Saskatchewan premier says he wouldn't change a thing about COVID-19 response
Published Wednesday, December 30, 2020 11:20AM CST
Premier Scott Moe speaks in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press correspondent Stephanie Taylor (not pictured) in the cabinet room at the Legislative Building in Regina on Tuesday Dec. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Bell
REGINA -- Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe spent 2020 getting a lot of advice on what to do. Advice from health officials on COVID-19. Advice from cabinet. Advice from staff. And advice from the man who was premier before him.
"Said he's never faced anything quite like this in duration or in the actual challenge," Moe said in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press.
Moe served in Brad Wall's cabinet before replacing the popular premier and Saskatchewan Party leader in a contest almost three years ago.
"Just never lose your gut instincts on where people are, and how people want to be treated, and what they want to hear," Moe said his former boss told him.
After months of leading the province through a hard stretch of the pandemic, Moe, 47, begins a new year facing the continued threat of deaths and hospitalizations, plus the added challenge of delivering vaccinations.
"There's no doubt that it does weigh on you professionally, but it weighs on you as a person." he said.
Moe was a couple of weeks into his campaign for the Oct. 26 provincial election when COVID-19 cases began to climb after months of low infection rates.
Ten days after the Saskatchewan Party won its fourth-straight majority -- an achievement not seen since Tommy Douglas's Co-operative Commonwealth Federation half a century earlier -- the province surpassed 100 new infections in a single day.
A little more than two weeks later, Saskatchewan reported more than 400 COVID-19 cases in one day.
As of Monday, the province of nearly 1.2 million people had the third-highest rate of active cases per capita in Canada, behind Alberta and Manitoba.
Public health orders meant to snuff the spread of the novel coronavirus came in ever-stricter pieces. The partial measures were criticized by hundreds of doctors and nurses, as well as the Opposition NDP, for being insufficient and bowing more to economic pressures than health concerns.
Business leaders and others praised Moe -- who had a small business career and sold farm equipment before entering politics -- for not returning the province to an economywide shutdown like in the spring.
Decisions about the pandemic response were made collectively, said the premier, who identified his greatest strength as an ability to bring people together.
Even with the advantages of hindsight, Moe said there's nothing he would change.
"I just don't know that, as I reflect on them, that there is a different decision that we could have made at that point in time, given what we knew."
"I haven't doubted decisions."
Moe hasn't enjoyed the same popularity bump as some other premiers through the pandemic, although polls show support for him remains high.
When speaking directly to the public at news conferences, he's tried appealing more to people's common sense with a calm reassuring tone, rather than making emotional pleas and reprimanding public-health scofflaws.
On another front, Saskatchewan's issue with the federal government's carbon tax mostly took a back seat to the pandemic after a fall hearing before the Supreme Court of Canada.
However, the cool-headed Moe seen throughout the virus crisis still appears to be the "frustrated federalist" he said he was after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's 2019 re-election.
Most recently, Moe accused Ottawa of lying about its plans to increase the current carbon tax of $30 a tonne to $170 a tonne by 2030.
Moe blames Trudeau for the resurgence of separatist feelings that spurred a Wexit movement across Western Canada.
In his election night victory speech, the premier told those who voted for a pro-independence party that beat the NDP in some rural constituencies: "I hear you."
And to those who want to separate, Moe said: "I understand why the sentiments are there."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 30 2020