Three Saskatchewan cabinet ministers have swapped their portfolios; two portfolios are now under new banners and a whole new ministry has been created.
Premier Scott Moe announced the cabinet changes on Tuesday, shortly after the Saskatchewan Party’s annual caucus retreat.
Areas that saw change also generated controversy throughout the spring sitting of the legislative assembly.
The main change — longtime Rural and Remote Health Minister Greg Ottenbreit is leaving that portfolio after five years in the job. He will now be the highways minister and minister responsible for the Water Security Agency.
Previously the Water Security Agency (WSA) has been associated with the environment minister’s portfolio.
Moe said the decision was made to move the WSA to another portfolio due to Environment Minister Dustin Duncan’s heavy load dealing with changing federal regulations in that file and SaskPower, which he is also responsible for.
“The Ministry of Highways seems like an appropriate place for that as highways is constantly working with the WSA as highways crisscross our waterways as well,” Moe said.
Former highways minister Lori Carr has been shuffled from her first cabinet post and takes on the government relations and First Nations, Metis and northern affairs ministries. She will also have the body that oversees Wascana Park, the Provincial Capital Commission (PCC), added to her portfolio.
The PCC moves from Central Services back to its original home under the government relations ministry.
Finally, Warren Kaeding moves from government relations to the rural and remote health file. Kaeding will also be the minister responsible for seniors, a brand new cabinet position.
Melfort MLA Todd Goudy will fill the vacant provincial secretary position. Nadine Wilson resigned that role last month after being charged with assault. She remains a member of the Saskatchewan Party caucus, and maintains her innocence.
Moe said this will be the provincial election cabinet, with all members seeking re-election. Duncan had previously said he hadn’t made a decision on whether or not he would seek re-election.
There was controversy associated with several of these portfolios throughout the spring session.
The most notable example was Ottenbreit speaking at a pro-life event while the province was reviewing universal coverage for the abortion drug, Mifegymiso.
The premier said that controversy did not play into Ottenbreit being shuffled, noting it’s rare to have a minister in the same file for five years as Ottenbreit had been.
“He’s served well. We had a discussion with respect, a public discussion in regard to his personal views, but the fact of the matter is those personal views are known,” Moe said.
Moe added that Mifegymiso did receive universal coverage, showing Ottenbreit can separate his personal views from professional responsibilities.
“At the time there was no disciplinary action taken,” Ottenbreit said. “The premier and I had some conversations about my remarks.”
Ottenbreit added he is proud of his pro-life views and did not let them get in the way of government business. This includes Mifegymiso receiving full cost coverage from the province.
Kaeding said he is personally pro-life, but will uphold the ability of people to access all approved reproductive health care options.
Ottenbreit said his one disappointment coming out of the Mifegymiso situation were personal attacks against him and his family through social media. He said that unfortunately that’s to be expected and attacks came from both sides of the issue.
“We can’t have an adult conversation on something that’s important to many different people on both sides of a discussion. So many people can’t be civil about it. It’s disappointing,” he said.
The Opposition NDP had been calling for Ottenbreit to be removed from the portfolio. Caucus chair Carla Beck said there were “significant concerns” with Ottebreit’s ability to carry out his duties given his strong pro-life views.
Even though Kaeding shares similar views, Beck is encouraged by his comments.
“I think the assurances that he will be fully committed to upholding not only the law in Canada, but ensuring women timely access to things like Mifegymiso is extremely important,” Beck said.
Future of CNIB/Brandt building
The Central Services minister faced many questions around the approval of a new headquarters for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), which would be owned by Brandt and contain commercial office space.
The planned building is supposed to be built in Regina’s Wascana Park, on the footprint of the now-demolished old CNIB building. However, it is on hold while the provincial auditor reviews building in Wascana Park.
“Well I think first of all we have to see what the provincial auditor has to say with regard to that report and we’ll go from there,” Carr said when asked about the future of the project.
As for further direction for Wascana Park, Carr said she has no preconceived notions and will wait for the auditor’s report. That report is expected in December.
Kaeding said he is looking forward to the opportunity to fill the newly created role of minister responsible for seniors. He sees it as a way to give seniors a greater to have a voice in shaping policy that affects them.
Beck said she’s happy to see a senior’s ministry be added to the cabinet. She added this has been something the NDP pitched during their 2015 provincial election campaign.