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Sask. NDP accuses former health minister of lying about COVID-19 plan

The NDP is asking Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe to respond to allegations that the provincial government did not have a COVID-19 plan prepared last March when they said they did. Adrian Raaber / Global News

The Saskatchewan NDP is accusing then Health Minister Jim Reiter of lying about the government’s level of preparedness at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Opposition health critic Vicki Mowat spoke to reporters on Thursday and said the NDP asked Reiter about his plan to address the COVID-19 pandemic on March 10, 2020.

Read more: Coronavirus: Saskatchewan NDP leader calls on premier to create task force

“He said that he had a plan and accused us of fear-mongering. He released his plan the next day — one year ago today — to show how prepared he was. But the documents we’ve received show that was all a lie,” Mowat said.

The documents obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, also reveal an email from a communications staff member writing that they were “totally pulling these out of the air,” as a test script in response to a media inquiry about the COVID-19 pandemic plan.

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Mowat said she is calling on Premier Scott Moe to “answer for former Health Minister Jim Reiter lying about the government’s plan to fight COVID-19.”

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

Reiter was appointed to Minister of SaskBuilds and Procurement on Nov. 9, 2020 during a cabinet shuffle.

The documents, shared by the NDP, show that the first draft of the COVID-19 response plan wasn’t distributed until 7:43 p.m. on March 10, 2020. In question period that day, Mowat asked Reiter about the plan.

Reiter responded that an emergency preparedness plan was in place, and it was being tweaked to fit the coronavirus.

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A response from the Saskatchewan government stated that there are “several false accusations” in the NDP’s release.

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“(It) is a disappointing politicization of the early efforts of public health officials to address the COVID-19 pandemic,” government spokesperson Jim Billington wrote in an email.

Billington added that a pandemic response plan was being updated to adapt and respond to the novel coronavirus.

“Public health officials in Saskatchewan reacted swiftly with minimal information in the early stages of the pandemic. It is disappointing that the opposition is seeking to politicize the early efforts of public health officials following a year where they have worked diligently on behalf of Saskatchewan people,” Billington wrote.

The government’s response also points to media scrums involving Chief Medical Health Officer with Dr. Saqib Shahab in February focused on coronavirus preparedness.

Read more: Opposition accuses Saskatchewan premier of delaying COVID-19 response

Mowat also accused the Sask. Party of preparing for a snap spring election rather than planning for a pandemic.

“Really you have to look at these situations and ask whether preparedness would have made a difference and we see time and time again with this government with their lack of planning for the second wave of COVID-19 that they simply haven’t put the plan in place to make sure that happens,” Mowat said.

There had been speculation in the weeks before this the premier would call for an early election. Moe eventually said there would be no early election on March 12, 2020. That same day the first case of COVID-19 was announced in Saskatchewan.

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