REGINA -- The disposal of thousands of expired PPE masks stockpiled at a Regina warehouse fueled a fiery exchange between Health Minister Jim Reiter and NDP leader Ryan Meili during Question Period on Thursday.

Expired masks and other medical supplies were thrown out or recycled from a pandemic stockpile at the Regina General Hospital several years ago, in an effort to reduce the number of stockpiled materials by 50 per cent, according to the opposition.

“These actions hurt us when it came to pandemic planning because those supplies weren’t readily available at the start of the pandemic,” said NDP MLA Vicki Mowat. “We’ve been hearing from so many frontline healthcare workers since the pandemic began that are saying exactly this, that there was a shortage.

Minister Reiter defended the decision in the Legislature, following questions from Mowat.

“The member opposite is making it sound as if the masks from a number of years ago hadn’t expired, it makes it sound like they were destroyed just shortly before COVID-19 or something,” said Reiter. “There wasn’t a shortage. To my knowledge I believe most supplies there was at minimum at least 30 days at the lowest point.”

“It almost seems like the members opposite are disappointed that COVID-19 didn’t hit Saskatchewan harder,” Reiter added.

The comment drew some out of turn responses from NDP leader Ryan Meili across the floor, causing a call for order from House Speaker Mark Docherty.

Following Question Period, Reiter stuck by his answer, but noted he likely overstepped during the intense exchange.

“The debate was about PPE, certainly not people getting sick,” said Reiter. “They keep bringing up issues that never happened, there wasn’t a shortage, officials are working hard to ensure there’s not a shortage. But it did, it got too heated in there.”

The government said lessons have been learned from the incident and a rotation of near-expiry supplies is now part of its planning.