REGINA - It was a topsy-turvy year at the Saskatchewan legislature in 2022, one full of surprises.
The year saw the provincial government move into surplus territory in the provincial budget, but it was also a year of challenges in health care, education and in federal-provincial jurisdictional issues. The opposition parties also had a challenging year, with one party facing a unique challenge simply by starting up in 2022.
Athabasca byelection shakes up provincial politics
The big story early in 2022 was the shock result of the Athabasca byelection when Jim Lemaigre of the Sask Party won the longtime NDP stronghold that was vacated due to MLA Buckley Belanger's unsuccessful bid in federal politics.
The result had immediate political reverberations as NDP leader Ryan Meili decided to step down, prompting a leadership race that was decided shortly after the spring sitting was concluded.
New leader for NDP
In June, Regina Lakeview MLA Carla Beck was elected leader of the New Democrats, easily defeating Saskatoon lawyer Kaitlyn Harvey on the first ballot. Beck became the first female leader of the provincial NDP in its history. The new leader promptly headed out on a tour of Saskatchewan communities during the summer months to get feedback on what issues were important to Saskatchewan residents. Her party received a boost prior to the fall sitting, when Nathaniel Teed won the Meewasin byelection in September to replace Meili.
Emergence of Sask United Party
The expulsion of Saskatchewan Rivers MLA Nadine Wilson from the Sask Party caucus continued to reverberate at the legislature in 2022, as it was learned that she was among those seeking to form a new political party.
By the end of the fall sitting the new Saskatchewan United Party had been formed and officially registered, and included in its ranks supporters opposed to vaccine mandates. Wilson would sit as the party’s first MLA, but it was not without controversy as Sask Party members called on her to resign her seat and run in a byelection.
Funding for the film/TV sector
The 2022-23 provincial budget had a pleasant surprise for those in the film, TV and digital industries. It was announced the Creative Saskatchewan production grant was being boosted up from $2 million to $10 million, providing a boost for film and television projects in the province. Among the major projects announced in 2022 was the action series King of Killers which was due to start shooting at the Regina John Hopkins soundstage in the fall.
While the spring budget forecast a deficit, strong resource revenues - prompted in large measure by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine - led to a forecast of a $1.04 billion surplus for 2022-23. It was announced during Finance Minister Donna Harpauer’s first quarter fiscal update.
During that fiscal update, it was announced affordability relief was coming to the province’s residents in the form of $500 Saskatchewan Affordability Tax Credit cheques to all those over the age of 18. The province began mailing out those cheques in November and those are now all in the mail, except for those late filers who will receive their cheques later.
Harpauer’s charter to North Battleford
It was not all good news for the finance minister in 2022. Shortly after the spring budget, Harpauer landed in hot water over an almost-$8000 charter flight to North Battleford for a post budget luncheon appearance with the Chamber of Commerce. Harpauer later defended taking the charter flight by saying she would not drive when she was exhausted.
Health care challenges
A major issue at the legislature in 2022 were the healthcare disruptions seen in communities like Assiniboia, Kamsack, North Battleford and Meadow Lake. Issues ranged from doctor and nurse shortages to bed and ER closures.
In September, Health Minister Paul Merriman announced the province’s four point action plan to recruit, train, incentivize and retain health care personnel.
The plan was to invest $60 million over the coming years to add upwards of 1,000 healthcare workers, although a provincial auditor’s report released later that year indicated that 2,200 health professions were needed.
White Paper and Sask First Act
One of the major announcements from Premier Scott Moe in 2022 happened in North Battleford in October with the release of the government’s white paper “Drawing the Line,” which outlines how the province plans to respond to federal intrusions into the provinces jurisdiction. In that paper numbers were released which estimated federal policies would cost Saskatchewan $111 billion — a figure disputed by some economists.
That was followed at the start of the new session of the Legislature by the introduction of Bill 88 - the Saskatchewan First Act, which outlined the province’s autonomy and exclusive jurisdiction over natural resources. The legislation drew fire some critics such as the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations who claimed it would infringe on their treaty rights.
The Saskatchewan First Act was introduced by the new Minister of Justice and Attorney General Bronwyn Eyre, one of the most prominent names involved in a cabinet shuffle by Premier Moe in the spring of 2022.
Some other names in that shuffle included Jim Reiter taking over from Eyre as Energy Minister, Gord Wyant to Advanced Education, Jeremy Cockrill promoted to Highways, Dana Skoropad to Environment, Gene Makowsky to Social Services and Lori Carr to SaskBuilds and the SLGA.
Colin Thatcher at the Leg
The opening of the new fall session of the legislature proved exceptionally controversial in 2022, not least of which because of a controversial invite to the Speech from the Throne.
Convicted murderer Colin Thatcher was there at the invitation of MLA Lyle Stewart. The furore that resulted from Thatcher’s appearance, prompted an apology from Premier Moe and the stripping of Stewart’s duties as Legislative Secretary to the Premier.
Controversy over Qualified Independent Schools
Another furore at the legislature erupted over provincial funding to qualified independent schools, in the wake of an abuse scandal and lawsuit involving Legacy Christian Academy. Opposition critic Matt Love roasted the government in Question Period over a biology textbook from the school, that claimed that humans walked alongside dinosaurs. However, Education Minister Dustin Duncan insisted the schools were expected to follow the provincial curriculum.
New Marshals service
Another of a major stories from the fall sitting was the focus on law-enforcement measures, including formation of the Saskatchewan Marshals Service. The plan is for the service to be fully operational by 2026 and consist of 70 officers based out of Prince Albert, who will be available to provide support for the RCMP and municipal police forces across Saskatchewan.
SLGA selling off last liquor stores
Finally, 2022 saw the announcement in the Throne Speech that the province would be digesting its final 34 SLGA stores, putting those licenses up for private bid. That process is expected to happen in early 2023. In the meantime, 2022 ended with big clearance sales happening of products at the remaining SLGA liquor stores.