As another spirited session in the legislature concluded earlier this month, Global News sat down with Saskatchewan NDP leader Ryan Meili to chat about the fall sitting, the year gone by and the months ahead.
While he said he aims to continue his critique of the government’s COVID-19 response that his party dedicated much of its time to in 2021, he says he plans to dedicate more time in the new year to promoting Saskatchewan NDP ideas to the province’s residents.
“We will continue to point to the government’s record over the past year and a half but you’ll also see a lot more of our propositions coming forward,” Meili said on Dec. 9.
“We’ve just launched a series of task forces that are inviting people into a conversation about the future of Saskatchewan. I’m really excited to have that conversation with Saskatchewan people.”
Expanding, Meili said he hopes to engage residents to learn more about how they’d like to see Saskatchewan change in the years ahead.
“What do the jobs of the future look like? What do the opportunities for young people look like? How do we provide those key elements of how we care for each other,” Meili explained.
“Education, services for the most vulnerable, health care — inviting people in to say, here’s what’s not working right now, but also here’s our ideas, here’s our vision for what could be better.”
Meili added that part of that process will involve making sure Saskatchewan “learns the lessons” of the pandemic.
“We need to make sure that we do not miss the lessons that come from COVID-19,” Meili said.
“It has shown us so much about what’s wrong in our health-care system, but also challenges in our economy, our weaknesses and vulnerabilities. It’s shown us what’s wrong in our education system. In the way we care for seniors. If we just say ‘OK, it’s over. We made a couple mistakes. Let’s move on,’ then we’ll repeat these errors and fail to fix all that’s broken in Saskatchewan.”
As for where he thinks there were lessons to be learned, Meili points to the government’s timing when bringing in the current mask mandate and proof of vaccination system.
He believes both could have been enacted earlier.
“This has been extremely damaging to the Saskatchewan people, to our reputation, to our economy and, saddest and most importantly, to the lives of Saskatchewan people.”
Earlier in December, the government unveiled plans to reduce surgery wait times and deal with a surgical backlog made worse by pandemic-induced service slowdowns. Government officials have said that there are around 35000 people awaiting surgery in Saskatchewan.
Meili has acknowledged the idea as a positive step, but has also been quick to criticize the feasibility of the plan given its human resource requirements.
In recent months, multiple health-care worker unions and organizations, as well as the Saskatchewan Health Authority, have detailed the impact burnout, fatigue and understaffing are having on the industry.
Global News asked Meili what he would do to recruit and retain healthcare workers.
“It’s a wicked problem. It’s complex and it’s challenging. But you have to try. You have to have a strategy, you have to have a plan,” Meili responded.
“We have 1400 empty spaces in health care already in this province. If we’re going to get anywhere near the staff needed to undertake the work to deal with this backlog, we’re going to need to be training, recruiting and keeping the people we have. The work isn’t being done in communities, in particular rural communities, to invite people into those professions and give them the opportunities to train closer to home.
“We need to make sure we’re paying people well, giving them full-time jobs instead of just casual and part-time. We need to support the people who are there now.”
As for his plans for the holidays, Meili said he’s looking forward to his family’s time-honoured tradition of attending midnight mass followed by a rousing round of gift-opening.
“With a four and 10-year-old at home that’ll be really fun. It’s exciting to wake up the next morning and see them dig into their stocking,” said Meili, adding that because of he and his wife’s francophone roots, the holiday season typically extends into the new year.
“We also do one on Jan. 6. Its Epiphany for us, and there’s a tradition where there’s an almond pie, the ‘Galette des rois’, and in it is a little ceramic toy. The youngest person at the table sits at the table and decides who gets the next piece, and whoever’s gets the toy gets a paper crown and gets to be the kind for the next year.
“I always look forward to that one. That’s a great, fun holiday tradition.