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Thanks for stopping in at my website!  The spring session in the Saskatchewan Legislature concluded on May 16th. The Sask Party government’s most recent budget was full of “old news and old noise” instead of concrete plans to create jobs, restore funding to schools, or work towards better health outcomes for Saskatchewan people.

In the Legislature, our leader Ryan Meili and the Saskatchewan NDP caucus team brought a strong and consistent focus on putting people first by standing up for students and teachers against the cuts to education. My colleagues and I also pushed the Sask Party government for action on climate change, mental health and addictions, and emergency wait times. Unfortunately, we heard no accountability or admission of wrongdoing from the Sask. Party government.

We know that Scott Moe and the Sask. Party’s cuts and underfunding of the things that matter have hurt people and our long-term prosperity. As New Democrats we will continue working hard to hold them to account and renew Saskatchewan with good jobs, good public education and smart social investments.

We are happy to see some focus on income assistance and mental health, but we will be holding the government to account to ensure they deliver on their promises, as all too often the Sask. Party talks about taking action but fails to deliver.

My colleagues and I introduced bills calling for paid leave for survivors of domestic violence, the development of a suicide prevention strategy, the minimum wage to go from the second lowest in the country to $15 per hour over the next few years, and the closure of a loophole that would deny two Saskatchewan constituencies representation in the legislature for over a year.

I am honoured to serve as the critic for Labour; Workers’ Compensation Board; the portfolio of Ethics & Democracy and Diversity, Equality & Human Rights.  As well, David is the deputy chair of the NDP caucus.

 

Keep in touch!

Changes needed to make government accountable: NDP

Today, the NDP called on the Sask. Party government to strengthen legislation to prevent conflicts of interest and backroom deals, after Conflict of Interest Commissioner Ronald Barclay’s 2019 annual report noted that the government has yet to implement any recommendations from his previous report.

“The people of Saskatchewan deserve a government they can trust, and that means an open and transparent government,” said NDP Ethics and Democracy Critic David Forbes. “People are rightly concerned about the effect that the Sask. Party’s wealthy donors and insiders have on their government.”

The Conflict of Interest Commissioner reissued many of his previous recommendations, including eliminating the 100-hour threshold that allows in-house lobbyists to avoid registering as lobbyists.

The Sask. Party has repeatedly opposed measures to increase transparency, including voting down a bill to get big money out of politics and not supporting another NDP bill that would have addressed the commissioner’s concerns.

Meanwhile, the Sask. Party pushed through a sweetheart deal for their largest corporate donor to build in Wascana Park and orchestrated sketchy land deals at the GTHBill Boyd was found to have breached existing conflict-of-interest laws, using his office for financial gain while in China. Donna Harpauer accepted paid accommodations from a Northern Village council, while government was asked to investigate issues with the council.

“The Sask. Party has a long history of skirting the rules and falling short of what people expect,” said Forbes. “By failing to implement these long-overdue changes, the Sask. Party government is letting people down again.”

Reality check: “Hold my wine”? Moe’s Sask. Party trumps Ford’s Conservatives when it comes to sketchy political donations

Ontario Premier Doug Ford may be catching heat for promoting a winery on his propaganda network after accepting $2,050 in donations from its president, but Saskatchewan is still the ‘wild west’ when it comes to campaign finance laws.

Thanks to outdated laws that the Sask. Party has refused to change, Saskatchewan is the only province in Canada that still allows big money to dominate its elected government and its decisions. Corporations, unions, organizations and individuals, including those from out of province, are allowed to donate unlimited amounts to Saskatchewan political parties and candidates. And the Sask. Party takes full advantage of the legislative vacuum, raking in millions from many of the same people and businesses that in turn enjoy lucrative government contracts and Crown board appointments.

One need look no further than the backyard of the provincial Legislative building for evidence, where the Sask. Party recently rewrote the rules governing Wascana Park to push through a shockingly sweet deal on prime public real estate for their largest corporate donor, that also donated $10,000 to Scott Moe’s leadership campaign.

A simple comparison of the Sask Party’s donor list to the Government of Saskatchewan’s annual payee list (Public Accounts Vol. 2) reveals a pattern repeated year after year: a steady stream of cash flowing from donors to the Sask Party amounting to over $2 million over the last decade, and a long list of government contracts going to Sask. Party donors.

In 2017, the Saskatchewan NDP tabled legislation to ban all corporate and union donations in order to hand power back to the people of our province, but the Sask Party government’s MLAs unanimously voted against the measure.

Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and British Columbia have moved to limit influence on their politics, but Scott Moe’s Sask. Party seems just fine with the status quo.

Doug Ford only wishes he had it so good.

