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Contentious Leg session over as parties get ready to go to polls

Daily Leg Update - Leg session was filled with bickering and mudslinging, not to mention labour strife in education.

REGINA - It was a contentious, mud-slinging sitting of the Saskatchewan Legislature that came to an end Thursday in Regina.

MLAs now head home this summer to prepare for the likely Oct. 28 provincial election — or, in the case of the 19 MLAs not running again, for life outside of politics.

Reverberations are still being felt from the parting comments of Speaker Randy Weekes on Thursday at the close of the session — comments in which Weekes called out harassing and intimidation behaviour and texting from the government side. Weekes had particularly criticized Government House Leader Jeremy Harrison for trying to bring a rifle into the Legislature.

When asked about that Friday by reporters, Premier Scott Moe said he followed up with Harrison about the allegations and “have been informed they are all unequivocally false.”

“I would just go back essentially to what I said yesterday. What we have here is an individual that happens to be the Speaker by the election of his peers, who’s running to be a part of this party up until Dec. 14 and now seems to have some concerns, whether it be about policy the party has, or concerns with one individual member which really aren’t concerns with the entirety of the party at all. So I don’t quite understand where the concerns are coming from. I don’t discount that maybe the Speaker does have concerns. I just don’t understand how it is not been concerns that have been discussed either with the Sergeant at Arms, legislative security, myself, caucus chairs — he was a part of a caucus for a period of time. We have a caucus management committee that can address issues between members and other things. So the method in which this has all come to the front is it shocking to me as anyone else, and I just don’t have an explanation.”

Opposition Leader Carla Beck had a somewhat different view when she met reporters Thursday. Beck said she had seen for herself some of the behavior Harrison was accused of.

“I did hear the Minister from his seat after the unanimous vote on the gun control bill shout twice ‘open carry, open carry.’ This behaviour is not fitting for somebody in a role as serious as the one he has, and I would hope that not only myself, but the Premier also, ensure that both of our teams are looking into these allegations.”

Weekes’ bombshell comments on Thursday had followed a spring sitting full of unruly behavior from MLAs, one in which the Speaker had to repeatedly call out members for accusing one another, either directly or indirectly, of lying. 

The sitting was also marked with dustups between Weekes and Government House Leader Harrison on a number of rulings. At one point when Weekes ordered Harrison to apologize and withdraw, he even told him to stand up and not slouch when apologizing.

Later in the session, Weekes called on Finance Minister Donna Harpauer to apologize over a text message she had sent his way in which she referred to the proceedings as “a stage for an opposition puppet show.” He then ordered Harrison to apologize for comments he had made from his seat, at which point an upset Harrison got up and left, prompting Weekes to suspend him for the day.

Meanwhile, on the Opposition benches New Democrats spent the spring sitting on a concerted ethics attack that focused on Sask Party members both sitting in the House and outside of it.

Opposition Ethics and Democracy Critic Meara Conway resumed her pounding of Regina Northeast MLA Gary Grewal over his investment in two hotels utilized to house Social Services clients. She later roasted former finance minister-turned-lobbyist Kevin Doherty over his lobbying involvement with a Calgary clinic that received what she termed a “sweetheart” deal for hip and knee surgeries.

The NDP also went after Crown Investments Corporation Minister Dustin Duncan for over $3500 spent on a Mercedes limo for a Paris conference last year (one he explained was actually used for his whole party and not just himself), also accused Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill of violating conflict of interest rules, and took aim at SaskParty members appointed to boards such as SaskPower. 

The attack on board members proved the tipping point for the government caucus. They send out Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Jim Reiter to meet reporters late in the session, where he denounced the “insinuations and allegations” made by the Opposition against people who happened to be Sask Party members. 

Premier Moe seemed to have all of that on his mind, along with the Speaker’s latest comments, when he told reporters Friday “the Assembly needs to be less about people, and much more about the policies that are we are there to debate on the floor of the Assembly.”

Entire session was contentious

The contentious tone of the spring sitting amounted to a carryover from the fall, which saw the Legislature called back early for the special sitting which saw debate and passage of the Parents Bill of Rights Act requiring parental consent for name changes of students under age 16.

After the Speech from the Throne officially launched the new Session soon after, the Legislature saw the removal of Cut Knife-Turtleford MLA Ryan Domotor from the government caucus after he was criminally charged for procuring sexual services, while Moose Jaw Wakamow MLA Greg Lawrence would leave the Sask Party caucus in the new year over assault charges. As well, a pro-Palestine protest disrupted the Legislative Assembly proceedings for the day in November.

The contentious tone also extended to relations between the province with the federal government over the Carbon Tax. A key point of discussion was the province’s decision to no longer collect the federal carbon tax on natural gas, after the federal government provided an exemption for Atlantic Canada on home heating oil.

That prompted Minister for SaskEnergy Duncan to make an announcement on social media while standing in front of Parliament, confirming Saskatchewan would not remit the carbon tax to the federal government. But the Moe government’s defiance of the federal law was controversial, leading to speculation Duncan could face “carbon tax jail”. 

Education hot issue

The storm cloud hanging over the entire fall and spring sitting was the labour dispute between the government and Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation. The Legislature was a hotspot for teachers’ picket lines including at the start of the spring sitting in March and on Budget Day itself.

Teachers’ began staging province-wide one-day work stoppages starting in January and later expanded their job action to withdrawal of noon hour supervision as well as extracurriculars. The latter withdrawal coincided with the Hoopla basketball tournament, a move that drew protests from students and Hoopla supporters at the Legislature. 

The announcement that the Hoopla tournament was being cancelled came on the same day in March that the provincial budget was being handed down, although a truncated tournament to decide provincial titles did go ahead.

A key issue throughout the labour dispute was classroom size and complexity, with STF demanding it be included in the collective agreement while the province insisted it stay out. The province did make a number of pre-budget announcements directed towards education funding, including towards a pilot project for specialized support classrooms in eight school divisions. They also made an unprecedented move to announce the education budget ahead of time.

However, there was little progress seen and little in the way of activity at the bargaining table, with bargaining resuming and then quickly breaking down in February. As the dispute dragged on, New Democrats staged a news conference in which they called on Premier Moe to fire Education Minister Cockrill over his handling of the dispute. 

In the end, bargaining did finally resume. After one proposed deal with teachers was rejected by a vote, a tentative agreement between the province and STF was announced just one day after the legislative session ended. That deal must still be ratified.


The other major story of the spring sitting was that it would be the last for a long list of Sask Party MLAs and cabinet ministers. Among those longtime prominent Ministers not running for re-election include Don Morgan (who left Cabinet last year), Don McMorris, Dustin Duncan, Gord Wyant and Donna Harpauer.

Another change happened on the Opposition side with word that Saskatchewan Rivers MLA Nadine Wilson, who has confirmed she is seeking re-election, was stepping down as leader of Sask United with Jon Hromek taking over the leadership going into the election.

With 19 incumbents not seeking re-election on both sides of the aisle, the Legislature is sure to have a number of new faces and potentially look very different when it comes back following the Oct. 28 election.