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Saskatchewan’s outdated campaign finance laws have made this province the “wild west” of election fundraising, and despite the proposition of a bill by the NDP that is common sense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 By refusing to change these outdated laws, they are harming democracy and showing their true colours,” said NDP Ethics and Democracy Critic David Forbes.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.

Statement from NDP Leader Cam Broten regarding the Sixties Scoop

Last week, I called on the Government of Saskatchewan to apologize for Saskatchewan’s role in Canada’s Adopt Indian Métis program, also called the ’60s Scoop. Today, the government responded positively. I’m pleased, and ready to work together with all members of the Legislative Assembly and First Nations and Métis leaders and community members on this process.

Apologies can be powerful, especially when they’re accompanied with by concrete actions.

Easier access to birth records as well as access to counselling are concrete steps the government should take to assist individuals and families affected by the ’60s Scoop. I also want the provincial government to host a roundtable with ’60s Scoop survivors, to hear their stories, and develop an action plan to move toward healing and reconciliation.

Extending opportunity to more and more people is critical to improving our shared futures, and to building a stronger province both socially and economically. Acknowledging the ’60s Scoop as a damaging historical wrong with long-lasting consequences can help tear down a barrier to a better life for many in our province.

I encourage all members of the Legislative Assembly to lay aside political differences to work in cooperation on this important process. Apologizing to those who were taken as children, and to their families and communities, needs to be a significant and meaningful process.

Sask. Party failing students, new cuts in Regina schools announced

The government’s refusal to properly fund students and scrapping of the mid-year adjustment will now result in cuts to staff in Regina schools, and the NDP wants a change to the education funding formula before September to solve the problem.

The Regina Public School Board is being forced to cut $2.55 million in positions as part of its efforts to overcome a $6.1 million funding shortfall, the board said late last week. The schools will also have more Grade 1 students walk to school instead of being bussed and eliminate some noon-hour supervision. The Saskatoon-area Prairie Spirit School Division announced more than 40 job cuts a week ago, including more than 21 educational assistants, eight teacher librarians, positions in special education and more.

“Saskatchewan has had a decade of resource wealth,” said NDP deputy leader Trent Wotherspoon. “We could and absolutely should have one of the strongest school systems in the country. But this government didn’t invest properly in students and classrooms. Whether it’s crumbling schools that aren’t getting any repair dollars, overcrowded classrooms and schools that can’t afford supports for students like anti-bullying programs, enough educational assistants or English as an additional language supports, it’s the students that lose when the government has misplaced spending priorities.”

The NDP is calling for immediate changes to the funding formula, to reverse its $18 million cut caused by its scrapping of the mid-year funding adjustment, and to commit that enrolment growth at mid-year will be fully funded.

The provincial government will spend more than ever before, but classrooms are being shortchanged because of the government’s misplaced priorities. Wotherspoon said more teachers and educational assistants could easily be possible by cutting government waste and pet projects. For example, he pointed out, this year the government is mandating a roll-out of the controversial John Black Lean program in education. He also pointed out that millions have already gone to P3 consultants, unsuccessful bidders and negotiators as a part of the more-expensive and lengthier P3-rent-a-school scheme. And, the province shoveled more than $120 million to consultants last year, an increase of 228 per cent.

“Making common sense decisions would save millions – millions that could be spent on more teachers, more educational assistants and addressing bullying in schools,” said Wotherspoon. “This is about giving kids the best education possible, but it’s also about giving Saskatchewan the strongest future.”

The NDP plan for education includes capping class sizes starting with early years and increasing the number of educational assistants. The NDP has also tabled an anti-bullying bill for schools that establishes each students’ right to raise bullying and cyberbullying with their school principal, their right to have a disability accommodated and the right to request and form a gender and sexuality alliance (GSA, also known as a gay straight alliance) in their school.

Time for apology and action to repair damage done by Sixties Scoop

On the eve of National Aboriginal Day, NDP Leader Cam Broten said it’s time for the Government of Saskatchewan to formally apologize for the province’s role in Canada’s Adopt Indian Métis program, also known as the ’60s Scoop.

The program took First Nations and Métis children from their parents without consent and placed them in non-Aboriginal households. Parents were typically not told where their children were. Saskatchewan formally participated in the program from 1966 to 1975.

“It’s important to recognize the harm that this practice caused and continues to cause,” said Broten. “Ripping families apart has long-lasting effects, not only for individuals and families, but also for communities, our society and our economy. We cannot reasonably expect individuals, families and communities to heal until we acknowledge and address the root causes of trauma, like the residential schools and the ’60s Scoop.”

On Thursday, the Government of Manitoba formally apologized for its role in the program. Broten wants the Government of Saskatchewan to do so as well.

“The healing process begins with a meaningful apology, and with concrete actions behind the words. A common sense place to start is making birth records easily accessible to stolen children and their birth families so they can reconnect, and making counseling available to those affected.”

Broten also urged the provincial government to host a roundtable with ’60s Scoop survivors to hear their stories and develop an action plan to move toward healing and reconciliation.

“I want to build the strongest Saskatchewan we can. The choice to be our strongest – socially and economically – begins with the choice to extend opportunity to more and more people. The repercussions of the ’60s Scoop are a barrier to a better life for many in our province. It’s time to start tearing down that barrier.”

Across Canada, the number of children taken from their parents as part of the ’60s Scoop is estimated to exceed 20,000.

Huge support for anti-bullying and GSA bill during pride month

Before pride month ends, the NDP wants the Sask. Party to agree to pass the bill that addresses bullying and allows students of any publicly funded school to set up a GSA, a gender and sexuality alliance, also called a gay straight alliance.

The Respect for Diversity – Student Bill of Rights Act is private member’s bill introduced by the NDP. It addresses bullying and cyberbullying, gives students with a disability the right to be accommodated and requires all schools that receive public funding to help any student that asks to establish a GSA. The bill has found immense support during pride month in Saskatchewan.

“People have approached New Democrat MLAs and candidates during pride events to say what that bill means to them. People tell us that having a GSA when they were a student would have made a huge difference,” said NDP deputy leader Trent Wotherspoon, who will march in the pride parade in Regina on Saturday.

“We’ve also heard from students who say they were turned away when they asked for a GSA in their school. It’s time to take the pressure off these kids and make the right to form a GSA law. Whether it’s a friend or family member or someone we read about in the news, we all know a child for whom this law will come too late.”

Statistics show that 64 per cent of gender and sexually diverse students feel unsafe at schools. 80 per cent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ) youth report being bullied. 50 per cent of all LGBTQ youth have thought about suicide. Having GSAs established in a school for three or more years reduces rates of discrimination, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts by half.

“GSAs save lives,” said Wotherspoon. “We’ve had hundreds of people lining up to sign a petition to call on the Sask. Party to pass this law; and. Kids shouldn’t have to be the leaders in fighting for their safety and their rights here – that should be up to us.”

Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick already have similar GSA laws.

The NDP bill was introduced by David Forbes, the critic for Diversity, Equality and Human Rights, in the spring.