“Step aside for the sake of your constituents”: Meili calls for Sask. Party MLAs to resign ahead of Aug. 6 loophole

The NDP is calling for federal Conservative candidates Corey Tochor and Warren Steinley to resign their jobs as Sask. Party MLAs before August 6 to ensure that by-elections are held in those constituencies. Because of a loophole in the Legislative Assembly Act, if the two MLAs wait to resign until the writ is dropped in September, Premier Moe would not have to call by-elections in the two seats, leaving the constituents of Regina Walsh Acres and Saskatoon Eastview without an MLA for nearly 14 months.

“These two federal candidates have spent the summer knocking doors for Andrew Scheer while cashing cheques from the people of Saskatchewan,” said NDP Leader Ryan Meili. “They should have done the right thing and stepped aside months ago, but they still have a chance — as long as they do it this week.

“My message to Corey Tochor and Warren Steinley: It’s wrong to slow-walk your resignation past August 6, and it’s wrong to deny the people who elected you a voice for well over a year. Please step aside, for the sake of your constituents,” Meili said.

The NDP has tabled legislation to close the loophole that would allow these seats to go unfilled for over a year. The NDP bill would require a by-election be called within six months of a seat becoming vacant when the period between general elections is more than 48 months. Such an amendment is required because the Sask. Party added an additional six months to their term for the second election cycle in a row.

“Both Mr. Tochor and Mr. Steinley have been federal Conservative candidates since early 2018,” said NDP Ethics and Democracy Critic David Forbes. “That’s a lot of time they’ve spent auditioning for a new job, when they should have been doing the job the people of Saskatchewan entrusted to them.”

“Now they’re running down the clock to deny those voters any representation at all for well over a year,” said Forbes. “It’s cynical, it’s anti-democratic, and it’s wrong — they should do the right thing and step down by the end of this week.”

NDP gives Sask. Party member another shot at transparency

The NDP is calling on the Conflict of Interest Commissioner to take a deeper look into then-Minister of Government Relations Donna Harpauer’s undeclared personal vacations on the Village of Pinehouse’s dime. In December the Commissioner looked into the Village paying for her and her partner’s hotel accommodation. Recent Freedom of Information requests show that on the same two occasions, the Minister’s partner also had his guided fishing tours covered by the Village, but they were not declared or reimbursed.

“It stretches the imagination to hear the Minister say she was unaware of these additional expenses – it didn’t pass the smell test then and it doesn’t pass the smell test now,” said NDP Ethics and Democracy Critic David Forbes. “Especially when she was asked point blank in the Legislature back in May if her trip entailed any other expenses beyond hotel bills.”

Forbes sent a letter to the Conflict of Interest Commissioner today requesting a more in-depth investigation of these undisclosed gifts. At the time of the trips, serious concerns had been raised about multiple infractions of provincial FOI legislation and financial irregularities at the Village office and, as Minister responsible, Harpauer had formally committed her Ministry to working with the Village to ensure compliance. In April, Harpauer recused herself from caucus discussions related to Pinehouse.

“It shouldn’t take multiple FOIs and several years to pass for the Minister to be transparent with the people of Pinehouse and the province about gifts she had failed to declare,” Forbes said. “We hope the Conflict of Interest Commissioner can get to the bottom of this.”

Getting Big Money Out of Politics

NDP vote in favour of getting big money out of politics

Sask. Party content to allow out of province corporations to influence Saskatchewan elections 

Saskatchewan’s outdated campaign finance laws have made this province the “wild west” of election fundraising, and despite the proposition of a bill by the NDP that is common sense and would bring the province’s laws in line with the rest of the country, the Sask. Party voted for more of the same.

“Our province has long had broken campaign finance laws that allow unlimited out-of-province donations, and the people of Saskatchewan have been calling for change,” said NDP Leader Ryan Meili. “It’s disappointing that the Sask. Party want to continue to allow the election process in Saskatchewan to be influenced by large corporations, when it should belong to the people of the province.”

Saskatchewan is one of the few provinces that still allows corporations, unions, organizations and out-of-provinces companies to donate unlimited contributions to political parties. The NDP has listened to Saskatchewan residents’ concerns and put forward Bill 606 – The Election (Fairness and Accountability) Amendment Act. However, the Sask. Party voted against it.

Over the past 10 years, the Sask. Party has received $12.61 million in corporate donations and, of that, $2.87 million has come from companies outside the province.

This bill would have banned corporate and union contributions to political parties. It would also have restricted personal contributions so that only individuals who are residents of Saskatchewan can donate and those donations would be capped at $1,275.

