Regina – It was a debate where some questions were answered, and some weren’t, but overall, both New Democratic Leader Ryan Meili and Saskatchewan Party Leader Scott Moe were able to get their points across in was a civil debate with little crosstalk.
The leaders of the two parties with seats in the last Legislature debated at the Provincial Archives in Regina on Oct. 14. The debate was broadcast and livestreamed by a consortium of CTV, CBC, Global and PostMedia. Questions came from a panel of journalists from the consortium. The Buffalo, Green, Progressive Conservative and Liberal leaders were excluded from the debate.
The COVID-19 pandemic, the related economic fallout and recovery, classroom sizes, suicide prevention, drug strategy, rebates, deficit spending, taxes, cuts and spending were woven through both the questions and the answers.
The pandemic was first up, with the leader asked what the government should do to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and whether this should include a mandatory indoor mask policy.
Moe thanked the people of Saskatchewan for their efforts and spoke of how the province is doing comparatively well compared to other parts of the country, and economy, communities and schools have safely re-opened.
Meili said people have stepped up, but they deserve a government that would do that as well. “That means with clear guidance on when to use masks how to protect ourselves,” Meili said. But when pressed on what his mask policy would be, he did not give a definitive threshold.
Moe said, “We've been clear, since day one, when you are able to create that physical distance like we are here this evening, a mask is not necessary. When you are not able to create to have that physical distance, you should have a mask with you. I carry one with me all the time. And you should then wear that mask. We've been very clear on the masking policy that we've had in this province. It has been effective, and it will continue for the foreseeable future.”
Meili said, “There has been a fair amount of mixed messages at times you've been offside even with the chief medical health officer. One of the things that I was really disappointed was the failure to speak out about the folks who are protesting and the anti mass movement and really make it clear that that's not helpful.”
He turned a recent reduction in private gathering sizes to a discussion about classroom sizes, a point Meili brought up numerous times.
Meili said, “Now one of the things that's been missing is clear guidance, where should people use them, and what are the thresholds, and this is what has been frustrating for folks in public health as well as in the general public.”
“It’s two metres,” Moe interjected.
Meili then said, “The threshold of what number of cases what rate of transmission when would you introduce mandatory masks, but, you know, when we're talking about what's the biggest risk right now, we're talking about gatherings, and class sizes are very germane to this.”
But Meili did not specifically say when masks should be worn.
Cuts and Crowns
Meili said with the Saskatchewan Party, “The road ahead is austerity.”
He repeatedly accused Moe of planning to make cuts in spending, with the Sask. Party having cut STC in 2017. Meili also accused the Sask. Party of holding meetings with the intention of selling SaskTel and SGI. Moe countered by saying. “We’re not selling Crowns. The cuts that we have will be in your family’s power rates.”
Moe said, “We have a plan for a strong recovery that includes balancing the budget by 2024. Very important that we get back to a balanced budget here in the province so that we have the ability for sustainable health funding, for sustainable education funding, so that we can ensure that that funding is sustainable for just today's generation, but so that we can have schools and health care for generations of the future.”
Meili, when pressed by both Moe and the moderator, would not commit to a date for a balanced budget. Meili said, “We’re going to balance the budget as soon as we’re able, but we’re not going to hurt families, and that’s the biggest difference.”
Moe said not only had his party costed their own platform, but that of the NDP. Moe said, “There is an additional $4 billion, and Mr. Meili has not come forward with in his plan, $4 billion in unaccounted spending and the question that I have is, how do you think Mr. Meili is going to pay for it? And the answer I would give is that he isn't. Saskatchewan people are,” Moe said, adding that $4 billion was on top of the $2.7 billion deficits costed in the NDP platform.
Meili responded, “This is the message that we hear over and over from Mr. Moe when we talk about the investments we want to make. He tells us that we can't afford them. What is he really saying? He's telling the people of Saskatchewan that we can't afford childcare, that we can afford to not have overcrowded classrooms, that we don't deserve high quality health care. Well I think he's wrong. I think we do deserve it, and that we are worth it.”
“I think we do deserve it, and that we are worth it. But we can't afford as four more years of Scott Moe and the Sask. Party. Four more years of cuts. Four more years of privatization. Four more years of backroom deals for the old boys club, while ordinary families are struggling across Saskatchewan. Mr. Moe may be satisfied with the people in the province certainly are not.”
Infrastructure and jobs
Moe spoke of a $7.5 billion infrastructure plan, and creating jobs, but Meili responded, “Let's talk for a moment about those jobs. Every single time, the Sask party moves forward with a public project, they managed to send it to a company from Alberta, from Texas, from China, and Tokyo from England. A $2 billion road around this city built by a company from France. That's wrong.”
Moe said, “The bypass around the city had over 70 per cent Saskatchewan content on the people that were working on that.” He listed several Saskatchewan companies that worked on the Regina Bypass well as Saskatchewan Hospital North Battleford.
Moe closed by saying, “Who do you trust to lead Saskatchewan economic recovery? The Saskatchewan Party has a record of growth, the NDP do not. The Saskatchewan Party has a plan for a strong recovery, the NDP do not. The Saskatchewan Party has a plan to balance the budget, the NDP do not. And the Saskatchewan Party will make life more affordable, while the NDP is reckless spending will drive up the deficit, and it will drive up your taxes.”
He added, “The Saskatchewan Party has a plan for a strong Saskatchewan. It's a plan for a strong economy, strong communities and strong families. It's a plan for a strong recovery. And it's a plan that will make life more affordable for everyone.”
Meili concluded the debate saying, “Mr. Moe, he’s satisfied. He thinks things are just fine. And he doesn't want to see any change. But people across Saskatchewan have been having a much harder time. Mr. Moe refuses to rule out more cuts to health more cuts to education, cuts that are a bad idea, anytime, and right now, are downright dangerous. It's just not good enough. It's the wrong approach.”
He continued, “We plan to make sure every patient can get the care they need when and where they need it. That every kid gets the help from the teachers and even the support they need to thrive in school that every senior can stay at home for as long as possible. And that every Saskatchewan worker is back on the job, and making a decent wage, so that everyone, every person in Saskatchewan has a chance at a great life, right here, because this is our home.”