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Thanks for stopping in at my website. We are now back at the Saskatchewan Legislature and more and more we are seeing the Sask Party government out of touch with Saskatchewan people.

Cam Broten and our New Democrat team have been holding this government to account for its decision to spend $40 million on just one American consultant and $3,500 per day to bring in Japanese senseis to promote its Lean project in health care. Our team questioned why this government doesn’t just listen to the wisdom and insight of front-line health care workers and use its resources to fix the basics in health care and seniors care.

You have likely seen David on the news exposing the exorbitant expenses of Sask Party MLA, June Draude, Minister of Social Services. David led the way in getting to the bottom of Minister Draude’s $3600 limo rides around London and $200 “debriefing” lunch that turned out to be a visit with a friend. After more questions from the Opposition, the Minister revealed that she took her family with her to Ghana and London, UK and actually claimed their visas as a government expense. NDP Leader Cam Broten asked the Premier how any of this could happen, why is no one checking these expenses over.

The Government continues to provide no answers to these questions and instead tried to distract the public by bringing up the past NDP government. The Government then used bullying tactics to scare the Opposition out of continuing their questioning.

Cam called for an independent review of all cabinet ministers’ travel expenses and introduced a motion to call on the provincial Auditor to look at the issue, but the government voted it down.

It’s not only Mandryk that has been writing about the Government’s travel expenses and their lack of interest in answering the Oppositions questions. Check out some of these stories: Auditor should probe expenses, Broten saysSaskatoon StarPhoenix; NDP calls for provincial auditor review of travel costs by cabinet ministers – Saskatoon StarPhoenix; Controversy over ministerial travel expense turns nasty – CTV Regina; NDP continues assault on travel spending – Regina Leader-Post

June Draude’s judgment is in question again due to the appointment of June Draude’s good friend, the same good friend that traveled to London and Ghana with the Minister, to the Social Services Appeal Board. The role of the Appeal Board is to review appeals of the decisions of the Ministry of Social Services. CTV News covered the story on Wednesday’s newscast. In the StarPhoenix front page story, when asked if the tables were turned and it was the NDP that were making the appointment she admitted “it’s probably better if they’re not a real close friend of the Minister.”

It was Opposition Health Critic Danielle Chartier’s questions about the Saskatchewan Children’s Hospital that revealed to the province that the plans for the hospital are being re-drawn. The Hospital was originally estimated to cost $230 million, when Lean experts were brought in, space was reduced to save $30 million. Designers have been quietly enlarging the plan for the Children’s Hospital since last fall, but the government said nothing until the NDP questioned them in the Legislature. The NDP will continue to ask the Government how much the Hospital is going to cost, and how much more will it cost due to not getting it right the first time.

We continue to be focused on making the strong economy work for Saskatchewan families – pushing for common sense improvements in schools, hospitals and seniors care facilities and working to make life more affordable for Saskatchewan families.Our leader, Cam Broten, says, “For me, politics isn’t just about the province doing well – it’s about people doing well.”

Please check back again as we update this site regularly. I appreciate any comments you might have or further questions.

Yours

David Forbes, MLA
Saskatoon Centre

Is a minimum wage hike good for Saskatchewan?

The Starphoenix, April 1, 2014

Lynda Brazeau knows the impact a few cents an hour can make.

As the executive director of the Friendship Inn, she meets many of Saskatoon’s working poor, who frequent the soup kitchen while making minimum wage when they can find work.

The provincial government’s decision to increase the minimum wage — and its plans to index the minimum wage to the consumer price index — can only mean good things for her clients, Brazeau said Monday.

“I don’t think it’s going to change the world for them, but I’m happy to hear that there’s an increase of any kind.”

Saskatchewan’s minimum wage will be increased from $10 to $10.20 in October. That means the average full-time employee making minimum wage will earn an extra $416 a year before taxes, bringing their average pre-tax annual income to about $21,000.

The minimum wage will likely increase year after year, as the government works to put in place a plan for an annual indexing of the minimum wage.

“We looked at what was taking place in other provinces. This moves us well up,” said Labour Relations and Workplace Safety Minister Don Morgan.

Past increases to the low-income cut-off for paying income taxes also factored into setting the $10.20 figure, Morgan said.

Not everyone thinks the few extra dollars in the pockets of low-income workers is a good deal.

