Meili pleased with NDP efforts during legislative session
Saskatchewan NDP leader Ryan Meili was pleased with the showing of his team during the recently concluded fall legislative session.
“We were really happy with the way things went,” he admitted during a year end conference call on December 17. “We went into the session with a focus on four key issues, one of which was the economy. We heard in our conversations all around the province 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 - had really exacerbated that slowdown.”
Meili said another key focus was raising a concern over deteriorating health outcomes and the fact people are falling through the cracks because of cuts to services.
“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,” he argued.
The Saskatchewan NDP also continued their focus on education cuts, the problem of classrooms becoming more complicated and more crowded, and students struggling as a result.
“So all of those go together to really slow down further our economy, as we’ve seen this austerity approach make things harder. And as we try to keep the government accountable to those decisions, we also end up talking a lot about and accountability and transparency. With the GTH scandal, what went on with the ehealth and the vendor sponsored junkets that were connected to contracts, and some of the other scandals, it’s really important that we point out those issues in order to make sure that the government’s accountable both for their decisions as well as the ethics of how they run their day to day operations.”
During the session the NDP tabled a private members bill in the legislature in hopes or raising Saskatchewan’s minimum wage, the second lowest in Canada, to $15 over the next few years.
In October, Saskatchewan’s minimum wage went up by 10 cents to $11.06, while in neighbouring Alberta it went up by $1.40 to a nation leading $15 per hour in an economy that is outperforming Saskatchewan.
“It’s also important for the economy,” Meili stated. “When you have lower wage workers gaining a decent wage, they stick around, their productivity increases, but also they spend that money locally. 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 supports.”
He also tied in low wages and poverty into the issue of growing crime rates.
“When you’re talking about crime rates in North Battleford, you’re really talking about poverty rates,” he said of growing crime in that community and across the province. “You’re talking about how many people are not getting the education they should, not getting access to employment, finding themselves in desperate situations and engaged in desperate activities. So if we really want to keep people safer and really want to reduce crime, we need to look at how do we make sure more people have a chance to succeed, fewer people are in poverty, as well as reducing the prevalence of addictions through addiction support and decent policing to decrease the availability of crystal meth and opioids and other drugs that are also fuelling rural crime.”
Meili also argued the government did not utilize thorough enough process while enacting changes to Saskatchewan’s trespassing legislation.
Trespassing legislation has significant impacts for the lives of First Nations and Metis people in the province, however the province refused to have discussions with those communities before tabling their legislation
“That to me sends a signal to the rest of the province that this government doesn’t have the interests of everyone in the province in mind. And that they’re even, in some ways, dividing the province and positioning people as against each other rather than trying to work for solutions to improve life for everyone.”
Meili also raised a concern regarding the functionality of posted land.
“The way this is designed poses some significant challenges for lots of folks, including land owners themselves in terms of having more people coming down their lane, knocking on their door, or phoning if they’re able to get the phone number, and asking when they might not otherwise would have wanted that. Also it poses risks for hunters and other people who use the land in a safe way, but now won’t be feeling comfortable or feeling like that’s something they’re able to do. So I think there’s a lot of work that needs to go into making this question a question that’s well resolved. Figuring out exactly the right balance in terms of trespassing legislation and the decision of this government to just forge ahead with new legislation without any significant consultation, and without really thinking through all of the ramifications of the choices they’re making, is just another example of a government that isn’t willing to do their homework.”
He also felt Premier Scott Moe’s handling of the carbon tax file was bungled, and he has concerns that the Sask Party’s Prairie Resilience strategy is expensive and not effective.
“We shouldn’t have something imposed by Ottawa. However, what Scott Moe et al have failed to do is come up with a back-up 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 farm leaders, industry leaders, experts right here at Saskatchewan at the table as part of the design. So it won’t be sensitive to the economic needs specific to our local industry. And I think that’s a real failure on the part of Moe. He’s been pointing fingers elsewhere and stomping his feet, but refusing to actually come up with a Plan B. And as a result all of us are going to be facing a plan that isn’t ideal.”
He added there is little in the plan to change the fact Saskatchewan is Canada’s per capita leader in Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
“They introduced a price on carbon for heavy emitters, and that’s a reasonable model. It’s in fact something that they had passed legislation on in 2009, and then never followed up on.
“The big question for us going forward, as you see that as a pattern where this government will introduce legislation but not necessarily pursue it or pursue it in a meaningful way. That’ll be something that’s really important for us is to look at that segments of the emissions profile of Saskatchewan whether they’re successful working with those industries to reduce emissions in a way that allows those industries to maintain their competitiveness.”
“Now the question remains about the rest of the emissions profile, the other industries that are contributing to Saskatchewan’s nation leading emissions, and what is this government going to do to actually decrease those in a way that’s in accordance with the commitments that we’ve made as a province.”
Meili said the NDP strategy on climate change puts a focus on taking advantage of Saskatchewan’s natural advantages.
“Saskatchewan has the best environment in the country for the production of energy from solar power, we also have great opportunities in wind, in biomass, in geothermal. And yet we’re far behind other jurisdictions in terms of the percentage of our electricity that’s coming from renewable sources, or in the amount of energy we’re losing because of lack of conservation efforts.”
The NDP’S own Renew Saskatchewan plan puts a focus on removing barriers to take advantage of those opportunities.
“It’s a focus on the opportunities for business owners, farmers, home owners, smaller communities, and even larger municipalities, to participate in a transition into 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.”
Meili said that up front costs are preventing people from getting involved, even through people know they would recoup that initial investment through the money they save over a number of years.
“Through Renew Saskatchewan, we have a program where we’d pay the money up front and then it’s paid back through the bills that people are paying.”
“Renew Saskatchewan is our idea to employ thousands of people in the province, reduce our power bills, all while moving us down the road towards sustainable, renewable energy.”