A sometimes tumultuous legislative session ended for opposition leader Ryan Meili and his New Democrats last week.
“It was a good session in a few different ways. Sometimes in opposition you have to work for victories,” said Meili in a conference call Tuesday.
He pointed to victories on two fronts. One was the reversal of the government’s decision to stop funding Cornwall Alternative School. Meili claimed success for the NDP in the reversal of that decision.
The other was the passage of legislation by the government for protection of victims of domestic violence, with provisions “in keeping with what we wanted” said Meili.
Meili also pointed to other issues they have raised such as the “crisis in our classrooms – the crowded and complex classrooms that are making life more difficult for students and teachers around the province,” as well as wait times in ER and issues affecting the economy such as the impact of the PST on construction.
The federal carbon tax was an obvious issue during the spring sitting, with the province fighting a reference to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal that they lost on a 3-2 decision.
Meili criticized the whole handling of the carbon tax issue by the Scott Moe government.
“They’ve lost the court case, and we have the Trudeau carbon tax here. It didn’t have to be that way,” said Meili.
Premier Moe “could have come up with an alternative, he could have tried to negotiate us a better deal, but he went in with this all or nothing approach. As a result we got nothing. We got no progress in getting a better deal for Saskatchewan, we got a plan imposed by Ottawa.”
Meili said it was time for Moe to “stop playing politics” and “not do what Trudeau has done, which is make life less affordable for people around the province.”
He added his party was putting forth the Renew Saskatchewan model as an alternative, which would “help people get into renewable energy all around the province.”
On issues impacting the local area, there have been calls by municipal politicians for the province to step up with social services funding to deal with the root causes of crime and addictions issues in the city.
Meili said the “number one crime reduction strategy is a poverty reduction strategy.” He noted the province had committed to a poverty reduction strategy in 2014 but never actually brought it in.
“We are the only province that does not have a poverty reduction strategy, and our poverty rates have been growing,” said Meili. He pointed to the province making cuts to areas such as the rental housing supplement.
The NDP leader suggested a number of things could be done such as raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, expanding access to addictions treatments and mental health supports.
“They are more interested in the policing end of things which every policing expert will tell you, you can’t arrest your way out of a crime problem. You need to address the root causes.”
The rise of crystal meth use also concerned Meili. He said “really significant investment is required in mental health and addictions – our emergency rooms are choked with people who are high on crystal meth and have problems related to its use, and we have the crime problem fueled by crystal meth.”
As for the next few months, with a federal election around the corner, that creates the possibility for a changed political dynamic at the federal level.
When asked about that Meili responded, “It’s a way to keep an eye on what federal issues are really resonating locally.”
Meili was also interested in seeing what might happen after the federal election.
“The Premier has made most of his time about fighting Justin Trudeau, which I think in many ways has been distracting from his own record,” said Meili.
“What does he do if Andrew Scheer is the prime minister? How does he change the channel if suddenly it’s his friend in there?”
SASK HOSPITAL ROOF WOES
Meili’s conference call was held one day before word broke that the entire roof of the new Saskatchewan Hospital has to be replaced just two months after the facility was officially opened.
On Wednesday, Meili spoke to the News-Optimist again about that news.
“Absolutely bizarre,” was his reaction. “Not a glowing endorsement of the P3 process or the way this entire thing has been managed.”
He thought this particular hospital situation was quite unusual, but pointed to a pattern of miscues with the Regina bypass, Swift Current power station and now this hospital – “big expensive builds with out of province or even out of country companies, and major problems.”
“This to me is a real condemnation of their approach to big builds and the way they spend our money.”
Meili also noted the other problems with the Sask Hospital project, referring to the replacement of the defective insulation throughout the building during the construction phase, as well as the departure of Carillion, one of the partners in the P3, due to bankruptcy.
The NDP leader called the P3 model “ultimately more expensive, and the quality isn’t what it should be.”
“We need a new look at our procurement model,” said Meili. He said too many contracts were going to out-of-province companies and projects were “not using our expertise and workers to build them. We’re leaving people unemployed and the product, as a result, is not the quality it should be.”