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Scott Moe talks 2021 regrets, losing political ground and shinny hockey in year-end chat

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WATCH: Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says at the rink, you're likely to find him in the penalty box. That's where many also want him placed for his 2021 pandemic response, which he defended in a year-end chat. – Dec 22, 2021

2021 regrets?

Scott Moe has a few.

Saskatchewan’s premier has said more than once in recent months that the province would have benefitted had his government acted sooner to bring in mask and vaccine mandates as the fourth wave of COVID-19 began to rise. At times during the fourth wave, Saskatchewan had the worst case and death rates in the country.

In a year-end chat with Global News, Moe expanded on the impact he thinks that would have had.

“I think it would have pulled forward some of the reductions that we’re now seeing. It would have pulled those forward a few weeks,” Moe said.

“I stand by that we likely should have acted sooner with the mandates that we put in place. In the same breath, we’re thankful that we did act when we did.”

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When asked whether such action would have saved lives, Moe pointed out the evident risk of choosing to remain unvaccinated.

“You know, all of these decisions combined come together to ultimately help us in reducing the impacts of COVID,” he responded.

“And ultimately, at the end of the day, [it is] those who are not vaccinated, predominantly, that are ending up in our hospitals and with some pretty severe health outcomes. And ultimately, all too often we’re seeing people that are losing their lives to this virus.”

Read more: ‘Gather safely’: No COVID-19 gathering restrictions for Sask. ahead of holidays despite modelling

But case numbers and casualties aren’t the only things Moe wishes had unfolded differently when it comes to how the pandemic shaped the outgoing year.

He said the maneuvers made to protect public health, regardless of when they happened, have resulted in division among residents and lost political ground.

“I think all governments have have probably lost a little bit,” Moe said.

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“I don’t know whether or not that’s necessarily losing that support to opposition parties or losing it to, you know, some other thoughts that are out there. This is a divisive time for our nation and for our province and for our communities and for our families.”

Moe said while he sees Saskatchewan residents paying more critical attention to the actions of their peers than they did before the pandemic, he sees that as negative, but believes it’s a reversible trend.

“They are divisive policies, in particular the proof of vaccination and proof of negative test policy. And you know, I regret the fact that policy is so divisive in our communities and in our families,” Moe said.

“It’s really given us a time where we in the province are looking inward, looking at one another and really looking at one another’s decisions. It’s creating these divides in our culture. I think as we look forward — we actually have an opportunity to get back in this province to what we do best. And that’s looking outward.”

Read more: Saskatchewan says ‘Helium Action Plan’ could create 500 new jobs by 2030

Statistics Canada
Statistics Canada. Statistics Canada

As for what Saskatchewan has to offer beyond its borders in the years ahead, Moe touts exports such as “potash, food and fuel,” which he calls some of the “highest quality, most sustainable and competitively priced” products in the world.

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He acknowledged, though, that 2021 also posed challenges beyond COVID-19.

Parts of Saskatchewan were hit with drought conditions not seen for decades. Some crops had their largest year-over-year yield decreases on record, according to Stats Canada.

Wheat yields decreased by 43.4 per cent year-over-year in the province. Canola production was down 45.4 per cent.

The year’s crop insurance payouts were the highest ever.

“Climate change is having an impact on on the weather that we’re experiencing, which does have an impact, not only on agriculture, but many other industries in Saskatchewan and across Canada,” Moe said, though he added, the impact of the drought was softened by the province’s risk management programs.

“We have a very robust crop insurance policy here, and that was needed in many areas of the province this year. It was shown in the largest payout from that crop insurance program in its history. It was a tough year, and could have been a lot tougher if we did not have such a resilient, innovative agricultural industry that has employed so many positive agronomic attributes that really allowed us to grow more in a drought year than what normally we ever could have 10, 20 or 30 years ago.”

Read more: ‘Gather safely’: No COVID-19 gathering restrictions for Sask. ahead of holidays despite modelling

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But while similar droughts have occurred in recent memory, such as the early 2000s and the mid-1980s, recent research has shown severe weather events such as droughts are likely to become more frequent and more intense due to human-induced climate change.

