Sask. leaders' debate hears discussion on suicide rates, supports for Indigenous communities
REGINA -- Saskatchewan has the highest suicide rates in Canada, many occurring in Indigenous and northern communities.
During Wednesday’s leaders’ debate, Sask. Party leader Scott Moe and NDP leader Ryan Meili expressed how they each plan to bring those numbers down and provide more support for Indigenous people in the province.
INCREASING SUPPORTS FOR INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES
The two main political parties differ on what needs to be done to build stronger relationships between Indigenous communities and the government; lower suicide rates and create more jobs for Indigenous people.
Moe pointed to work already being down between Indigenous communities and the forestry and energy industries.
"I have seen the success of that," he said. "I brought the Premiers [Council of the Federation] out for the first time to meet in an Indigenous community in Big River First Nation, where we heard stories of how that community has used an agreement with the provincial government for a forestry management area."
Moe stated the funds from that agreement were used to build the Darby Morin Centre of Excellence, "To make sure they are able to offer education to that next generation so that they have every opportunity to succeed," he said.
Meili agreed that everyone in the province should have a chance to succeed and he would support First Nations and Metis people by "closing the gaps" in healthcare, education, justice and employment.
"I’ve seen the barriers first hand and how that results in worse health outcomes, in tougher time getting work and it holds not just First Nation and Metis people back, but it holds us all back, that costs the entire province," Meili said.
LOWERING SUICIDE RATES
When Tristian Durocher arrived on the Legislative Building’s lawn, the issue of the climbing suicide rates among Indigenous people and in northern communities moved into the spotlight heading into the 2020 Provincial Election.
Meili was critical of Moe and the Sask. Party voting down a suicide prevention bill in the Legislature earlier this year and his decision not to meet with Durocher, who held a ceremonial fast for 44 days on the lawn of the Legislative Building after that decision.
"Mr. Moe, you sent two of your ministers across the road to basically say get off my lawn, what kind of message do you think that sends?" Meili questioned.
Moe pointed to the Pillars For Life strategy implemented by the Sask. Party government and the $30 million investment made in this year’s budget as ways his party has worked towards lowering suicide rates.
"That Pillars for Life strategy is working," Moe said. "It’s guiding us through the conversation around how we are engaging with our partners across the province on a very important conversation around suicides, and in particular northern suicides.
"This is going to take us some time to work our way through this conversation, we are going to need everyone at the table to find our way through that conversation."
Meili countered that he does not believe the Sask. Party’s strategy is working and Moe failing to meet with Durocher sent the wrong message to the people of the province struggling with mental health issues.
"Sixty per cent of kids living on reserves are living in poverty, a quarter of kids in the province as a whole are living in poverty, clearly the approach of Mr. Moe and the province is taking so far isn’t working, we’re not closing that gap," Meili said.
Meili pledged to release an annual report outlining the work being done to improve health, education, employment and justice issues for Indigenous people.
"We will highlight this as a top priority and allow this government to work as a facilitator instead of a barrier like we’ve seen," Meili said.