Land deals, impaired driving penalties, and deficit: Saskatchewan’s legislative fall period wraps up
The debate surrounding the controversial Global Transportation Hub (GTH) land deal was a familiar topic in question period in the fall session. Opposition leader Trent Wotherspoon has opened question period with the topic daily.
“It’s sad that we got to this place in the first place,” Wotherspoon said.
“We’ve now learned that the premier’s office was involved with this before the deal was done. A premier worth his salt and a premier’s office worth their salt would have stopped this deal.”
The GTH, a Crown corporation, bought 41 acres of land at a cost of $1.2 million in February 2014 and in March 2014. The province completed the transaction by purchasing 204 acres of land west of Regina at a cost of $21 million.
Before the province purchased the land, it was bought and sold numerous times in 2013 at escalating prices. The NDP has said people involved in these transactions are suspected to have ties to Bill Boyd, who was GTH minister at the time.
Provincial auditor Judy Ferguson conducted an investigation earlier this year, and found no evidence on conflict of interest involving Boyd.
When the government was asked about this deal in question period, both Premier Brad Wall and current GTH Minister Jeremy Harrison would refer back to the auditor’s report.
“We were going to, in a spirited way, defend what we did on the GTH,” Wall said.
“The fact we opened it to the provincial auditor, the substance of what the auditor had to say, and I hope people don’t confuse that with anything other than a government, in a spirited way, defending its record.”
Some pieces of legislation received support from both sides of the house over the past seven weeks. This includes new Worker’s Compensation rules for coverage of psychological injuries like PTSD and stiffer impaired driving penalties that start next year.
The premier also pointed to the expansion of two-for-one private pay MRI’s and lengthening of compassionate care leave as points of success this session.
A major hurdle for the province was the growing deficit.
It was initially projected to be $434 million in the spring budget, but low resources and other factors drove it up to $1 billion.
The stage is set for what will likely be one of the biggest debates when the legislature reconvenes; how does the government try to balance a billion dollar deficit?
“Will we have to look at some cuts, yes we’ve seen that already,” Wall said.
“We’ll have to look at some small revenue measures that we don’t think will be harmful to the economy, that’s on the table. Everything is on the table within reason.”
Wotherspoon argued that the cuts are coming in the wrong areas.
“Cuts to mental health services at a time where they’re already inadequate… cuts to our classrooms, cuts to healthcare,” he listed.
Over the course of the session, the Opposition pressed the government on cuts to the Northern Teachers Education Program and Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability program (SAID).
The Ministry of Social Services eventually announced people already on the SAID program won’t be seeing their benefits change.
The legislative assembly will reconvene on March 6, 2017.
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