Economic stimulus drives Sask. throne speech, pandemic takes back burner

Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan throne speech delivered ahead of fall sitting'
Saskatchewan throne speech delivered ahead of fall sitting
WATCH: Saskatchewan Lt.-Gov. Russ Mirasty delivered the speech from the throne on Wednesday beginning a new session of legislature.  – Oct 27, 2021

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said the upcoming legislative session will focus on boosting economic opportunities, increasing policing and public safety measures, among other items.

On Wednesday Moe said the province faced possibly its most challenging year, from the summer drought affecting agriculture production to the fourth wave of the pandemic.

Saskatchewan Lt.-Gov. Russ Mirasty shared those comments on Wednesday afternoon during the speech from the throne, titled “Building a Better Saskatchewan.”

Click to play video: 'Premier Scott Moe highlights throne speech'
Premier Scott Moe highlights throne speech

Addressed in the throne speech is the province’s commitment to move forward with policing and public safety measures, particularly in rural Saskatchewan.

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One of the government’s key objectives is to increase the visibility of law enforcement across the province.

A total of 60 new police positions and 11 civilian positions will be added to support new law enforcement initiatives. A new Provincial Protective Services unit will also be created.

“This will bring together, under one command, Conservation Officers, Highway Patrol officers, Provincial Capital Commission community safety officers, Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods (SCAN) officers and deputy sheriffs working in the provincial court system,” Mirasty said in the throne speech.

The unit will have more than 325 officers and will work closely with police and serve as law enforcement to help protect communities.

Moe acknowledged it’s important to take a holistic approach to understanding why individuals commit crimes when drafting policies.

“We understand that much of the crime that we see is addictions-fuelled crime. We want to ensure that those Saskatchewan people that are struggling with addictions, that we’re providing them a pathway to a better opportunity,” Moe said on Wednesday.

Moe highlighted the government’s commitment to add 150 spaces to rehabilitation and treatment facilities over the next three years.

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The Saskatchewan Trafficking Response Team (STRT) will be created to target criminals who transport illegal drugs and weapons into the province. This new team will also aim to combat human trafficking.

Click to play video: 'Policing, public safety focus of 2021 Sask. throne speech'
Policing, public safety focus of 2021 Sask. throne speech

The team will include 30 RCMP officers, six municipal police officers and two criminal analysts.

The government also committed to creating a Warrant Enforcement Suppression Team (WEST), a team made up of eight officers from the RCMP and municipal police services. WEST will target dangerous offenders with outstanding warrants.

To support WEST, the government will give courts the option to order GPS electronic monitoring for repeat offenders who have committed serious crimes.

The government also plans to add 16 police officers and reallocate internal positions to implement new Crime Reduction Teams in Meadow Lake, La Ronge, Lloydminster and Moose Jaw.

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During the upcoming session, the government intends to introduce legislative changes to the Seizure of Criminal Property Act by bringing together investigators, Ministry of Justice lawyers, and a criminal analyst to combat money laundering.

This session the government will also make amendments to the Trespass to Property Act, including increased penalties for repeat offenders, creating a statutory tort for trespass “to make it easier for land owners and occupiers to seek damages against a trespasser.”

Throne speech puts online learning in the spotlight
The throne speech also touched on education, highlighting the increase in online learning fuelled by the pandemic.

“While this form of instruction isn’t appropriate for every situation, it does create learning opportunities that might not otherwise be available and many students have thrived while learning from home,” Mirasty said in the throne speech.

The government committed to create a new learning policy to make sure students have the best education possible if they study online.

The government said by the end of 2022, child-care fees will be cut by 50 per cent and child-care workers’ wages will go up by $3 per hour.

The throne speech stated the government is also planning to implement a new funding pool aimed at enhancing class supports for teachers “working with the greatest number of students.”

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This is expected to include new funding for hiring educational assistants.

The government will also introduce a new Parent Teacher Home Visit Pilot Project that will involve 400 students. Teachers will meet students and parents in their homes at least twice during the school year.

The project is aimed at strengthening relationships between educators, students and their families.

Over the next two academic years, the provincial government commits to providing post-secondary institutions with an additional $60 million in operational funding.

On Nov. 1, the Advanced Education Ministry plans to launch a new international education strategy.

Sask. Growth Plan highlighted in throne speech
The throne speech highlighted goals outlined in the provincial government’s Growth Plan, including creating 100,000 new jobs by 2030, increasing the value of exports by 50 per cent by 2030 and investing $30 billion in the province’s infrastructure by 2030.

Mirasty highlighted a growing number of Indigenous-owned companies in mining, forestry, finance, manufacturing, hospitality, tourism and energy.

“These enterprises collectively generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue each year, and employ thousands of people, while supporting many worthwhile causes in our communities.”

The government committed to creating the Saskatchewan Indigenous Investment Finance Corporation, which will provide up to $75 million in financing to Indigenous communities and organizations “interested in making equity investments in resource development projects.”

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The throne speech also highlighted the province’s resources, including helium.

The North American Helium facility in Saskatchewan is expected to produce more than 50 million cubic feet of helium per year.

The government plans to ensure the province produces 10 per cent of the world’s helium by 2030.

The province will release a Helium Action Plan outlining measures to help them meet that goal, in the fall.

The government expects more companies to take advantage of its Oil Infrastructure Investment Program (OIIP).

Husky Midstream was the first company to complete a project under the program and invested $82 million and created 450 jobs during its Gathering System Expansion near Spruce Lake.

The government also committed to addressing greenhouse gas emissions.

“This year, my government will launch a new Sustainable Saskatchewan brand that will promote the high quality and environmental sustainability of products produced in Saskatchewan,” Mirasty said.

As for agriculture, the government said it will invest an additional $2.5 million in agriculture water development.

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Mirasty said the COVID-19 pandemic is the government’s “important and most immediate task” to deal with.

“The surge of patients caused by the fourth wave of the pandemic has put significant stress on our health-care system,” Mirasty said.

Mirasty said the government was grateful for front-line health-care workers’ dedication and sacrifice during the pandemic.

The government will introduce a bill that will prevent demonstrators from “restricting access to hospitals.”

Click to play video: 'Moe speaks about future of health capacity'
Moe speaks about future of health capacity

The throne speech did not hint at further restrictions coming in to combat the fourth wave, instead focusing on the government’s vaccination strategy.

“The clear path to the end of this pandemic is through vaccination,” Mirasty said.
Dr. Dennis Kendel said while he welcomes the legislation, it’s not the immediate help physicians have been calling for.

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“I think it leaves (health-care workers) feeling abandoned, quite frankly,” Kendel told Global News.

“The government’s refusal to act promptly upon the recommendations from 21 medical health officers is really deeply disturbing. It suggests the government discounts their expertise and they are the people most expert in controlling population threats such as pandemic and they need to be listened to,” Kendel added.

The speech highlighted other previous health commitments, including new hospitals in Prince Albert and Weyburn.

Leader of the Official Opposition Ryan Meili called the throne speech “a deflection of fourth wave failures.”

“What we need from this government is an immediate plan of action to address the crisis Scott Moe created. Anything less is a choice to put politics ahead of the health and safety of the people of Saskatchewan,” said Meili.

“This is a government living with their heads in the sand. The speech references investments in health care without acknowledging no one can currently access the treatments mentioned. Thousands of surgeries, treatments, transplants and therapies have been cancelled and Scott Moe still refuses to accept responsibility for his role in causing it,” Meili added.

The fall session of legislature will run until early December.

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