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Suicide prevention a focus in legislature Thursday

Daily Leg Update - Some emotional exchanges and accusations on the floor of the Leg.
Doyle Vermette
Doyle Vermette, MLA for Cumberland, presented a motion on mental health and addictions during the legislative proceedings on Thursday.

REGINA — The topic of mental health, addictions and suicide was a main focus in the legislature Thursday morning.

The 75-minute debate focused on mental health and addictions in Saskatchewan, and saw MLAs from both parties speak. The debate was initiated by Cumberland MLA Doyle Vermette and the timing coincided with that weekend’s one-year anniversary of the unanimous passage of Bill 601- the Saskatchewan Strategy for Suicide Prevention Act, which Vermette had pushed for.

During Thursday's debate, Vermette moved that the assembly recognize the crisis of mental health and addictions and call on the government to take urgent action to address gaps and services leading to the loss of life. 

In his remarks, Vermette noted there was still much to be done, and pointed to a seeming lack of progress resulting from the bill passed the year before.

“I’ve had families asking me, where are we on this bill? What is the plan, what is the government doing with it? How come nobody has heard anything about it? I’ve had mothers, fathers, family members, leaders who had lost someone saying ‘it’s almost like nothing’s happened.’ And they’re wondering why.”

The issue was also raised during a heated and emotional Question Period earlier.

During Question Period, Opposition Leader Ryan Meili took the government to task for not doing enough on the suicide issue after the passage of that earlier bill.

“Now we learn all of those fine sentiments were a hoax, a sham. None of that work had been done because this government never planned to do the work.” He accused the premier of "having no intention of following through" to protect Saskatchewan families.

Premier Scott Moe responded by thanking the member for Cumberland for his efforts and said the issue of suicide “has had, in fairness, an impact on virtually every family in this assembly and quite likely every family in this province.” 

Moe said he had looked at that bill closely to ensure the government was delivering in each of the items of that bill. He also pointed to the Pillars for Life strategy which was brought in a year before the bill, and said the strategy and the bill work in conjunction with one another.

“This conversation is far beyond politics,” said Moe.

A dissatisfied Meili responded by accusing the government of a “straight-up betrayal” of every family affected by suicide.

“And the premier has been so offended by his ‘I don’t care’ comments on climate change, being used to highlight the other ways in which he doesn’t care, but with a disgraceful display such as this, what else could families conclude?… What other conclusion could they come to except when it comes to suicide, that when it comes to mental health especially in Indigenous communities, this premier, this government simply don't care?"

Premier Moe made known his disgust with the question.

“I’m disappointed, Mr Speaker, that the leader of the Opposition would splice comments to politicize a conversation, Mr. Speaker, and initiatives that are important to all Saskatchewan residents.”

The Question Period was so heated that both the government and Opposition rose on points of order to take the leaders opposite to task for unparliamentary language: Moe for accusing the Opposition of splicing together quotes, and Meili for accusing Moe of engaging in a “hoax” or “sham,” and for later asking the premier to commit to doing the work passed in the legislation “without having his fingers crossed.” Both Moe and Meili apologized and withdrew those remarks.

During the 75-minute debate that followed, Sask. Party MLAs including Saskatoon Riversdale MLA Marv Friesen challenged the Opposition’s repeated claims that the government did not care about the suicide issue.

Friesen said he took exception to the words “we don’t care” that the Opposition had brought up. “It makes me sad and it’s offensive. We care. We care.”