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Medical exodus, alcohol in parks both hot issues Monday

Daily Leg Update - Opposition Leader Meili grills Premier Moe on exodus of medical specialists.
Moe at leg May 16
Premier Moe speaks to reporters at the legislature Monday.

REGINA The exodus of medical personnel and an amendment to possibly allow municipalities authority to allow alcohol at their parks were among the issues that kicked off the final week of the spring sitting at the legislature Monday.

Health care pressures greet Premier Moe’s return

Monday marked Premier Scott Moe’s first day back in the Legislature following his trade mission to the United Arab Emirates last week. 

Moe was welcomed back with an immediate grilling by Opposition Leader Ryan Meili, who led off Question Period by focusing on the exodus of health care professionals from the province.

Meili pointed to the departure of Dr. Hassan Masri, a Saskatoon intensive care specialist and ex-spokesperson for the province's Stick it To COVID campaign, who had announced he was leaving. 

In response, Moe acknowledged that COVID-19 had put “pressure on all facets of our personal and professional lives.” He thanked all health care workers, and noted the government had worked hard at increasing recruitment and retention efforts including nurse training seats from 300 to 1,000. He noted attrition rates within the Saskatchewan Health Authority remained constant at about three and a half per cent. 

Meili turned up the pressure on Moe by quoting Dr. Masri, who said his choice to leave was “forced upon me by a failed leader like Scott Moe.” 

Meili further quoted Dr. Masri as saying Premier Moe had time to call an anti-vax leader, but never bothered to listen to “my private and public requests and pleas despite endless attempts.”

“We’re losing our best and our brightest,” Meili said.

Moe responded by again thanking Dr. Masri for his work and again pointing to the attrition rate of three and a half per cent. Moe also pointed to the recent budget’s four-point plan to attract, recruit and retain nurses. 

“That four-point plan is nothing but talking points,” Meili responded. He then further quoted Dr. Masri’s denouncing the premier, quoting him as saying “Scott Moe is the example of the leader that I never want to be.” 

Moe defended the four-point plan, saying they were “not talking points.” For international recruitment, “there’s a million and a half dollars. That is not a talking point, those are actual dollars that are being invested.” 

In speaking to reporters afterwards, Moe again thanked Dr. Masri for his work on the Stick It to COVID campaign. 

As for how the government were supporting those in the health care system, Moe said they were committed to “bringing additional folks into the health care service to support those that are ultimately there.” 

Moe also noted filling positions was not just a specific-to-Saskatchewan challenge. “We have current positions that are funded and open that are not filled, so we need to fill those positions, and then quite likely you need to go beyond just filling those positions and adding additional positions across the board in our health care system so that we can continue to provide the services that we want to provide, and people expect us to provide, and to do so without having inordinate strain on folks that are there today.”

Hindley challenges Meili assertion of Pillars of Life funding cut

After attacking the government on physicians leaving, Meili went on to roast the government for failing to fund harm reduction, and for what he termed a “20 per cent” funding cut to the Pillars for Life suicide prevention plan.

That drew a response from Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Everett Hindley, who responded that there was $470 million in this year’s budget for mental health, more than years prior, and $92 million invested in targeted mental health and addictions initiatives since 2018. There had also been no budget cut for Pillars for Life, and they had received the same funding as in the last budget, Hindley said.

Government hoping to pass amendment to allow alcohol in public parks

The other major story of the day was the introduction by Minister Responsible for the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) Jim Reiter of an amendment to regulations, to provide municipalities and park authorities with discretion to allow consumption of alcohol in outdoor public places such as parks, for individuals of legal drinking age.

Should it pass, the amendments would allow municipalities or park authorities to regulate consumption of alcohol in their public outdoor spaces and make their own decisions. This change would not apply to provincial parks which will be staying with the status quo, said Reiter. 

Reiter told reporters that they were making the change in response to some interest expressed.

He noted the city of Saskatoon had passed a motion over the winter asking the province to consider this. It would give them the opportunity to do this this summer.

A number of provinces around the country were allowing municipalities to allow alcohol in parks, “under parameters that the cities choose to follow so that they can assure that there’s adequate policing, adequate bathroom facilities, those sorts of things," Reiter said.

“It’s a relatively minor amendment. It’s not mandatory for a municipality. Those who would like to do it can certainly do it, those who don’t can stay with the status quo.”

For it to take effect in time for this summer, unanimous consent would be needed in the legislature Tuesday. 

But at this point, the indication from the Opposition is they aren’t likely to consent to it without further consultation, which would seem to mean it is unlikely to get the go-ahead in time to take effect this summer, as the session ends this week.

Opposition Deputy Leader Nicole Sarauer cited the need to talk to stakeholders first, and also cited concerns about the addictions crisis in the province.

“I think it’s really important that the consultation process happens,” said Sarauer.