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Partisanship on full display in first day back of legislature

Daily Leg Update - Sask Party, NDP trade partisan shots at each other during active first Question Period of spring sitting, particularly on issue of PST on construction.
The Legislature resumed March 6 with Premier Scott Moe (left) fending off opposition attacks from leader Carla Beck and critic Trent Wotherspoon, seen during their media conference last Thursday on the PST on construction.

REGINA - Monday was the first day of the spring sitting and in a clear sign that MLAs were anxious to be back, partisanship was on full display from the two major parties in the legislature.

Both the Sask Party government and opposition New Democrats traded shots at each other. The New Democrats tried to promote their themes of growing jobs and the economy while trashing the latest Sask Party economic numbers; meanwhile the Sask Party was countering with their own good numbers while accusing the opposition of "alternative facts."

The first day of the ten-week long spring sitting had gotten off on a somber note when Lumsden-Morse MLA Lyle Stewart stood and announced he would be resigning due to health reasons. It was obvious that Stewart's announcement had dampened the mood of everyone at the Legislature that day, but that mood changed during Question Period.

Opposition Leader Carla Beck led off by accusing Premier Scott Moe and the government of having “failed to deliver an economy that works for people, failed to deliver on health care, and failed to deliver on job creation.

“My question, Mr. Speaker, is this: why should the people of Saskatchewan be satisfied with that Premier’s worst-in-the-country record?”

Moe responded that there were “challenges that we are facing here in this province, challenges that we are facing across the nation, inflationary challenges among the highest of those, Mr. Speaker.

“But the fact of the matter is, is that Saskatchewan, our province, is growing at its fastest pace in over a century,” Moe said, pointing to more doctors, more nurses, more hospitals, more students, more teachers, and more schools. 

“Well, Mr. Speaker, this tired and out-of-touch Sask Party government doesn’t have to take my word for it,” Beck responded, pointing to “worst-in-the-nation economic growth, second-last growth in construction investment, flatlined wages that are not keeping up with the cost of living.”

Moe responded that in spite of challenges facing the people in Saskatchewan, “there’s 16,400 of them that are working this year over what was there last year. Our unemployment rate is at 4.3 per cent. That’s the third lowest in the nation of Canada. With respect to wholesale trade, merchandise exports, Mr. Speaker, we are leading the nation with double-digit increases. Building permits are up, Mr. Speaker. Most certainly this government is going to continue to focus on growth that works for everyone.”

“Mr. Speaker, what the people of this province don’t need are more empty tag lines. What they need are more jobs and bigger paycheques,” Beck replied.

Partisan attacks hit heights over PST on construction

The opposition then proceeded to roast the provincial government over the PST on construction labour, which had been subject of a news conference called by the NDP the previous week. At that news conference last Thursday, leader Beck and opposition critic Trent Wotherspoon trashed the PST as a job killer that was preventing projects from getting off the ground. The indication was that the opposition would make this issue one of their focuses during the spring sitting.

In Question Period Monday, the opposition raised the issue as Beck accused the Premier of “the worst record in the country when it comes to construction investment.”

Wotherspoon joined in by noting the "average yearly growth in construction investment in Saskatchewan is dead last in Canada under this Premier. When will this tired and out-of-touch government finally admit that this was a mistake from day one and scrap the PST that they stuck on construction labour?”

That drew an animated reaction from Minister of Trade and Export Development Jeremy Harrison. The exchange is recorded in Hansard and it was one that turned very partisan, very fast — much to the disgust of the Speaker Randy Weekes.

Hon. Mr. J. Harrison: — “Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. It is a pleasure to get up to talk about the strength of the Saskatchewan economy, Mr. Speaker. And as was pointed out in a member’s statement right before question period, the NDP, the Leader of the Opposition actually had to apologize for putting misinformation, Mr. Speaker, into the public domain. They took it down off of Twitter with regard to this particular item.

“I would say, Mr. Speaker, the NDP are so desperate, so desperate for the economy to be in the state that it was when they were in government, which was admittedly at that point, Mr. Speaker, very, very negative.

“The reality today is completely different, Mr. Speaker. We have an economy and a population that are growing at a rate faster than they have grown in over 100 years, Mr. Speaker. 1.2 million people and more now call Saskatchewan home. But if you listen to the members opposite, Mr. Speaker, they have concocted a narrative — I think they’ve even convinced themselves — that somehow the population is declining. It’s not true.”

The Speaker: — "I just want to caution the minister. Refer to the opposition not as the party name but the opposition. And vice versa with the government, not the party name. I recognize the member from Regina Rosemont."

Mr. Wotherspoon: — “You know, Mr. Speaker, we know the Sask Party’s always struggled with math over there. And we see that minister right there who I think is holding the chart upside down from StatsCanada that shows that they’re dead last when it comes to average growth in building permits under this Premier…

“Again will the minister recognize that this was a mistake from day one and scrap the PST that they stuck on construction labour?