“Certainly, retail and hospitality sectors will be hardest hit by an annual increase,” said Marilyn Braun-Pollon of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). “Business owners will have to consider increasing prices or cutting hours.”

Braun-Pollon said the CFIB’s data shows most business owners already pay more than minimum wage and that an increase is going to have a damaging “ripple effect” on the small business economy.

She said the increase is “a blunt tool” that won’t actually help low-income earners. She said the province should instead provide complete tax exemptions for low income earners.

Saskatchewan’s low-income tax credit currently provides a full-time minimum wage employee with about $240 a year, but the employee pays $418 in provincial taxes.

The indexation formula will be in effect for next year and will be based equally on percentage changes in the consumer price index and the average hourly wage for the previous year, Morgan said.

“We think low-income workers should participate in the growth of the economy as well. Strictly on the basis of inflation, we felt, doesn’t reflect what should happen.”

Changes to the minimum wage under the indexation formula will be announced each year by June 30 and implemented Oct. 1. Calculations will be based on the preceding year’s numbers.

Morgan had previously suggested there could be a base increase to the minimum wage in 2014 along with an indexed increase, but said Monday that $10.20 will be the rate from Oct. 1 until the same date in 2015.

Opposition labour critic David Forbes said he’s happy with the timeline, but disappointed with the $10.20 number.

“We thought we should be, as a province, higher than that,” Forbes said. “I’m concerned this is going to keep us in the back of the pack.”

The critic said he wanted to see the wage in the range of $10.40 to $11, noting some provinces have higher rates.

The government first said it would index the minimum wage as part of its provincial labour legislation overhaul. The exact indexing scheme will be released in three months, Morgan said.

BY THE NUMBERS

At $10.20 an hour:

A year: $21,216

A month: $1,768

A week: $408

Compared to $10 an hour:

An extra: $416 a year

An extra: $35 a month

An extra: $8 a week

Minimum wage in all provinces and territories:

Alberta: $9.95

New Brunswick: $10.00

Newfoundland: $10.00

Northwest Territories: $10.00

Prince Edward Island: $10.00

Quebec: $10.15

Saskatchewan: $10.20

Ontario: $10.25

British Columbia: $10.25

Nova Scotia: $10.30

Manitoba: $10.45

Yukon: $10.54

Nunavut: $11.00

Sask Party MLA under fire for overseas expenses

Joe Couture, The Starphoenix, April 2, 2014

Saskatchewan Social Services Minister June Draude came under fire Wednesday after it was revealed her expenses for an overseas trip last summer included more than $3,600 for a car service and over $200 for lunch with a friend.

“We think this shows a growing sense of entitlement,” Opposition social services critic David Forbes told reporters in Regina. “We think this amount for transportation is really high, excessively high.”

The Opposition NDP in question period raised concerns arising from detailed expense reports on a trip Draude, accompanied by cabinet secretary Rick Mantey, made to Ghana last summer. The trip also involved several days spent in England.

The London portion of the trip included the particularly concerning aspects, said Forbes. The pair was in that city between June 12 and June 16. During that time, Draude and Mantey spent more than $3,600 in public money on a car service, plus almost $1,900 each at a four-star luxury hotel. Mantey listed more than $200 for a lunch with Draude and her friend from Saskatchewan.

Defending the expenses after question period, Draude said she wasn’t aware the lunch was charged to taxpayers and said she would pay it back. Government spokesperson Kathy Young said later in the day that the lunch was inadvertently included in the expense report and that the cost of it would be paid back by Mantey.

The trip cost more than $18,000 in total. Draude revealed to reporters that the London leg of the journey was added to the trip to Ghana — where she spoke at a conference on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder — to save the cost of flying back to Saskatchewan only to travel to Prince Edward Island days later. The Sask. Party government minister said she scheduled five or six meetings while in London.

Mantey’s flights cost more than $4,300, while Draude’s cost over $2,600 — Young explained later in the day that Mantey chose to fly business class, an option available to ministers and officials travelling overseas, while Draude chose to fly economy class.

Draude also said she saved money by staying with a friend during most of her time in Ghana. Regarding the pricey car service, Draude said it wasn’t what she would consider a limousine and she was advised that such an arrangement was the typical way of getting around in a place like London — although she couldn’t say whether it was common for other government ministers to employ such services.

“Whenever I go out of the country or out of the province, I’m very aware that I’m spending taxpayers’ dollars. It’s really important to me to be conscious of the fact that these are hard-earned, taxpayers’ dollars,” the minister told reporters.

