These 4 key issues were discussed in the 2020 Sask. leaders' debate
REGINA -- The leaders of the Saskatchewan Party and the Saskatchewan NDP covered several issues key to the province in the Saskatchewan election 2020 leaders’ debate on Wednesday.
Scott Moe and Ryan Meili fielded several questions relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, Indigenous issues, the economy and education, among other topics.
THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
The leaders were initially asked about the COVID-19 pandemic and whether their parties would enact a mandatory mask policy in the province, with case numbers rising.
The government’s current mask policy states people should wear masks inside when physical distancing is not possible. Moe said he will stand by the policy moving forward.
“We’ve been very clear on the masking policy that we have had in the province,” Moe said. “It has been effective and it will continue for the foreseeable future.”
Meili said he would like to see clearer guidance from the government on when or if mandatory masks would come into play and what the deciding factors would be.
Following the debate, he clarified that a potential NDP government would consider a mandatory mask policy, but would look to public health to establish a clear benchmark for what factors would need to be met for it to be implemented.
“If it’s not time for mandatory masks, if public health doesn’t think that’s where we should go yet, when would that be the case?” Meili asked. “The rate of transmission, new cases, or just the total number of cases, what is the threshold?”
“I’d work with public health to communicate that clearly to the public so that people know exactly what to expect.”
The two parties differed in their strategies to increase relationships with Saskatchewan’s many Indigenous communities.
Moe pointed to local industries as a way to engage with more communities.
"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."
The NDP leader said his party would support Indigenous communities by “closing the gaps” in healthcare, education, justice and employment.
He said an NDP government would release an annual “close the gap report” outlining the work done to engage with Indigenous communities, and release statistics on health, unemployment, education and justice, to highlight these issues as a “top priority.”
The issue of the climbing suicide rates among Indigenous people and in northern communities moved into the spotlight heading into the 2020 Provincial Election, after Tristian Durocher set up camp on the Legislative Building’s lawn,
Meili was critical of Moe and the Sask. Party voting down a suicide prevention bill in the Legislature earlier this year and the Premier’s decision not to meet with Durocher, who held a ceremonial fast for 44 days on the lawn of the Legislative Building after that decision.
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 doesn’t 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.
Both leaders were also asked how their parties would help Saskatchewan people navigate the economic repercussions of the pandemic.
Meili focused on affordability for Saskatchewan people that have been struggling since the beginning of the pandemic.
“They’re looking for a government that will invest now, invest now in creating jobs right here with Sask. first procurement, in raising wages and doing the work to make life more affordable,” Meili said. “And showing that they actually understand where people are at right now and how much some folks are struggling today.”
Moe pointed to the government’s budgeted $2 billion addition to infrastructure projects in the province and its plan to balance the budget by 2024, as ways to assist the province by improving the economy.
“[It’s] very important that we get back to a balanced budget here in the province so that we have the ability for sustainable health funding, for sustainable education funding,” Moe said.
While Moe implied the NDP did not yet have a plan to balance the budget, Meili countered saying an NDP government would clear the deficit, but did not give a clear timeline.
“We’re going to balance the budget as soon as we are able, but we are not going to do it in a way that’s going to hurt families, and that’s the biggest difference,” Meili said.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, teachers and students were sent home from schools and now many schools are seeing the results of this with kids back in classrooms across the province.
The two leaders were asked about how their respective governments would support teachers to help students catch up.
Moe did not cite any direct in-classroom supports, however, he noted an additional $155 million the government provided to education as part of the COVID contingency plan. He said $51 million of this fund has been dispersed to school divisions and the rest is available by request.
“We provided 440 staff that have come into our schools to ensure that our educators and most importantly our students have the supports that they need to ensure that they have every opportunity to succeed in this environment,” Moe said.
Moe also noted several new schools that have been invested in by the Saskatchewan Party government.
Meili recognized the struggles Saskatchewan students might be having, but also claimed these problems are being compounded by large class sizes in schools.
“After having those months off, were having kids trying to catch up in classrooms that were already overcrowded already overstressed,” Meili said. “COVID-19 has only exposed the problems that already existed in our classrooms that teachers and parents have been speaking up about for years.”
The NDP plans to address these problems by hiring hundreds of new teachers, education assistants and custodians to bring down class sizes and give kids more supports.
When asked how an NDP government would pay for these new teachers, Moe suggested they would raise taxes. Meili said his government would not raise taxes, for all.
“The only [tax] increase we are committed to is asking those very few facts, those folks with over $15 million free and clear in assets, to pay a little bit more right now,” Meili said.
The Saskatchewan general election will take place on Oct. 26. For more election coverage from CTV News Regina, visit us here.