Friday, 08 June 2018 06:19

Meili feels upbeat about his first session in legislature as NDP leader

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The spring session of the Saskatchewan Legislature ended on May 31 and Saskatchewan NDP leader Ryan Meili feels good about his party's efforts to hold the government to account.


He was elected as the new party leader in early March and this was his first session in the legislature as opposition leader.
“It’s been a pretty big session,” he said. “A new premier, a new leader of the opposition, a new speaker of the house, and a chance for us to really start to point out some of the challenges that this government has and start to talk about some of the things that we'd like to achieve.”
One of his goals after the leadership race was to unite the party and he was impressed with the way the NDP caucus worked together as a team during this legislative session.
“We had to make a choice within the party, but now we’re together and we’re focused on the Sask. Party and their struggles, but more importantly on the work that’s ahead that we need to be doing to make sure that people in Saskatchewan have their chance to have the healthiest and best lives possible,” he said. “I’ve been really pleased with the way that’s come together and the way that’s been reflected in question period and our positions within the public discourse that I think are really catching people’s attention.”
He noted that NDP caucus members have continued to highlight the impact of cuts to the education and health budgets.
“That’s resulting in more challenges in schools, more schools falling apart, more teachers having trouble with being able to manage the load that they’re facing workwise, with growing wait times in surgeries, growing wait times in emergency rooms,” he said.
The NDP continued to ask questions about the Global Transportation Hub (GTH) at Regina, but he feels the government's response was not satisfactory.
“We also pointed out some ongoing issues around the GTH and the many questions that continue to persist, both around the shady land deals involving Bill Boyd at the beginning of this and the ongoing struggles as the debt and the expense of this boondoggle continues to grow,” he said.
The NDP had questions for Premier Scott Moe about the violation of environmental laws by former Saskatchewan Party MLA Bill Boyd.
“We canvassed a great deal how much Mr. Moe knew about that through the process,” Meili said. “He had met with Boyd and the ministry throughout that. We never had gotten any clear answers on how much he knew and whether he was involved at all in making sure that Boyd got the permits.”
Meili was happy to see the repeal of Bill 40 during the final week of the session. The government passed the bill last year, but there was public concern about a clause that would allow the province to sell up to 49 per cent of a Crown corporation without public consultation. In response the government introduced legislation in November 2017 to repeal the bill.
“The public pushed back hard against that and we were very happy that it was finally repealed once and for all,” he said. “We’re going to continue to watch this government closely around instead of selling off ownership if they’re selling off parts and assets of our Crowns.”
The NDP has highlighted the need to overhaul campaign finance laws in the province. The party introduced a bill to ban donations from corporations and unions to political parties, to put a cap on individual donations and to end out-of-province donations.
“Unfortunately, in the last week we voted on that and the government chose not to support it and chose to double down on having ongoing corporate influence in our elections,” he said.
The NDP caucus has been advocating for various other issues during the session, including a $15 minimum wage and a universal pharmacare program.
Meili is critical of the government's decision to cut $5 million from the rental housing supplement and he is concerned about the impact it will have on people who needs this support to pay the rent.
“They’ve done this saying that there’s a program coming from the federal government, but we don’t know whether that’s happening, when it would happen or exactly what it would look like,” he said. “So to years in advance be cutting off this rental housing supplement when rents have not fallen, seems like a pretty poor choice and a good way to make sure that they actually end up paying a lot more because if people cannot afford decent housing, that impacts their health and they wind up either in housing shelters or in hospital.”
The issue of the federal carbon tax was a point of discussion in the legislature during the spring session. Meili opposes a carbon tax imposed by the federal government on Saskatchewan, but at the same time the NDP is critical of the approach followed by the Saskatchewan Party government.
“If, by September, we don’t have a plan designed in Saskatchewan that would actually meet their requirements, we’re going to have one imposed that’s been designed by Trudeau et al in Ottawa,” Meili said. “The way that the provincial government has gone about this, where they’re basically just been saying no without looking at a plan B, has really exposed us to a really dangerous situation.”
He noted that the provincial government's climate change strategy, called Prairie Resilience, does not meet the federal requirements and as a result Saskatchewan has been unable to access millions of federal dollars that are available for renewable energy infrastructure.
Meili said the NDP will come up with an alternative climate change plan that will be released in the coming months. The policy will aim to decrease emissions, but at the same time the goal will be to keep life affordable for Saskatchewan residents and to protect trade exposed industries such as agriculture and oil and gas.
“I’ll ask for just a little bit of patience,” he said. “I’ve been in this job for three months and this is my first session. So we’re not at the point yet where we’re releasing our platform, but I think you’ll see in the coming months a clear description of how we will approach emissions in a way that would hit the key points. We always have to look at these policies through the context of or through the lens of how will they affect the lives of the people of Saskatchewan.”

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Matthew Liebenberg

Reporter/Photographer

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