PRE­MIER’S PRE­MIÈRE

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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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