Saskatchewan NDP feel­ing good about fall ses­sion

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - Saskatchewan - BY MATTHEW LIEBEN­BERG mlieben­[email protected]

Saskatchewan NDP leader Ryan Meili felt his team of opposition MLAs had been suc­cess­ful to high­light var­i­ous is­sues dur­ing the fall ses­sion of the Saskatchewan Leg­is­la­ture.

“We just come out of a pretty strong ses­sion that ended on the sixth of De­cem­ber and we were re­ally happy with the way things went,” he said dur­ing a con­fer­ence call with me­dia, Dec. 17.

The NDP fo­cused on four is­sues dur­ing the fall ses­sion – the econ­omy, health care, ed­u­ca­tion, and lack of gov­ern­ment trans­parency.

“We've heard in con­ver­sa­tions all around the prov­ince of the way in which the econ­omy has slowed down and how some of the de­ci­sions, in­clud­ing the ad­di­tion of PST on con­struc­tion labour and on restau­rant meals, have re­ally ex­ac­er­bated that slow­down,” he said. “So that was a big fo­cus.”

The NDP cau­cus mem­bers have heard from peo­ple about sig­nif­i­cant de­creases in em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties in a num­ber of key in­dus­tries, in­clud­ing the con­struc­tion sec­tor.

He re­ferred to data from the Saskatchewan Con­struc­tion As­so­ci­a­tion that es­ti­mated a loss of 14,000 jobs in that in­dus­try in the last three years.

Meili there­fore felt the de­ci­sion by the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment to add PST to con­struc­tion labour came at the wrong time.

“That was a very un­wise de­ci­sion and one that we've heard loud and clear from folks all over that that has made it much harder for con­trac­tors to con­tinue to find work and con­tinue to em­ploy peo­ple in the prov­ince,” he said.

“For ex­am­ple, in Moose Jaw they had 120 new builds in 2015 and only 10 last year. It's that kind of num­bers in drops in projects that are re­sult­ing in a lot of peo­ple strug­gling in that in­dus­try.”

Health care out­comes and gov­ern­ment un­der­fund­ing of ed­u­ca­tion were is­sues of on­go­ing con­cern for the NDP dur­ing the fall ses­sion.

“The health out­comes in Saskatchewan are not what they should be,” he said. “We have the worst health out­comes in the coun­try, in fact, tied with Nova Sco­tia and when peo­ple are need­ing care it's just not there in a way that it should be. And along with that, the cuts to ed­u­ca­tion, class­rooms that are more com­pli­cated and more crowded and stu­dents strug­gling as a re­sult.”

Health care is al­ready the largest sin­gle spend­ing item in the pro­vin­cial bud­get and Meili felt the NDP's con­cerns can­not be ad­dressed through more spend­ing.

“The an­swer is not ever es­ca­lat­ing spend­ing in health care,” he said. “In health care it's about wise spend­ing, mak­ing sure we're run­ning a well func­tion­ing sys­tem and there are lots of things we can do to im­prove the de­sign and ac­tu­ally save money in health care by go­ing down the road of a choos­ing wisely ap­proach where we are more guided by ev­i­dence to make sure that we're pre­scrib­ing the right med­i­ca­tions, that we're us­ing the right imag­ing, that we're per­form­ing the right surg­eries and things that ac­tu­ally will work. There's a lot of ac­tiv­ity that hap­pens within the health care sys­tem that isn't ac­tu­ally im­pact­ful in terms of health out­comes.”

He added that health out­comes can be im­proved through a fo­cus on broader so­cio-eco­nomic is­sues in the pro­vin­cial bud­get.

“It's whether enough peo­ple have de­cent jobs, de­cent in­come, a safe place to stay, have a chance at a good ed­u­ca­tion,” he said.

“It's mak­ing the wise in­vest­ments in other parts of the bud­get, do­ing so guided by the best avail­able science of what will im­prove our health out­comes, which should be the pri­mary goal of our gov­ern­ment, mak­ing the best in­vest­ments there that will im­prove health out­comes but also ul­ti­mately de­crease costs in the health care sys­tem.”

The NDP con­tin­ued to ask ques­tions dur­ing the fall ses­sion about the gov­ern­ment's spend­ing of pub­lic money on the Global Trans­porta­tion Hub (GTH) and the Regina by­pass project.

A new is­sue that came up dur­ing this ses­sion was the gov­ern­ment's han­dling of ven­dor-spon­sored travel for pub­lic em­ploy­ees.

“It's re­ally im­por­tant that we point out those is­sues in or­der to make sure that the gov­ern­ment is ac­count­able, both for their de­ci­sions as well as the ethics of how they run their day to day op­er­a­tions,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Meili a num­ber of things can be done to en­sure the ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency of any fu­ture gov­ern­ment.

“I think there are things we can do with our Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion leg­is­la­tion that makes it more ef­fec­tive so that we're able to get ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion,” he said.

