Premier Scott Moe was in the Battlefords on Friday at the end of what was a busy week for him and his government.
The premier has had to contend with rail blockades, labour disputes and other pressing issues, but took the time to be in the Battlefords Friday as part of his tour around the province.
“We’re getting out around the province this week and next week, visiting a number of communities,” said Moe.
In his visit to the Battlefords Moe visited John Paul II Collegiate in the morning, and later met with local civic leaders, including Mayor Ryan Bater of North Battleford and Mayor Ames Leslie of Battleford.
The premier also planned to meet local business leaders in the afternoon. For lunch he was scheduled to visit Northland Power Curling Centre, the home venue for Robyn Silvernagle and her Twin Rivers Curling Club team who were representing Saskatchewan at the Scotties that week.
Both Moe and MLA Herb Cox met with reporters and took questions on a number of pressing topics facing the province.
Blockades in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en nation have been staged across Canada this week, leading to CN Rail layoffs and the shutting down of VIA Rail service to eastern Canada.
The issue has been a concern for Moe, who organized a conference call with other Premiers the previous day on the issue.
He said he had talked “numerous times” over the last two days with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and all the premiers, “trying to work together to find a peaceful resolution to these rail blockades that are popping up across the nation.”
The premier noted injunctions have been sought and acted upon by enforcement agencies, and he also noted the challenges to importing and exporting products.
“These blockades are illegal. The injunctions from the courts have deemed they are illegal,” said Moe. “There is an opportunity for dialogue, which we talked about on our calls with the prime minister and other premiers, however that opportunity is not long,” he added. “They are illegal and at some point enforcement will have to occur on all the blockades, for the betterment of the Canadian economy, for the opportunity for communities to access the products they need, and for us, essentially, to allow our democracy to work.”
He said parliamentarians and legislators “create the laws,” the courts “interpret the laws” and law enforcement agencies “ultimately enforce the laws, and they have the discretion as to how those laws are enforced.”
“What is not at the law enforcement agencies’ discretion is whether or not they enforce the laws. It is the expectation of the government of Saskatchewan and I would say the vast majority of people in this nation, that those laws are actually enforced.”
Federated Co-operatives labour dispute:
The ongoing labour dispute between Federated Co-operatives Ltd. and Unifor has continued. Premier Moe described it as a “challenging dispute.” There had been barricades erected at the Regina refinery, however in recent days there has been some easing of the situation with talks now back on.
A special mediator, Vince Ready, has been appointed this week by the government to come in and seek to resolve the dispute. Premier Moe noted this is not a normal appointment as special mediators have been appointed only six times in the last 15 years.
“It’s not very often that this tool is used,” said Moe, but “we most certainly felt it was necessary in this case and we provided a time frame for both parties to sit down without barricades erected, without some of the dispute being played out in our public sphere, to have some negotiations in good faith and we’re very, very hopeful that we will come to an agreement over this period of time.”
Saskatchewan Hospital construction:
The opposition New Democrats have continued to hammer the government recently on the construction issues at the new Saskatchewan Hospital North Battleford.
Premier Moe said it is “pretty rich that the NDP have chosen this construction project and the way that this project has been built to criticize it.”
Moe reiterated the old 100-year-old facility “would not have been replaced under an NDP government. They had the opportunity to replace it and they simply chose not to. It is only under the Saskatchewan Party administration that this project was prioritized, replaced.”
Moe also said the province was “fortunate” in using the P3 model used to construct the new hospital. He said the challenges to the facility would be rectified, and “they’ll be rectified and not at a cost to taxpayers because of the model chosen to construct the facility.”
Battlefords MLA Herb Cox said the hospital “would not have been built until the government changed.” He also responded to leader Ryan Meili’s claim that it was former MLA Len Taylor who was “instrumental in starting to rebuild the hospital.”
“There was never an item in the budget setting aside money for the Saskatchewan Hospital North Battleford, until government changed. And those are the facts.”
On the departure of Herb Cox:
Premier Moe had some parting words about the retirement of Herb Cox after two terms as MLA.
“It’s been a true honour for me to serve with Herb,” said Moe, who noted that Cox had actually replaced him in various cabinet portfolios over the years including Environment and Advanced Education.
Moe also pointed to Cox’s work on the Caucus Committee on Crime, and later on also praised his work on Saskatchewan Hospital.
“Herb’s service has been exemplary and goes far beyond serving just the people of this constituency,” said Moe. “I, for one, say thank you very much to Herb, and thank you to the people of Battlefords for allowing us to work with Herb.”