy. (CBC/Stefani Langenegger)

Steve McLellan:  A

McLellan, CEO of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, said the plan is gradual and responsible.

"It doesn't say the floodgates will open," he said. "People absolutely need to be as responsible as possible."

McLellan said people will appreciate business openings, but also a resumption of elective medical services and outdoor activities.

McLellan said some restaurant owners and others may be unhappy they aren't included in earlier phases, but everyone needs to defer to the advice of health experts, he said.

"We think it's the right plan at the right time," McLellan said.

Ken Coates, Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy said the government's plan to restart the economy contains "just the right amount" of detail. (Jason Warick/CBC)

Ken Coates:  A-minus

Coates, Canada Research Chair at the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan, said the province has done extraordinarily well at containing the outbreak. Coates said business owners and many workers have been "scared" for the past several weeks because they didn't know what the future would hold. This plan addresses that in as much detail as possible.

"I'm really impressed with what the government has done," Coates said.

Coates said this crisis has exposed the need for changes in education, health and other sectors. He hopes that will be part of future discussions.

The plan's one major drawback is the absence of attention to First Nations people or issues, he said.

Johnson-Shoyama School of Public Policy professor Cheryl Camillo says the government's plan to reopen the economy is sound, but more needs to be done on public transit, child care and other issues. (David Stobbe)

Cheryl Camillo:  B

Camillo, a health reform specialist at the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Regina, thanked the policy makers who worked hard behind the scenes to produce this complex plan. She said opinions are bound to vary wildly with anything this ambitious.

"It's hard to make 1.2-million people happy," she said.

Camillo commended the government for using a phased-in approach and for maintaining the hygiene protocols that have helped Saskatchewan get to this point. But she said the plan has gaps that prevent her from awarding a top mark.

With thousands of people allowed to return to work in the coming weeks, there's no mention of public transit or child care, which won't reopen as fast as many businesses.

The government has also not brought in any legislation to guarantee sick leave for workers who experience symptoms during a potential second wave of the virus.

Saskatchewan Federation of Labour President Lori Johb says vulnerable and low-wage workers have been left out of the government's plans to restart the economy. (Ethan Williams/CBC)

Lori Johb:  F

Johb, President of the Saskatchewan Federation of labour said it was nice to hear Moe thank all of the care home workers, drug store and gas station staff and others on the front lines. But she said well-wishes are not enough.

She'd like to see these workers get better protective gear, guaranteed paid sick leave and a higher minimum wage.

"We've seen first hand now how essential these workers are and how important their work is and how much it contributes to the economy in our province, so there's been nothing around that," Johb said.

Johb noted the plan recommends employers take measures to keep workers and customers safe. Johb said many employers did a good job, but some exposed people to unnecessary risk. She thinks that could become an even bigger problem as more businesses open. She said the guidelines should instead be enforceable regulations.