“One of the things that's the most frus­trat­ing about be­ing in opposition is you think you're sit­ting in the leg­is­la­ture, you're part of gov­ern­ment and yet you're kind of a mush­room, you're kept in the dark. ... The reality is it's so opaque, it's so dif­fi­cult to know what's re­ally go­ing on. Let's im­prove our FOI leg­is­la­tion so that when we ask ques­tions we get an­swers, let's ex­pand the pow­ers of the au­di­tor so they're able to look into more things.”

An­other mea­sure favoured by the NDP is a re­view of Saskatchewan's cam­paign fi­nance laws to ban do­na­tions from cor­po­ra­tions and unions to po­lit­i­cal par­ties, to end outof-prov­ince do­na­tions, and to set a limit on in­di­vid­ual do­na­tions.

“We're com­mit­ted to ending that prac­tice,” he said. “Saskatchewan has the worst leg­is­la­tion in terms of companies from out of prov­ince do­nat­ing mil­lions of dol­lars to the SaskParty and the same companies that do­nate to the SaskParty wind­ing up with hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in con­tracts paid for with our money. That needs to stop. End the big gifts from companies, es­pe­cially out of prov­ince companies so that when we're look­ing at con­tracts, who are get­ting to do the work, it's be­ing de­cided based on the value for the money of the peo­ple of Saskatchewan, not the value to the cof­fers of the SaskParty.”

The NDP in­tro­duced a num­ber of bills dur­ing this ses­sion, in­clud­ing one to in­crease the min­i­mum wage over the next few years up to $15 per hour.

“I think from the rhetoric we're hear­ing from the gov­ern­ment, in­creas­ing the min­i­mum wage isn't some­thing they think is valu­able, which is re­ally dis­ap­point­ing,” he said.

Saskatchewan's min­i­mum wage in­creased with 10 cents to $11.06 on Oct. 1, but at the same time the min­i­mum wage in Al­berta in­creased $1.40 to $15. He feels a de­cent wage will not only make a dif­fer­ence to the qual­ity of life of work­ers, but it will also ben­e­fit the econ­omy.

“When you have lower wage work­ers gain­ing a de­cent wage they stick around, the pro­duc­tiv­ity in­creases but also they spend that money lo­cally,” he said.

“So I think it's a real dis­ser­vice that the SaskParty doesn't and in fact some­what con­trary to what should be their val­ues as a con­ser­va­tive party. They should want fewer peo­ple re­ly­ing on so­cial ser­vices, fewer peo­ple re­ly­ing on so­cial pro­grams, but by keep­ing the min­i­mum wage so low, they ac­tu­ally force more peo­ple to rely on wel­fare and other so­cial sup­port.”

The fed­eral car­bon tax was a fre­quent dis­cus­sion point dur­ing the leg­is­la­ture's fall ses­sion. Meili blamed the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment for the fact that the fed­eral car­bon tax will be ap­plied in Saskatchewan in 2019.

“What we've seen is this gov­ern­ment re­sist­ing the de­ci­sion of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to im­pose a tax and we agree, we shouldn't have some­thing im­posed from Ot­tawa,” he said. “How­ever, what Scott Moe et al have failed to do is come up with a backup plan, and so as a re­sult start­ing April 1 there will be a car­bon pric­ing plan that's de­signed in Ot­tawa and it will be ap­plied to Saskatchewan and that won't have had farm lead­ers, in­dus­try lead­ers, ex­perts right here in Saskatchewan at the ta­ble as part of the de­sign. So it won't be sen­si­tive to the eco­nomic needs and the specifics of our lo­cal in­dus­try, and I think that's a real fail­ure on the part of Moe.”

Ac­cord­ing to Meili the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment is not do­ing enough to in­crease the per­cent­age of en­ergy gen­er­a­tion from Saskatchewan's re­new­able re­sources.

“We also have great op­por­tu­ni­ties in wind, biomass and geo­ther­mal, and yet we're far be­hind other ju­ris­dic­tions in terms of the per­cent­age of our en­ergy and elec­tric­ity that's com­ing from re­new­able sources or in the amount of en­ergy we're los­ing be­cause of lack of conservation ef­forts,” he said.

One of the NDP's pol­icy ideas, which were an­nounced dur­ing the fall ses­sion, is called Re­new Saskatchewan. The aim of the plan is to re­duce cost bar­ri­ers that will make it more af­ford­able for house­holds, farm­ers, busi­nesses and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to do en­ergy retrofits and to fi­nance clean en­ergy in­stal­la­tions.

“It's just a part of our cli­mate change plan, but one that I think is re­ally ex­cit­ing,” he said.

“It's a fo­cus on an op­por­tu­nity for busi­ness own­ers, farm­ers, home­own­ers, smaller com­mu­ni­ties and even larger mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to par­tic­i­pate in a tran­si­tion to re­new­able en­ergy in a way that low­ers their bills, em­ploys a lot of Saskatchewan peo­ple and also al­lows peo­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties to make money by sell­ing power back to the grid.”

File photo

Saskatchewan NDP lead­er­ship can­di­date Ryan Meili spoke at a meet and greet in Swift Cur­rent, Jan. 8, 2018.

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