Forbes, however, said the Opposition requests, under freedom of information laws, all travel expenses for provincial government politicians going overseas — and the claims for the journey by Draude and Mantey are the most troubling.

“This really stuck out for us,” he said. “This one had red flags all over it.”

Draude said she had meetings during the trip about fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, disabilities, housing and other issues relevant to her government work. There weren’t any reports produced as a result of the trip and Draude struggled to list any specific benefits for Saskatchewan resulting from the meetings she had.

BY THE NUMBERS

What was taxpayer money spent on during Draude’s overseas trip?

$3,634.33 — car service for Draude and Mantey while in London

$4,366.43 — Mantey’s flights to Ghana and England; chose business class

$2,696.80 — Draude’s flight’s to Ghana and England; chose economy class

$1,864.56 — Draude’s four-star hotel in London; Mantey’s similar

$206.06 — improperly claimed personal lunch with Draude’s friend

Minimum-wage hike coming soon

Joe Couture, The StarPhoenix, March 24, 2014

Labour Minister Don Morgan says the minimum wage in Saskatchewan will increase this year.

The hike will bring the wage, currently $10 per hour, up to par with other provinces’ rates, on top of the introduction of the government’s new indexation system, Morgan said on Monday.

“I’m expecting we’ll be able to make an announcement within the next week or 10 days,” he told reporters in Regina after the Opposition raised the issue during Question Period.

“Our intention is that we would develop a base at that point in time, and then announce it for a number of months out, so people would have a chance to adapt to it.”

The government’s new system to index the minimum wage, announced as part of its recent major overhaul of the province’s labour legislation, would see annual increases based on a formula that balances the consumer price index (CPI) and the province’s average annual wage in what it takes into account.

Morgan acknowledged there have been delays in introducing the indexation system since it was first announced, pointing to unexpected complexity. While it was originally expected that annual increases under indexation would be announced in April and come into effect in November, that might change to May and December, Morgan said.

He also noted this year might be an anomaly to that schedule due to the delays in getting the new indexation system implemented.

Opposition labour critic David Forbes blasted the government for taking so long to get the regulations in place to support minimum wage indexation — especially considering the speed with which the labour legislation was passed.

“There’s been way too much delay. We call on the government to raise it as quickly as they can. This government should be ready to implement this,” he said.

Forbes pointed to rising expenses for residents in Saskatchewan and said Morgan needs to do a better job as labour minister to support the province’s workers.

“The people of Saskatchewan, particularly those who are earning minimum wage, are facing and feeling the costs of living here in Saskatchewan for the last two years and have been promised time and time again that the minimum wage would be increasing,” Forbes said.

Anti-poverty strategy debated in Legislature

Joe Couture, The StarPhoenix, March 12, 2014

The provincial Opposition on Tuesday echoed calls from anti-poverty groups for the Saskatchewan government to develop a provincewide poverty reduction strategy.

“Other provinces have had good success by implementing antipoverty strategies and there is no question that Saskatchewan needs a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy.

“There have been many calls for this over the years, including from Poverty Free Saskatchewan and now Poverty Costs,” Opposition social services critic David Forbes said during question period at the Legislative Building in Regina.

Forbes called on the government to announce funding in next week’s provincial budget to support the formation of an all-party special committee to develop an anti-poverty strategy.

Social Services Minister June Draude responded by defending the government’s record since it was elected in 2007.

“Since 2007, our government has reduced the number of low-income people more than any other province in Canada, including all of those that have a poverty strategy. What we are talking about is action to deliver results. Working together is an important part of

what we’re doing,” Draude said.

She said the number of lowincome people in the province declined by 16 per cent during the former NDP government’s last seven years, while the Sask. Party government has reduced the figure by 30 per cent in six years. “We agree there’s always more work to be done and we’ll learn from other jurisdictions,” the minister added.

90 per cent of teachers don’t feel appreciated by government

Joe Couture – The StarPhoenix, March 12, 2014

Provincial Opposition education critic Trent Wotherspoon said he wasn’t surprised to learn that nine out of 10 teachers who responded to a survey said they do not think they are appreciated by government.

The voluntary survey of the province’s educators was done for the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation. Wotherspoon raised its results during question period at the Legislature Tuesday.