Asked what his government is doing to mitigate the potential impact of increasingly unstable weather patterns, Moe acknowledged that a transition away from fossil fuel energy is imminent. He repeated, though, his oft-promoted claim that products are more sustainably produced in Saskatchewan than in other jurisdictions. That should be acknowledged as part of the province’s efforts to address climate change, he said.

“Yes, there’s a transition away from oil that is happening over the next number of years. But in the meantime, while you’re purchasing oil, you should purchase the most sustainable product that you can purchase and the most sustainable food products that you can as well,” Moe said, adding that he gives the federal government a failing grade when it comes to marketing Saskatchewan exports as environmentally friendly.

“That was the story that we wanted our federal government to bring to Glasgow, Scotland when they attended the most recent climate change conference there. They did not, and so you’re going to see our province, myself as well as other ministers, really step into this space of telling the story of Saskatchewan products.”

Read more: Two COVID-19 vaccines doses isn’t fully vaccinated anymore: scientist

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While the summer drought and plight of producers in Saskatchewan led to significant collaboration between governments and farmers, that relationship wasn’t without conflict in 2021.

Brief but noteworthy strife was sparked by the government’s messaging around its mid-year budget led to public criticism from the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan.

The year was also characterized by heavy criticism of the government’s response to COVID-19, by labour groups, healthcare workers and the opposition NDP.

Saskatchewan NDP leader repeatedly used question period during the fall legislative sitting to attack Moe’s government, frequently introducing guests affected by healthcare service slowdowns during the fourth wave.

Meanwhile, in an effort to address one of the main sources of the opposition criticism — surgery backlogs — the provincial government recently announced an ambitious plan to reduce wait times by the end of the decade.

But this plan has come under fire, with many questioning its feasibility amid healthcare worker burnout and staffing shortages.

Moe acknowledged that the pandemic has highlighted and worsened existing gaps in the healthcare system this year. He said recruiting and retaining staff will be a top priority moving forward for his government.

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“Yes, it’s it’s on us as a government and as a health system, the Ministry of Health and the Saskatchewan Health Authority, to do everything that we can to attract a larger number of people to come and work right here in Saskatchewan, in our health system,” Moe said, highlighting plans to increase seats in Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s critical care nursing program, as well as increase efforts to attract international talent.

“It is people that offer health care. We can build all of the the infrastructure that we want, but we need people to offer those services. We have opened up a number of trade and export development offices around the world. Those offices are also focusing on opportunities for immigration.”

Read more: Boosters not enough to blunt Omicron wave, experts say: ‘There isn’t time’

Moe was asked what his government has learned after another year battling the pandemic.

“I think what we’ve learned is we have tools available. Namely and most effectively among them is vaccines, and we made those available to Saskatchewan people as quickly as possible and encourage people to avail themselves of the tools that are available to them,” he said.

“If you look to the public health measures that were in place as we went into last Christmas, we didn’t have broad-based access to vaccines. We didn’t have broad-based access to to rapid testing. We didn’t have early intervention therapies or treatments that were in place. So, this year we do. [Yes] we have to wear a mask. Yes, there is some proof of vaccination policy, but largely things are very much back to normal in our communities and in our households as we enter the Christmas season this year.”
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Looking ahead to the holidays, Moe says he’s excited to spend some quiet time with his family at his Shellbrook-area home.

Specifically, he said he’s looking forward to a family tradition of playing shinny hockey on Christmas Eve.

As for what kind of an impact he’ll have on the game, Moe said he’s likely to spend as much time off the ice as on.

“I work best on the bench, in the penalty box. All of my nephews and nieces now are much, much quicker than I. So I find that I have to hang on to them in order to keep up,” he joked.

“It’s a wonderful time for us to get out and do something together with all ages — from four years old to myself, who’s just approaching 50. I’m just so thankful to spend some time with family and argue about, you know, who cheers for the best team.”

The best team according to the premier, if you’re wondering, is the Edmonton Oilers.

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