REGINA — The Saskatchewan NDP are calling on the provincial government to abandon their possible Crown rebranding project and instead reopen the utility payment deferral program offered to Crown customers during the pandemic.
Opposition leader Ryan Meili and SaskPower critic Aleana Young both criticized the Sask. Party for closing the deferral program in September of 2020.
The payment deferral program, announced as a pandemic support measure in March of last year, allowed customers to defer Crown utility payments to be repaid over a 12-month period.
The Opposition says customers are only just learning that missed payments after September of 2020 weren’t included in the program and interest will be compounded monthly if payment schedules aren’t met, causing some to now be facing high interest rates and possibly service cut offs.
“Crowns are designed to return money and value of benefit to the people of Saskatchewan, not charge them compounding interest rates,” said Young.
The Opposition said the Sask. Party should have extended the program through the second and third waves of COVID-19 the province faced.
Now, Meili and Young are calling on the provincial government to retroactively reinstate the payment deferral program to include September 2020 to at least July 2021 and to reset the interest back to a stock rate, to offer relief to customers still recovering.
“These are the very people that we should be using the Crowns to help, people trying to make ends meet,” said Meili. “The government’s number one priority needs to be working with these folks with their payments, not trying to squeeze the most vulnerable.”
Shelve the rebranding
Meili also criticized the government’s recently leaked plan to rebrand the Crown corporations’ logos, saying now is an inconvenient time for a “vanity project” with a potentially large price tag.
A rebranding project would include designing fresh logos for government-owned Crowns — like SGI, SaskPower and SaskTel — to better match current provincial marketing logos, for more uniformity.
Critics say it could cost potentially tens of millions to relaunch Crown logos and imagery, as it would require replacing extensive signage, vehicle decals and more.
The office of the premier told media the rebranding project is in the stage of “exploratory discussions,” and would aim to strengthen services under aligned branding efforts if it moves forward.
The Opposition leader said sources have indicated that part of the rebranding could include recasting the Crown logos in yellow and green — the colours of the provincial flag but also those used by the Sask. Party.
He called the rebranding idea “manipulative” and insinuated that the provincial government is attempting to influence perception by conflating government entities with the Sask. Party.
“These Crowns, overall, belong to the people of Saskatchewan. They don’t belong to Scott Moe and are not to be used for his cynical political means,” said Meili.
Meili also said the project is the wrong investment for the provincial government to be making as the province continues to recover from the pandemic.