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Reaction to a manic Monday at the Legislature

Daily Leg Update: Fallout at Legislature after a wild Monday afternoon that saw Speaker Weekes clamp down on Donna Harpauer and Jeremy Harrison.
Premier Scott Moe reacts to reporters to the wild events of Monday in the Leg.

REGINA - Political leaders reacted Tuesday to what was a wild Monday afternoon in the Assembly, one in which the Finance Minister had to apologize and the Government House Leader was kicked out of the Legislative Assembly by the Speaker.

“When those emotions run as high as they did yesterday and the Speaker steps in like he did… we respect that,” said Premier Scott Moe, in response to questions about the texts sent by Finance Minister Donna Harpauer to Speaker Randy Weekes that prompted Weekes to demand Harpauer withdraw and apologize, followed in short order by his suspension of Meadow Lake MLA Jeremy Harrison over comments he made afterwards.

The sequence of events -- one in which emotions seemed to boil over from the government side of the House -- followed yet another contentious sitting day since the Assembly’s return from Easter break last week. Monday’s sitting began with a lengthy admonition from Speaker Weekes over the declining decorum seen in the Legislature in the past number of days, with the Speaker voicing disapproval of “insinuations of dishonesty” and “inflammatory and provocative statements” made from both sides of the aisle.

“When members engage in unparliamentary conduct, they are disrespectful not only to other members but to this very institution and to the people we serve,” he said.

The Question Period that followed was contentious. Government members were back under fire again over the Sunrise Motel/Thriftlodge Social Services billing controversy, and over the lobbying involvement of former Sask Party Finance Minister Kevin Doherty on the hip and knee replacement contract awarded to Clearpoint in Calgary — a contract which the NDP has repeatedly characterized as a “sweetheart deal” with a “SaskParty donor.”

Opposition Ethics and Democracy Critic Meara Conway hammered Minister of Health Everett Hindley on the latter issue. “To the minister: since Kevin Doherty started lobbying him in May 2022, did he ever speak to him? Did he ever exchange emails with him? Did he ever meet with him about the surgical backlog? Yes or no?”

Hindley responded: “This member opposite, she has quite a track record, Mr. Speaker, of the things that she says in this House. Mr. Speaker, the character assassinations that she issues in this House, Mr. Speaker.”

That prompted Speaker Weekes to say “that’s out of order… go ahead, but just warning you.”

Conway then hammered Social Services Minister Gene Makowsky over the amounts paid by Social Services for emergency stays at hotels owned by fellow Sask Party MLA Gary Grewal. 

“These guys are so lost, Mr. Speaker. They’re losing their starting lineup. They’re limping from crisis to crisis, mess to mess, and this mess stinks,” Conway said.

Makowsky responded: “In terms of smear volume 2, Mr. Speaker, totally ignored your admonition at the beginning of this sitting day, Mr. Speaker.”

That was the backdrop to what would unfold well after Question Period ended. It was shortly after MLA Matt Love spoke on the Income Tax Amendment Act that Speaker Weekes called out government members over text messages sent his way.

“Just while I’m on my feet, as Speaker, I have received literally hundreds and hundreds of text messages from the Government House Leader, the Deputy Government House Leader, and occasionally from the Minister of Finance. I’d just like to read into the record what the Minister of Finance just sent me:

‘Randy, if you can blatantly lie, tarnish reputations of elected, unelected individuals with innuendoes but no proof, we have no avenue to push back, then this Assembly has become a joke and a stage for an opposition puppet show. Disappointing.’

“First of all, if you want to make a point of order, get on your feet. And I ask the Minister of Finance to withdraw and apologize for this text and any others that you may feel inclined to send me off the record.”

“I withdraw and apologize,” Harpauer responded.

That prompted Government House Leader Jeremy Harrison to vocally air his displeasure at the Speaker from his seat, though it was not clear on the video feed what it was he actually said. 

In any event, his remarks prompted this reaction from Speaker Weekes: “I ask the Government House Leader to stand and withdraw and apologize for that comment too. I’m not deaf.”

Harrison responded: “I’m not,” at which point he immediately got up and left the Assembly. 

That display prompted Speaker Weekes to immediately suspend Harrison from the Assembly for the remainder of the day. 

In speaking to reporters the next day, Premier Moe agreed that what went on the previous day went too far.

“You know, emotions at times can run pretty high in the Legislative Assembly and I would say that isn’t a bad thing, that there are people who bring emotions into that Assembly, bring emotion into the service that they provide. However, they can run too high and it’s on the Speaker and it’s his job is to provide and to ensure that he’s enforcing decorum in the House with all that happened yesterday. And in fairness, we’ve seen that happen earlier this particular session when we see Members — the Leader of the Opposition was removed as well, as was the previous Leader of the Opposition removed as well. The Speaker made a ruling yesterday to maintain decorum in the Assembly, and we most certainly accept that ruling as he is there to do just that.”

As for his conversations with caucus about texting the Speaker his advice was "use at your own peril. If you send a text that is going to be read into the record you should be fully aware of that.

"Govern your actions accordingly. Yes, it's important to bring some emotion to the floor of the Assembly with the policies that we're bringing forward and defending. But we're here to represent our constituents from across this province and collectively as a government we're here to represent everyone that lives in the province of Saskatchewan, and we should do so with honour. And so should the opposition do so with honour."

In speaking to reporters, Conway said members do text the Speaker from time to time to “arrange the day to day business, make sure everyone’s on the same page.” As an example, Conway said she texted the Speaker Tuesday to let him know she would be acting as Deputy House Leader that day.

But of the text that got read in the record Monday, “that’s a completely different thing,” said Conway.

“The Speaker represents the institution. It’s about influencing and pressuring him in that position. It speaks to an abuse of power, it speaks to a government that doesn’t think the rules apply to them, in my view. I can tell you that texting the Speaker about a ruling that he makes, criticizing him, that would be unthinkable to myself and my team, I can tell you that without a doubt. It’s never been done nor would we ever dream of it… This isn’t about texting. It was about the nature of the text, what was contained in the text. It was an attempt to pressure him, an attempt to wield influence, and it was not OK.”