REGINA - It was a day full of surprises as the Saskatchewan legislature opened its fall session on Wednesday.
The biggest one was a surprise guest. Colin Thatcher, the former Saskatchewan cabinet minister who was sensationally convicted in 1984 of the murder of his ex-wife JoAnn Wilson, was one of those in attendance for the Speech from the Throne.
Thatcher was released from prison in 2006, and he and family members have maintained his innocence. The indication is that Thatcher was there as an invited guest of MLA Lyle Stewart of Lumsden-Morse.
Minister of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety Christine Tell was tasked with fending off reporters’ questions about why Thatcher was allowed in the building. Tell maintained Thatcher was free to be there.
“Colin Thatcher is a citizen who has gone through the justice system, gone through the courts, did his time in incarceration,” Tell told reporters. “He’s now paid that debt to society that society has deemed for him to do, and he’s living his life as a citizen of our province.”
The presence of Thatcher in the audience seemed to upstage the law-and-order themes throughout the 2022 Throne Speech. The speech had included pledges to create the Saskatchewan Marshals Service to enhance law enforcement in communities including rural and remote areas, as well as additions of eight officers to the Warrant Enforcement Suppression Team out of Prince Albert.
The text of the Throne Speech had also offered condolences on the loss of 11 lives in the massacre on James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon, Saskatchewan.
When pressed by reporters about the message Thatcher’s presence at the Throne Speech had sent during a year of mass murders, Tell responded “he has a right to be here just like anyone else.”
As for whether it was unusual for a convicted murderer to be present, Tell replied “not at all. You just happen to know him. He’s infamous, if I can use that word. There are other people that have been convicted of crimes, too, that may be in the building, I don’t know. And I don’t care.”
As for whether she was worried about the optics of this, Tell replied "not at all. And I've dealt with criminals my entire life."
Beck takes a swipe at SaskParty for Wab Kinew comments
Opposition leader Carla Beck was understated when asked about Thatcher being there at the Legislature.
“Whoever invited Mr. Thatcher, the people of the province can draw their own conclusions,” said Beck.
Beck then immediately took a swipe at the Sask Party for Twitter comments about the attendance of Manitoba NDP leader Wab Kinew at the NDP’s provincial convention in Saskatoon on the weekend.
On Twitter the Sask Party had posted: “Today’s keynote speaker at the Sask NDP convention: Manitoba NDP Leader known for his misogynistic and homophobic rap lyrics.”
“You know, a couple of days ago this government had a lot to say about us inviting Wab Kinew referring to misogynist lyrics from 20 years ago,” said Beck. ”I think the government better find some consistency here, because it’s looking rather hypocritical.”
Government getting out of SLGA retail
The Thatcher appearance was just one surprise on a day when people had anticipated the focus would be on the government’s moves toward greater provincial autonomy, with plans to introduce legislation to clarify Saskatchewan’s jurisdiction over natural resource development.
Besides Thatcher, the other surprise to observers was news from the Throne Speech that the provincial government intended to get out of retail operations for the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority.
The move will impact only retail government-run liquor stores in the province, though SLGA will remain in the wholesale and permitting side of the business.
Minister for SLGA Lori Carr said this will impact 34 retail stores run by the province. The number of employees impacted will be announced in the coming days, as the government works with the unions on a workforce adjustment plan.
As for the costs involved, those should be offset by selling permits to new private operators to take the place of those government stores. “As we look at divesting of retail, obviously that comes with the selling of permits and the sale of the buildings that we have in place right now,” said Carr.
The indication from Carr is that details of what will take place will be announced in the near future.
As for the jobs lost at the liquor stores that are closing, Carr did note there will be positions at the new private liquor stores taking their place.
“The general economy is very attractive for people looking for employment,” said Carr.
In response, the new Opposition critic for SLGA Nathaniel Teed made it known the NDP did “not support the wholesale closure and shutdown” of the liquor stores, and expressed concern about what would happen to the impacted employees.
“People are struggling to find good paying jobs, and I heard that on the doorstep in this by-election in Meewasin,” said Teed, who was sworn in as the new Meewasin MLA earlier that day.
“That’s about 350 good paying living wage jobs that will no longer be. So my question is what is the government plan to ensure that those folks can find work, is there a transition plan. And also, this is a huge loss of revenue for the province — hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. What is the province’s plan to backfill that?”