“It reflected the listening and relationships that I have across the province in the education sector. Teachers themselves have been in many ways kicked by the government,” said Wotherspoon, whose own background is in education.

“What is clear is that this minister, this government needs to start listening to teachers. They need to better understand the realities in classrooms,” he added.

Education Minister Don Morgan said he received the study after it was completed in December.

“It was prepared by them sort of in response to the teachers having not ratified the contract, so the study certainly shows there’s a lot of frustration that’s been there for a long time,” Morgan said.

He knows there is more work to do to improve relationships with teachers, the minister added.

“What we’d really like to do is to work through and do what we can to get a collective agreement in place, a partnership agreement and things that will help students.”

Morgan said he recently met with a group of parents who went on about how wonderful the local teachers were. But when he met with the teachers immediately afterward, they told him they aren’t appreciated by anyone.

“I think there’s a bit of a disconnect there, and maybe it’s a timing thing and people should reach out to teachers,” he said. Once the contract situation is resolved, that “certainly removes the pressure,” Morgan said.

NDP’s spring session focus: people should benefit more from economy

Seniors care crisis and crowded schools still need urgent attention

When the legislature returns Monday, NDP Leader Cam Broten will be focused on making the strong economy work for Saskatchewan families – pushing for common sense improvements in schools, hospitals and seniors care facilities and working to make life more affordable for Saskatchewan families.

“For me, politics isn’t just about the province doing well – it’s about people doing well,” said Broten. “I want Saskatchewan’s strong economy to be good news for everyone – but the reality for hard-working families right now is that the extra costs keep piling up while the services we should all be able to count on are getting worse, because this government is dropping the ball. That has to stop.”

Broten pointed to alarming conditions that are still a problem in seniors care homes, because of short-staffing and this government’s elimination of minimum care standards. Throughout the past year, the NDP has raised concerns about seniors being left to soil themselves, not getting even a weekly bath, and not being given the proper time or help to eat.

The NDP will also continue to focus on ongoing problems in schools, particularly how overcrowded classrooms and this government’s cuts to educational assistant levels have left students without the one-on-one help and learning environment they need. Instead of spending millions of dollars every year on the government’s new plan to implement old-fashioned standardized testing, the NDP is fighting for a plan to cap class sizes and put educational assistants back in the classroom.

The fact the government is now considering having people pay extra education tax to fund bridges and overpasses is something Broten says is worrisome for Saskatchewan families and another clear indication that this government is struggling with its finances, and continues to turn to families to make up the difference.

“With record revenues in a strong economy, this government simply shouldn’t be coming up short and it shouldn’t continually be asking Saskatchewan families to pay more, especially when it’s delivering less,” said Broten. “Families already have to pay extra for the basics – for their kids’ schools and for their elderly parents’ care. That’s not right. But now the premier wants to squeeze families even more by forcing them to pay higher education taxes in order to fund bridges and overpasses?”

With a provincial budget to be released in March, Broten said the NDP will be demanding transparency and honesty from this government. For the first time ever in Canada, the government failed an audit on its central books in December, with the independent provincial auditor noting that the government misled Saskatchewan people by claiming a surplus of $59 million while actually running a deficit of $590 million.

Broten said he and the NDP MLAs are enthusiastic to return to the assembly.

“When the house is in session, the Opposition gets a chance to put the questions Saskatchewan people have straight to the government. Especially since this government has a record of ploughing ahead without actually listening to people, the opportunity to ask questions and continue to propose common sense solutions is important.”

NDP blasts plan to raise taxes

The government is looking to raise education taxes and use the money to fund bridges and overpasses — a plan NDP Leader Cam Broten says is wrong because it forces Saskatchewan families to pay more, and takes money out of education to cover this government’s infrastructure holes in other areas.

“Government revenue and government spending is higher than ever,” said Broten. “This government shouldn’t have to keep turning to Saskatchewan families to pay more.”

The premier revealed the potential tax hike while speaking to media at a Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association convention in Regina Monday.

Broten said that with increases planned this year for SaskTel internet, SaskEnergy, SaskPower, SGI and more, Saskatchewan families will already face a much higher cost of living.

He added that education property tax was meant to pay for education – to fix crumbling, overcrowded schools and ensure the appropriate resources are in place for students – not to cover shortfalls in the government’s infrastructure plan.

“Hiking education tax to use as a piggy bank to pay for the government’s shortcomings when it comes to overpasses and bridges is absolutely unacceptable,” said Broten.

