November 30, 2020, Lieutenant Governor Russ Mirasty delivered the Saskatchewan Government’s Speech from the Throne, entitled Strong Saskatchewan. The speech focuses on the ongoing pandemic response and fulfilling the government’s election commitments.
In the Throne Speech, the government thanked Saskatchewan residents for their ongoing efforts to control the COVID-19 pandemic in the province and said that COVID-19 and the ongoing response to the pandemic will be the government’s top priority during the legislative session and in the weeks ahead.
The first two bills that will be introduced will be to create a new Home Renovation Tax Credit and reduce small business taxes, as promised in the recent election campaign. Premier Moe said the government will also move quickly to cut everyone’s power bill by 10 per cent starting tomorrow, reduce ambulance charges for seniors, and reinstate the Community Rink Affordability grant.
The Throne Speech also commits the government to fund the rest of its campaign commitments starting in the 2021-22 budget. These include:
- Increased support for persons living with diabetes by covering the cost of insulin pumps and covering the cost of Continuing Glucose Monitoring up to age 18;
- Extending individualized funding for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder up to age 12;
- Increased supports for Deafblind individuals;
- Hiring 300 new continuing care aides to work in long-term care homes and home care;
- Reducing tuition costs by increasing the Saskatchewan Advantage Scholarship from $500 to $750 a year;
- Increasing funding to the Saskatchewan Veterans Service Club Support Program to $1.5 million a year;
- Adding 750 new child care spaces over the next four years;
- Restarting the Active Families Benefit to help families with the cost of children’s sports and cultural activities; and
- Increasing the Seniors Income Plan benefit to $360 a year over the next three years – four times what it was in 2007.
The government also committed to the following new legislation in the Throne Speech:
- Amendments to The Residential Tenancies Act will allow those who have been sexually assaulted in their rental accommodation to unilaterally break a long-term lease; and
- The Protection From Human Trafficking Act will enable victims to obtain expedited protection orders, allow for the tough enforcement of those orders, and provide civil remedies including the seizure of property and bank accounts and the suspension of driver’s licenses.
The government intends to act on all these commitments in this session, either this fall or in the spring budget.
As was expected, there were no surprises in this Throne Speech. It was mainly focused on fulfilling election promises and delivery of the Saskatchewan Growth Plan. Speeches from the Throne often provide a long term vision of government action, however, the fact that Saskatchewan now has the third highest rate COVID-19 cases in Canada, we expect that this session, and likely the next, will focus on more short-term responses in an effort to manage the pandemic.
A notable observation in this Throne Speech is that there was a section entitled Standing Up For Saskatchewan, which focused on Saskatchewan’s provincial autonomy. It is no secret that the Saskatchewan government has been at odds with the federal government over a number of issues, including the carbon tax, immigration, and transfer payments, so the inclusion of specific measures aimed at further solidifying Saskatchewan’s independence is no surprise. In the speech, they specifically made mention that part of their mandate would be holding the federal government to task on their commitment to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine early in the new year.
Leader of the Opposition, Ryan Meili, expressed disappointment with the Sask Party government’s Speech from the Throne today, calling it a “missed opportunity” to take the urgent action needed to fight the second wave of COVID-19. Meili said the “business as usual” speech does not have any supports for businesses that were already struggling before the second wave hit, and that no immediate investments were outlined to fight the pandemic.
Meili, who is a family doctor, said things will only get worse if we do not act immediately to flatten the curve of COVID-19. He said the Saskatchewan NDP Caucus is determined to fight for jobs, businesses, schools, and health care during the first session of this new Legislative Assembly.
ELECTION OF SPEAKER
There were six Sask Party MLAs who put their names forward to become Speaker, including Mark Docherty, Lisa Lambert, Hugh Nerlien, Greg Ottenbreit, Randy Weekes, and Nadine Wilson. Long serving MLA for Biggar-Sask Valley, Randy Weekes, was elected Speaker. He takes the reins from Regina Coronation Park MLA, Mark Docherty, who served as Speaker for the last two years. Weekes was first elected to the legislature in 1999 and served as the Minister for Rural and Remote Health from 2012 to 2014. He has also served on numerous government committees and as Deputy Government Whip.
PREMIER OUT OF ISOLATION
Prior to the Throne Speech, Premier Scott Moe was officially sworn in as a Member of the Legislative Assembly. Moe missed the official swearing in last week as he had been in isolation until Sunday. He was potentially exposed to an infected server at an Original Joe’s in Prince Albert between November 12-16. He was having lunch at the restaurant with family following the death of a relative. The Premier was tested for COVID-19 and his results were negative.
LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY AND SAFETY
The Legislative Assembly will have the same composition as before the recent election – 48 Sask Party MLAs and 13 NDP MLAs for a total of 61. There are 17 first-time MLAs – 11 for the Sask Party and 6 for the NDP. All MLAs will have to wear a mask while inside the legislature and plastic barriers have been erected between desks inside the chamber. The Throne Speech will be debated and voted on in the coming days. The session is expected to last two weeks. There will be a longer legislative sitting in the spring when the government will present the 2021-22 provincial budget.
To read the Government of Saskatchewan News Release on the Throne Speech, please click here.
To read the Throne Speech document, please click here.