The Speaker: — “I recognize the Minister of Trade and Export Development.”

Hon. Mr. J. Harrison: — “Well the NDP Party, Mr. Speaker, continue to show how negative and desperate they are. They have . . . [inaudible] . . . I think in the United States they call this, Mr. Speaker, alternative facts. And these members opposite are pioneering in Saskatchewan alternative facts, although I guess they have some experience in that regard.

“The reality is this, Mr. Speaker. We are growing in this province more quickly than we have grown in over 100 years. We have added 200,000 people over the course of the last 16 years and had the largest quarterly population increase in our history in the last quarter.

“Over 16 years, Mr. Speaker, do you know how many people they added to this province’s population? The answer is zero, Mr. Speaker. In fact it’s less than zero because they actually lost people over that same period of time. They had the worst job creation record in the entirety of Canada. We have added tens of thousands of jobs, not just over the course of the last 16 years, but 16,000 jobs even last month, Mr. Speaker.”

The Speaker: — “I recognize the member for Regina Rosemont.”

Mr. Wotherspoon: — “Mr. Speaker, it’s all next year country again from that government. And I guess that’s because last year and the year before it and the year before it and the year before it, that Premier was dead last in the nation on all economic measures, Mr. Speaker.

“Mr. Speaker, other jurisdictions are lowering costs while this tired and out-of-touch government is piling them on. In Alberta there’s no PST at all. And in the US [United States], new incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act will attract jobs and investment that we want coming here to Saskatchewan, that belong in Saskatchewan. Policies matter. And when it comes to our ability to compete, that government is making things worse, failing to deliver, and getting in the way of the incredible businesses, the incredible workers, and the incredible ingenuity of Saskatchewan people.

"Why won’t the Sask Party government scrap the PST from construction labour...

The Speaker: — “Withdraw and apologize. Withdraw and apologize. I cautioned you, no party names. Withdraw and apologize.”

Mr. Wotherspoon: — “Withdraw and apologize.”

The Speaker: — “I recognize the Minister of Trade and Export Development.”

Hon. Mr. J. Harrison: — “Well the journey in alternative facts continues, Mr. Speaker. The reality is under the NDP what was the PST at, Mr. Speaker . . .”

The Speaker: — “Go ahead, House Leader. You know what you need to do.”

Hon. Mr. J. Harrison: — “Withdraw and apologize, Mr. Speaker. The reality is when the opposition was in government, Mr. Speaker, the PST was at nine per cent. That’s the reality and that’s the fact. And again our journey in alternative facts with the opposition continues. But this is an opposition that is desperate — desperate to have people believe that the economy isn’t doing well; desperate for people to forget their horrific record in government of decline; desperate to have people forget that their leader, Jagmeet Singh, is in coalition and the only thing keeping Justin Trudeau in power, Mr. Speaker.

“This is the same opposition opposite that called the economy a dumpster fire. The same economy that The Conference Board of Canada said was scorching hot. Mr. Speaker, I guess you have to be a New Democrat to see a scorching hot economy as a dumpster fire.”

The Speaker: — “Would you like to stand up and withdraw and apologize again?”

Hon. Mr. J. Harrison: — “I withdraw and apologize, Mr. Speaker.”

Premier Moe response

Premier Moe was asked later by reporters about whether the government would reconsider the PST on construction projects. The indication is it’s not something they are considering right now.

“It's not something we've considered, it's just something recently that a few municipalities have called for,” said Moe. “We haven't looked actively at what the impacts of removing that would be. Would we do it just for municipal governments, as the Minister said, or provincial and municipal governments —what impact would that have ultimately on the revenue sharing that's going back to municipalities as well? And so there's a lot that would be at play if we were to consider that. But at this point, it hasn't been a consideration as it's just recently been raised by municipalities.”

As for the NDP, Opposition leader Beck told reporters they would continue their focus on jobs, economy and the state of health care during the session.

"It's on this premier, it's on the Sask Party to be held accountable for their record, particularly their record over the last five years," said Beck. The Opposition leader also indicated she was not impressed with what she heard from the government during Question Period, particularly from Harrison.

"Spin and hubris will get you some places, I suppose, in the Legislature. When you take it out to people in this province, when you tell them you've got a scorching hot economy as Mr. Harrison did today, the people we're talking to are saying 'this is the first time in my life I've ever been behind on my utility bills.' I was talking to a 70 year old the other day -- he was out looking for a second job just to pay the bills. People who are falling further and further behind, and you've got a minister, just pleased as anything with himself, spinning his lines about 30 years ago, about other levels of government, about a scorching hot economy. I wonder who they're talking to, because it certainly is not the people that we've been hearing from."