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Saskatchewan legislators should be back at work, says politics professor: ‘I find it strange’

Saskatchewan legislators should be back at work, says politics professor: ‘I find it strange’
Global’s Colton Praill sat down with Jim Farney, head of the politics and international studies department at the University of Regina, to get his thoughts around getting Saskatchewan MLAs back to work.

As provinces across Canada reconvene legislative sittings, Saskatchewan remains one of three provinces — the others being PEI and Nova Scotia — that hasn’t.

On March 18, the spring session was suspended in order for the government to deal with the emerging COVID-19 pandemic. However, with Saskatchewan declaring its curve flat, the legislature has yet to be called back like it has in other provinces that have been hit worse by the coronavirus.

READ MORE: 4 new coronavirus cases reported in Saskatchewan, state of emergency extended 2 weeks

Following a two-month hiatus, both Quebec and Ontario resumed their sittings this week with fewer members taking part in question period.

Global’s Colton Praill sat down with Jim Farney, head of the politics and international studies department at the University of Regina, to get his thoughts around getting Saskatchewan MLAs back to work.

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Answers have been edited for clarity and space.

Colton Praill: What’s your take on the legislature still not meeting?

Jim Farney: I’m starting to find it strange … partly because a lot goes on in the spring session. (The government) is starting to make big policy decisions that aren’t closely tied in a sense or in response to the disease. Deciding whether to do infrastructure spending or directly helping individuals is a policy decision. It’s a very big one and I’m surprised we’re not having legislative debate over that sort of thing.

CP: What do you think the optics are being one of the provinces who still isn’t sitting, because it doesn’t necessarily look great, especially when you’re asking the federal parliament to start sitting?

JF: I think most people pay attention to that contrast of the Tories being federally vocal that parliament needs to come back, sit in person, and not even a sketch of a timeline here in Saskatchewan.

The spring session doesn’t just mean question period comes back. It means a whole series of things. This is the time of year where estimates from last year are being reviewed, and that’s an important thing… and that’s been entirely frozen. As we’re making broader policy, and broader economic responses, there’s some big policy decisions being made without there being any debate.

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CP: What’s your take on the government’s announcement to invest $2 billion into shovel-ready projects? 

JF: This is a really good example of why having a legislative sitting, and having debate on that type of package, would be good. It’s true, infrastructure spending is a really traditional way to respond to a recession and to go looking for shovel-ready projects. What we’re seeing nationally is this is a different type of recession and it’s hitting women much harder than men if you look at the unemployment rates.

Given the labour force, big infrastructure spending isn’t going to help women who are mostly in the service sector and have been laid off or had their small businesses close. Yes, we’ve probably needed at least some infrastructure spending. Is it going to help the people who have been hit the hardest by COVID-19? We need a debate over that type of decision.

CP: Do we need that secondary voice (Saskatchewan NDP) in the legislature guiding those policy decisions?

JF: I think so. It gives us a chance to adapt to our own local realities. Our unemployment rate did not spike as much as Canada’s did nationally. Could we have had a better debate given the realities of the Saskatchewan labour force? Where should that money go and who needs help the most? We simply didn’t have that debate, so we don’t have that type of data floating around in a place where people can pay careful attention to it.

CP: Should the legislature resume debate before the Oct. 26 provincial election?

JF: I think it will be really, really problematic if we don’t have a full debate on the budget and expenditure pieces before we move into an election campaign. Having the baseline of a shared agreement on what the numbers actually are is crucial to the two parties developing actual platforms people can choose between.

If we don’t have that before we go into campaign mode — that’s a problem.

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