Broten said that Saskatchewan families are doing their part for the economy and to grow the province — the government needs to do its part by responsibly managing the money so it doesn’t need to raise taxes on families or make painful cuts to valuable services when times are good.

NDP hopes government’s second look at P3 schools will lead to a better plan

After months of dismissing concerns, the government has apparently quietly informed school divisions it is taking a second look at its P3-schools plan due to growing concern that it is not the most cost-effective or prudent approach to building and operating schools.

“This government has been stubbornly plowing ahead with its P3-school agenda, and it has even criticized the Opposition for raising very legitimate concerns about this plan,” said Trent Wotherspoon, NDP Deputy Leader and Education Critic. “So we’re pleased to see that this government appears to finally be taking a second look at its misguided scheme for P3 schools.”

Wotherspoon noted that school divisions have expressed concerns and pushed for more information about the costs, local-supply, governance and design aspects of the new schools. School divisions have also passed motions calling on a commitment by the government to accommodate community needs in the use of schools for extra-curricular activities.

“We know there are many growing communities that urgently need new schools. We want this government to address those needs in the most cost-effective and sensible way,” Wotherspoon said. “There have been so many problems in other jurisdictions that have tried the P3-school approach. There are obviously a number of questions being raised by school boards and we hope this government will come forward with a better plan and some answers to their questions.”

In December, the government voted against the NDP’s proposed legisation, The Public-Private Partnership Transparency and Accountability Act, which would have required the full costs, including the financing, of P3 schools to be reported to the taxpayers and would prevent the government from using the P3 method for major capital projects if there are less than three bidders on the contract.

Bullying Report Light on Action, Light on Details

The NDP is disappointed that the government’s bullying report has few details and little action described.

“The long wait for this report came with hope that Saskatchewan’s young people would see action to address bullying immediately,” said David Forbes, NDP critic for diversity, equality and human rights. “This government took far too much time to come back with far too little to protect kids and stop bullying.”

The NDP’s expectations for the report included concrete help for establishing gay-straight alliances in schools; an immediate action plan to investigate and stop cyberbullying; and concrete measures to help stop bullying before is starts. The NDP has pointed to other provinces’ models as adaptable for Saskatchewan.

The NDP also hoped that immediate actions would be announced today, since the government coordinated its response with the release of the report. Forbes pointed to the creation of an informational website – an action that could have been done already.

“Nothing in this report appears to give Saskatchewan kids safer schools tomorrow,” said Forbes.

David and the NDP response was featured in a number of News agents. Check out the stories below:

Bullying Report Falls Short, Says Opposition, Joe Couture, The Starphoenix, Nov 15, 2013
Global Evening News, November 14 2013
Sask Education Will See Changes as Report on Bullying is Released: NDP Says Changes Won’t Come Soon Enough, NewsTalk 908 CJME, November 14, 2013

NDP demands answers on school programs in limbo

September 05, 2013 ·  NDP caucus communications

The government must clarify which education programs are now suspended or may not return – and what that means for students and teachers.

Programs including the anti-bullying initiative and the task force for First Nations and Métis education, as well as countless other programs, are all on hold while the government figures out its priorities, according to a government official’s comments in the media.

“The solution to the problems this government has created in education is certainly not to put important programs and initiatives into limbo,” said Trent Wotherspoon, NDP education critic. “It’s not acceptable to shelve initiatives that students and families count on, like anti-bullying.”

The government revealed in the media Wednesday that school building and repair projects are also on hold. Thousands of students and teachers need relief from overcrowded schools where classes are being held in gyms and hallways, or schools that are crumbling and in need of repairs from foundation repair to asbestos removal.

Wotherspoon said that fixing the problems now plaguing the education sector should be a top priority for government.

“Students, families and teachers deserve a government that can manage multiple priorities in education at once,” said Wotherspoon. “The government needs to fix the problems it created in education, and maintain valuable things like anti-bullying efforts at the same time.”

Wotherspoon cited the government’s refusal to listen as one of the biggest causes of the new problems in education, and said the government should have consulted with educational partners including students, teachers and families before bulldozing ahead with plans like instituting a battery of outdated standardized tests.

Since Saturday, Wotherspoon has heard from a number of parents and teachers who are deeply concerned about the government’s plan to halt programs – and fearful the initiatives that matter to their kids won’t be reinstated.