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Coronavirus pandemic, election promises highlight Saskatchewan’s throne speech

Click to play video 'Pandemic response priority as Sask. legislatures starts session' Pandemic response priority as Sask. legislatures starts session
WATCH: The throne speech laid out the focus for the Saskatchewan government in the coming weeks — responding to the coronavirus pandemic and fulfilling election promises – Nov 30, 2020

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said the upcoming legislative session will focus on two main items — responding to the coronavirus pandemic and fulfilling his election promises.

The commitments were made Monday afternoon during the speech from the throne.

Read more: Saskatchewan gives itself $260M cushion to deal with COVID-19 uncertainty

“My government’s top priority during this session and in the coming weeks will continue to be working to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” Lt.-Gov. Russ Mirasty said in the throne speech, titled Strong Saskatchewan.

“My government will continue taking action to address both the health and economic impact of COVID-19 while continuing to prepare for the distribution of a safe and effective vaccine, which the federal government has committed to deliver early in the new year.”

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The speech hinted that, if required, new public measures may be brought in to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“Our best defence has been the selflessness and the vigilance of Saskatchewan people in following the good practices that protect themselves and others,” Mirasty’s speech said.

“I am confident that will continue in the weeks ahead as we all work together to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

Ryan Meili said the throne speech was a “missed opportunity” for the government to fight the second wave of the pandemic.

“Premier Moe spent the election campaign telling people we were out of the woods even though expert advice and pandemic modelling showed otherwise,” the Saskatchewan NDP leader said in a statement.

“Now the second wave is hitting us in a big way and the government is not prepared to invest in the immediate actions needed to flatten the curve.”

Read more: Premier Scott Moe names new Saskatchewan cabinet, 1st woman in over 30 years becomes deputy premier

Moe said the first two bills being introduced will act on campaign promises.

“Our first two bills will be to create a new home renovation tax credit and reduce small business taxes, as promised in the recent election campaign,” Moe said in a statement.

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Under the home renovation tax credit, homeowners will be able to claim a 10.5 per cent tax credit on up to $20,000 in eligible renovation expenses.

The small business tax rate will be reduced to zero per cent retroactive to Oct. 1, and be restored to two per cent by July 2023.

“We will also be moving quickly to cut everyone’s power bill by 10 per cent starting tomorrow (Dec. 1), reduce ambulance charges for seniors and reinstate the community rink affordability grant,” Moe said.

The cost of the power rebate, which lasts for one year, is estimated at $260 million and applies to all customers — residences, businesses and institutions.

Moe said they will also make good on other election promises, including hiring 300 continuing care aides for long-term care homes and home care, and adding 750 new child care spaces over the next four years.

“These are all the commitments we made in the election campaign and we intend to act on all of them in this session, either this fall or in the spring budget,” he said.

Meili said more should be done to help people and businesses.

“Businesses are being told to stay open while their customers are being urged to stay home: it’s a recipe for economic disaster,” Meili said.

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“Now the government’s slow and contradictory approach has left our health care system in chaos — and things will only get worse if we do not act immediately to flatten the curve of COVID-19.”

Click to play video 'Saskatchewan builds COVID-19 contingencies into mid-year fiscal outlook, but will they be enough?' Saskatchewan builds COVID-19 contingencies into mid-year fiscal outlook, but will they be enough?
Saskatchewan builds COVID-19 contingencies into mid-year fiscal outlook, but will they be enough? – Nov 27, 2020

There is also a new ministry headed by Jim Reiter.

The Ministry of SaskBuilds and Procurement is tasked with overseeing the “development and implementation of standardized government procurement processes and information technology infrastructure,” according to the throne speech.

The ministry was established on Nov. 9 through the merger of Central Services and SaskBuilds. The government said it will ensure that Saskatchewan tax dollars go further in providing the best possible value for the lowest possible cost.

Two new pieces of legislation to be introduced during the upcoming session were also announced in the throne speech.

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The Residential Tenancies Act will be amended to allow people who were sexually assaulted in their rental property to unilaterally break a long-term lease.

The Protection From Human Trafficking Act will enable victims to obtain expedited protection orders and allow for the tough enforcement of those orders. The government said civil remedies in the act include the seizure of property and bank accounts and the suspension of driver’s licences.

The fall session of the legislature is expected to last for two weeks.

Members will return for a longer sitting in the spring, which will including tabling the 2021-22 budget.