“The Sask. Party seems content to stick to the status quo. By refusing to change these outdated laws, they are harming democracy and showing their true colours,” said NDP Ethics and Democracy Critic David Forbes. “Our campaign finance laws are the worst in the country and, under the Sask. Party, we’re actually falling further behind. Our proposal is common sense, is fair and ensures that Saskatchewan politics stay in the hands of Saskatchewan people.”

Anti-bullying GSA bill receives second reading

NDP bill would require gay-straight alliances where a student requests one

An NDP bill that would require all publicly funded schools to help a student form a gay-straight alliance (GSA) where one is requested took another step forward in the legislative assembly Thursday.

“We’re calling on the government to get on board with this bill – it really is the right thing to do,” said David Forbes, the NDP critic for diversity, equality and human rights. “We know that having a GSA in a school reduces bullying and suicide attempts for both gay and straight students because it really creates a better school environment for everyone. Why the Sask. Party is resisting that is beyond me.”

The bill, The Respect for Diversity – Student Bill of Rights Act, received second reading in the legislature on Thursday, moved by the NDP.

A study by Egale Canada concluded that 64 per cent of LGBTQ youth feel unsafe at school, 80 per cent report being bullied, and half have thought about suicide.

The study also showed that a GSA established in a school for three or more years reduced the rates of discrimination, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts by half in both LGBTQ students, and straight boys.

Despite nearly identical laws in Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta, the Sask. Party has refused to support the NDP bill in Saskatchewan.

To date, the Sask. Party has claimed a law isn’t necessary – although Education Minister Don Morgan admitted in a media interview in May that he’d heard a number of instances in Saskatchewan in which students have been too afraid to ask for a GSA, or they’ve asked and been declined. He even said students were far too afraid to identify themselves, so he’s been unable to follow up with some who tried to raise concerns with him.

“This law is really about the safety of kids,” said Forbes. “They’re young, many are going through a tough time, and it’s just wrong to expect each of them to blaze a trail again and again if they want to create that safe space in their school or have their rights recognized. These kids shouldn’t have to be the leaders here – that’s up to us.”

NDP wants senior housing repaired, bedbugs eliminated

The NDP is calling on the government to repair the run-down social and seniors housing it owns and properly get rid of the bedbugs.

“Families are approaching the Opposition to describe horrible bedbug infestations in seniors housing, and a real struggle getting the government to properly treat the problem,” said NDP Housing critic David Forbes. “It’s not acceptable for the government to become a shoddy landlord. Most importantly, it puts seniors’ health at risk, and by letting provincial assets become run down it also costs taxpayers much more in the long run.”

Adelle Bryson, 80, lives in a government-owned social housing building for seniors at 2121 Rose St. in Regina. Her family says bedbugs moved in at least seven months ago, and she can’t sleep there anymore.

The authorities are requiring Bryson, who is frail and uses an oxygen tank, to pack up her belongings, disassemble and move her furniture and take all her possessions to a drycleaner herself before they’ll come in to treat the unit for bedbugs. Since they won’t do the whole building, leaving infested common areas and suites untreated, the family worries the effort and expense will be wasted when the bugs return.

“I just want my mom to be safe and comfortable,” said Bryson’s son, Jim Bryson. “She’s on a small pension and doesn’t have the ability to take everything she owns to a dry cleaner or to move her own furniture. What about all the seniors in that building that don’t have family that can help? Those seniors will suffer, and the bugs from their suites will come right back into mom’s suite making the cost, the effort and displacement of mom all for nothing.”

Bryson says the government should do it once and do it right when it comes to eliminating bedbugs. The bedbugs aren’t the only problem at 2121 Rose St., he added. Cabinets are falling apart and the air quality has been so bad that his mom was hospitalized in January 2014 as a result.

Overall, the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation has cut the maintenance budget to $48.3 million in 2014, compared to a peak of $93.4 million in 2011. Housing authorities have complained about the province slashing their budgets for maintenance. For example, the Earl Grey Housing Authority says its 2014 maintenance budget for six units was just $550, down from $1,475 in 2013.

“Enough is enough,” said Forbes. “This government is dropping the ball on the basics when it comes to safe, affordable housing, and it’s unacceptable. It should never have come to this, but now the government needs to repair the damage, get rid of the bedbugs and put a proactive plan in place to maintain what we own.”

2121 Rose St. is a social housing building for seniors, and each tenant’s rent is based on one-third of their monthly income.  It’s operated by the Regina Housing Authority, which is funded by the provincial government.

Government neglect of deteriorating schools puts children at risk of asbestos exposure

The Sask. Party government’s refusal to fix deteriorating schools throughout the province is putting children and educators at risk of potential asbestos exposure.

