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'Puppet show': Saskatchewan finance minister apologizes for text to Speaker

REGINA — Saskatchewan’s finance minister was ordered to apologize Monday after she sent the Speaker a text accusing him of letting the legislature devolve into an "Opposition puppet show.
Saskatchewan Minister of Finance Donna Harpauer speaks during a press conference in Regina, on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Heywood Yu

REGINA — Saskatchewan’s finance minister was ordered to apologize Monday after she sent the Speaker a text accusing him of letting the legislature devolve into an "Opposition puppet show." 

Donna Harpauer delivered the apology in the house after Speaker Randy Weekes said the minister had messaged him saying government members can't push back during chamber debates and that as a result the house was turning into a “joke” in favour of the Opposition NDP.

Harpauer was not the only member of the Saskatchewan Party government singled out by the Speaker. Weekes is a member of the governing caucus but must remain independent and impartial in his role.

During proceedings, Weekes stood up and said he has received "literally hundreds and hundreds" of texts from government house leader Jeremy Harrison, deputy government house leader Lori Carr and occasionally some from Harpauer.

He then read one of Harpauer’s messages from his phone:

“Randy, if you can blatantly lie, tarnish reputations of elected and 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."

Weekes said Harpauer should stand up and make a point of order if she has complaints. He asked her to apologize for the message and “any others that you may feel inclined to send me off the record.”

Harpauer got up and said she was sorry. 

After her apology, Harrison appeared frustrated and began making comments that were inaudible in an online feed of the chamber. Weekes then asked Harrison to apologize as well.

“I’m not deaf,” Weekes said. 

Harrison said he wouldn’t apologize and immediately left the house. Weekes suspended Harrison for the rest of the day for disregarding his authority. 

Carr said in a statement that members’ emotions can at times get the best of them. 

“The role of the Speaker is to maintain decorum and, if necessary, make rulings to achieve that. We respect the authority of the Speaker and accept his rulings,” she said.

Opposition NDP house leader Nicole Sarauer said the messages to the Speaker reflect a government that wants to strong-arm its way out of having to answer tough questions.

“They’ll do anything they can to avoid accountability, and it’s a government that’s completely out of touch,” she said. 

“We were asking hard questions, questions about government misspending and potentially scandal on behalf of some of those MLAs.”

Earlier in the day, the Opposition asked about a $6-million sole-source contract the province signed with a private surgical company in Calgary. 

The company, Clearpoint Health Netowrk, donated $14,000 to the Saskatchewan Party since 2016, and a former finance minister lobbied on its behalf. 

Health Minister Everett Hindley told the assembly Monday the province chose Clearpoint because it's the only company that can offer short-stay hip and knee surgeries. 

Hindley said the government consulted with the chief procurement officer, who was satisfied with the approach. Hindley clarified last week that the contract was not done through a request for proposals. 

Hindley accused Meara Conway, the Opposition ethics critic, of “character assassinations,” a comment Weekes said was out of order.

 This report by The Canadian Press was first publishedApril 15, 2024.

Jeremy Simes, The Canadian Press