Sitting in the cabinet office, Scott Moe is still getting used to the seat designated for the Premier.Despite having the job for nearly a year, he admits he is still “sitting in his chair for the time being.”“His chair” refers to that of Moe’s predecessor, Brad Wall.Carrying on where Wall left off is a theme Moe played on through his nearly 11 months as leader of Saskatchewan, and one he continued to use during his year end interview with the Regina Leader-post.He lists doing “more of the same, with respect to the recipe of what has worked here in the province” when asked about what lays ahead for his Saskatchewan Party government in 2019.Doing “more of the same” is, Moe says, made easier because, “The other faces around the (cabinet) table are very similar to what they’ve been over the course of the last number of months and years.”As the party approaches its 12th year in power, the current cabinet is made up almost entirely of MLAS who had ministerial portfolios in Wall’s government.The recipe is slightly different under Moe, however, than it was under Wall.Moe says cabinet is “attempting to be very deliberate in the actions that we take, and sometimes those actions aren’t coming quite as quickly as people would hope, but we are really working hard at having as much of the conversation as we can prior to acting, but when we do act, we are attempting to act as deliberately and decisively as people should expect.”It is also clear the external ingredients have changed since Wall left office: 2018 continued to be an economically challenging year for Saskatchewan, unlike the mostly boom times over which Moe’s predecessor presided.But Moe lists something entirely outside of politics as his biggest challenge of the year: He was settling in for a rare weekend at home, returning home from a meal out with his wife when he heard about a bus crash.“The days and weeks after the event of the Humboldt bus crash was by far the largest challenge for me as the leader of this province, but for me as an individual I think it pales in comparison to some of those more directly affected and what they have faced since then,” he says, adding it’s important to remember the collective strength drawn during that time and to remember over the holiday the families affected.Beyond the Broncos tragedy, Moe was tasked with uniting a caucus after a contentious and heavily contested leadership race.“I very much do feel we have a united caucus going forward,” he says, saying there are still “divisions of opinion” within Sask. Party ranks but “diversity is our strength.”“All of the decisions that we have, there is a certain amount of debate that goes on around the cabinet table and the caucus table,” he says.For all the challenges of 2018, Moe is predicting tougher decisions into 2019 as his party inches toward a likely 2020 election.Appearing to be high on his priority list is tackling the worsening issue of addictions and mental health in the province.Moe open-endedly asks, “How do we move forward with supporting mental health and addictions in the years ahead?”It is one issue likely to generate debate within the Sask. Party caucus, which is regularly accused of not doing enough to support those struggling with mental health, addictions and related issues.For example, harm reduction needle exchange programs — allowing users to exchange dirty needles for clean ones — exist around the province, and have proven to help slow the spread of HIV.Despite a Saskatchewan Health report deeming needle exchanges successful, Wall spoke out in 2009 about his intention to limit the number of clean needles handed out to drug users because, in part, the program wasn’t accepted publicly.The level of similar supports — such as opioid substitution therapy, methadone prescriptions, safe injection sites and naloxone kits — offered in the province is regularly criticized by advocates and the opposition NDP; and support for such measures within the Sask. Party ranks continues to be widely debated.Driving some of that debate is where the Sask. Party sits on the political spectrum under Moe. Although once a mix of liberals and conservatives, the party has lost some of the former: Deputy Premier Gord Wyant, during his leadership bid, was in essence forced to renounce his Liberal Party of Canada membership.Moe discounts any suggestion his party has become more right wing over the past 12 months or that it lost its founding “big tent” principles.“We shouldn’t lose that input from all sectors of our party,” he says.“We may tick to the right on economic conversations, on how we might continue to advance our economy, but most certainly this party’s fabric and DNA has always been about doing that to provide the services in our communities across the (province),” he adds. “We will tick harder to the right, if you will, on the economy, but we will continue to stay focused on why we’re doing that.”As for the reasons why, Moe lists off expanding parental leave by a week, expanding time away from work for those assisting family with critical illnesses and the introduction of laws to support domestic violence victims.“This is what matters in our families and our communities,” he says.“These are legislative changes that are not being made in other areas of the nation and are being made here, that I think speaks very much to the centre, if you will, on the voting complex, but very much speak to families that we represent across the province. We need to continue to engage in what that strong economy can do for our communities’ most vulnerable, most particularly in the case of mental health and addictions as we move forward,” he said.Which communities Moe’s government pays attention to will also continue to be closely monitored by political watchers in 2019.The party has lost ground to the NDP in urban byelections and is at risk of losing its hold on Regina and Saskatoon. Moe’s government appears to have less concern over losing seats in rural Saskatchewan, where the NDP has long been deemed ineffective.Moe discounts the divide and the impact recent rural-favouring legislation (such as tightening trespassing laws and bulking up rural crime prevention funding) will have on urban voters.“Many of the resources that really drive our economy are in rural areas of the province, but the only way we’re able to actually realize the value of those resources ... is by the people who live in urban Saskatchewan,” he says. “Urban Saskatchewan and rural Saskatchewan are linked, the relationship is synergistic, one creates value in the other and we really cannot have one present without the other.”Expect Moe to continue using sometimes heated language to combat the federal government — another Wall tradition.Neither has had success in their primary goals: getting a pipeline to tidewater built, but Moe takes even small victories — such as a recent commitment from the federal to “work with” the province’s on a proposed federal law that will create a new federal process for pipeline approvals, which in its current form opponents such as Moe say will “kill pipelines.”For now though, Moe is looking forward to spending time at home over the holiday after a busy indoctrination of Saskatchewan’s premier.“I’m not home as much this past year. We’ve put a lot of effort into getting out and across the province, getting into communities, our larger centres and other communities across Saskatchewan, as we’ve been very focused on engaging with our trading partners around the world,” he says. “So the time commitment and the time away from home has been fairly substantial.”We need to continue to engage in what that strong economy can do for our communities’ most vulnerable, ... particularly in the case of mental health and addictions.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says to expect “more of the same, with respect to the recipe of what has worked here in the province.”
Premier Scott Moe and the mayor of Humboldt, Rob Muench, watch while the Saskatchewan Roughriders gear up to play the Montreal Alouettes on Humboldt Strong night at Mosaic Stadium.
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