Balanced budget, rural crime, highway safety highlight Sask. throne speech
Premier Scott Moe highlighted balancing the budget, rural crime, improving highway safety, among several other goals in his first throne speech.
The speech lays out the Saskatchewan government’s agenda for the 2018-19 legislative session.
Delivering a balanced budget for 2019-20 is the first goal outlined in the speech. This is not a surprise, as the Saskatchewan Party government had signalled their plan to balance the budget in three years, starting with the 2017-18 budget.
For rural crime, the province says they will continue work on improving police response times and visibility through the Protection and Response Team (PRT). This saw conservation and highway patrol officers take on expanded policing responsibilities. Moe highlighted that the PRT has helped in 1,300 cases since August.
Following a consultation process over the summer, the government plans to introduce new legislation on trespassing laws.
The goal is “to better address the balance between members of the public and the rights of rural landowners.”
This was first discussed during the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) convention in the spring.
“We have widely consulted on the Trespassers Act and we will be moving on the advice from that consultation in this session as we move ahead,” Moe said.
To compliment that, Moe signaled the government’s plan to amend The Police Act, allowing communities with populations under 500 to join regional police services.
Further to law enforcement, legislative changes are planned to make it easier to seize property obtained through unlawful activities.
Moe acknowledged that addiction plays a major role in crime rates across Saskatchewan, but Opposition Leader Ryan Meili would like to have seen a greater emphasis on addiction in the Throne Speech.
“We need to see a focus on the causes of crime. I see no mention of crystal meth. I’ve actually heard nothing from this government in terms of the significance of crystal meth,” Meili said.
“When I’m travelling around the province talking to police chiefs, talking to clinicians that are dealing with addictions, just talking to people in communities; crystal meth is a huge problem and it’s fueling a lot of this.”
Meili linked the use of meth to other social issues, like poverty.
The new Saskatchewan Hospital in North Battleford is set to be complete as well, this 284-bed facility will help people struggling with mental health. Ninety-six of these beds will be used for incarcerated offenders that are struggling with mental health.
Following the Humboldt Broncos’ bus crash, the province plans to introduce changes to improve commercial driver training, plus add funding to improve intersection safety. The premier said this work had been in progress before the crash, but it was given new focus in the aftermath.
An apology for the ’60s Scoop has long been promised by the government, and Moe says it will happen within the next year.
A few types of employee leave are set to be expanded. Parental leave will be extended from 37 to 63 weeks, with an extra week of maternity leave.
A new leave allowing people to take up to 15 weeks off work to care for a critically ill adult family member will also be created.
Over the past year, the ability to take unpaid leave for interpersonal violence was introduced, this will be expanded to include victims of all kinds of sexual abuse.
Justice Minister Don Morgan has long talked about bringing the British Clare’s Law to Saskatchewan. The government will be moving on that this session. The legislation is designed to provide a framework for police to disclose information about a person’s violent and/or abusive past to intimate partners that may be at risk.
On January 1, the province will be implementing its climate change plan, Prairie Resilience. Moe added the province will continue to oppose the federal carbon tax in his speech.
Cannabis was legalized one week ago, and the province will continue to monitor the privately run Saskatchewan market.
The province will also be continuing work expanding 4G LTE cell coverage in rural areas. This year, 50 communities will be receiving boosted service.
Finally, the government plans to offer free hunting and fishing licenses to Canadian military veterans.
Overall, there’s not a lot that’s new or wasn’t already announced in the Throne Speech. Some of the new initiatives include sexual abuse leave and the above hunting and fishing licenses.
Moe said that they’re building on areas they’ve heard significant concern about, such as rural crime and continuing to advocate for a strong economy while resource sectors face challenges.
These challenges include steel tariffs and slumping oil prices due to difficulties in shipping product.
In Meili’s view, the lack of new ideas in the Throne Speech signals that the Saskatchewan Party is running out of fresh approaches after more than a decade in power.
“People are looking for a lot more than that. I think this is a failure to recognize that the ground has shifted and they aren’t acting in a way that’s consistent with what’s really happening,” he said.
The next provincial election will not be taking place until 2020, but already the Saskatchewan Party and NDP are preparing for the next election.
The NDP just completed their annual convention and introduced their “Renew Saskatchewan” climate change plan and the Saskatchewan Party will announce candidates for the next election every few days.
Head of the political science department at the University of Regina, Jim Farney sees a clear, three-part electoral path for the governing Saskatchewan Party.
“They’re going to hope they can sell a message of economic growth, that by 2020, we’ve had 13 years of growth, we’ve recovered from the 2012-2013 recession, we’re back to a balanced budget. So really emphasize the fiscal responsibility side, and then the carbon tax,” Farney said.
“It’s always good for a premier to run against Ottawa. The problem for them, is that it’s not much of a mandate. Let us keep doing the same thing we’ve done for a long time is not really a forward looking vision of what government’s going to do.”
Across the aisle, Farney anticipates the NDP can work on picking away at things like the Global Transportation Hub bus subsidy, hiccups in cannabis legalization alongside budget and healthcare issues that are bound to come up.
“The question is can they get past all those little things that are good to ask questions in [Question Period] about, to an alternative vision,” Farney said.
Farney added that he sees Renew Saskatchewan as a strong first step.
“They’re still going to have to make up their minds on how different they’re going to be, how true to their more progressive urban roots they’re going to be. That’s still a question mark, and I hope by Christmas they have an answer for us,” Farney said.
Much of rural Saskatchewan will still be a write off for the NDP in Farney’s mind, during the next election.
He believes their biggest test will be trying to make gains in suburban Regina and Saskatoon.
© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.