Last week, the Opposition New Democrats revealed information about three of the schools the government has refused to fix. All three are listed on the province’s asbestos registry:

  • Rosthern Elementary School’s “structural pad is sinking, causing large gaps in the walls and concerns of plumbing line failure.” According to the asbestos registry, it has asbestos in tiles and pipeline fitting compound.
  • Rosthern High School’s roof is “leaking, rotting and in danger of collapse” and “drywall is falling from the ceiling in the library.” It has asbestos in cement board and tiles.
  • Colonsay School has “structural damage to roof/walls of the gym.” It has asbestos in cement board and tiles in the gym.

“It’s bad enough that this government expects parents to send their kids to schools with rotting roofs, holes in the walls and major structural damage,” said NDP Leader Cam Broten. “But for this government to ignore the fact that kids may be put at risk of potential asbestos exposure because of the deterioration of school buildings is absolutely unacceptable.”

Asbestos exposure occurs when products containing asbestos deteriorate or are damaged and airborne asbestos fibres are inhaled or swallowed, which can lead to the development of serious respiratory diseases and cancers, including asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer.

According to the asbestos registry, 499 Saskatchewan schools have asbestos in them. Government documents show there are at least $1.5 billion of repairs needed to our existing schools. The required repairs in Rosthern Elementary School, Rosthern High School and Colonsay School are estimated at $5.2 million, or just 0.3 per cent of the total need throughout the province. The government refuses to release details of the $1.5 billion of needed school repairs.

“With the kind of money this government has raked in over the last eight long years, we should have some of the best schools in the entire country, and that includes having well-maintained school buildings,” said Broten. “But this government has wasted far too much money on its misplaced priorities, while largely neglecting what really matters to Saskatchewan families. I’m hearing from more and more parents who are alarmed to learn about $1.5 billion of needed repairs to our schools and 499 school buildings with asbestos in them. Parents cannot understand why this government isn’t taking this seriously.”

Government says no to emergency repairs of rotting school roofs

The government claims “pre-existing conditions” as grounds to refuse to fix schools

The Sask. Party government refuses to do emergency repairs on school roofs that are “leaking, rotting, and in danger of collapse” because it deems them to be “pre-existing situations.”

Documents obtained through access-to-information laws show the government said no to emergency repairs of dangerous structural issues at multiple schools in at least one school division, Prairie Spirit, which is in the Saskatoon area.

“It is absolutely ridiculous for this government to use legalese and red tape to weasel out of fixing school roofs that are rotting and in danger of collapse, and schools that have major structural damage,” said NDP Leader Cam Broten. “This is about the safety of children and this is about providing a good space to learn. To say no to these emergency repairs on the grounds that these are pre-existing conditions defies common sense and it says a lot about this government’s misplaced priorities.”

An internal government email notes: “Prairie Spirit has made multiple requests through the program, most of which have been denied.” The email goes on to say: “The majority of the requests have had old engineering requests that date back to as early as 2006 identifying issues that needed to be, but have not been addressed. As the policy is clear that the emergent program is for unknown, not pre-existing situations, most of the requests have been denied.” A separate letter confirms the policy, referring to the major problems in Prairie Spirit schools as “pre-existing conditions.”

Applications for emergency funding which the government denied include:

  • Rosthern High School: “Barrel roof is leaking, rotting and in danger of collapse. Drywall is falling form the ceiling in the library. Further deterioration will result in the closure of this entire wing, which houses most of the classroom space.”
  • Rosthern Elementary School: “Structural pad is sinking, causing large gaps in the walls and concerns of plumbing line failure,” and “Roof is rotting and portions are disintegrating.”
  • Colonsay School: “Structural damage to roof/wall of the gym”

The total cost of the three projects is $5.2 million. The government suggested that Prairie Spirit could perhaps use its funding from the Preventative Maintenance and Renewal Program (PMR), however Prairie Spirit received just $1.37 million through the PMR program this year for all building maintenance in the entire division.

Province-wide, the Sask. Party says it’s aware of at least $1.5 billion in school repairs that are necessary, but refuses to share the list or any details with parents or teachers. The total PMR is only $27 million, less than two per cent of the need.

“The Sask. Party government has had record revenues for eight years now – and this year it plans to spend more than any year in the province’s history – but it can’t even fix our school roofs that are rotting and disintegrating? It makes no sense,” said Broten. “No wonder more and more Saskatchewan people are starting to ask where all the money has gone. This government has wasted far too much money on its misplaced priorities, instead of investing in what matters most to Saskatchewan people – better schools, better hospitals, better seniors care, and better roads. Saskatchewan families deserve so much better.”

Read the documents accessed via Freedom of Information laws.