Minimum wage change puts Saskatchewan in eighth place

The NDP wants a minimum wage that’s both more competitive with other provinces, and gives working people a decent wage to live on.

The government announced Thursday that the new wage will be $10.50 as of Oct. 1. That’s lower than the current minimum wages in eight other provinces and territories. The premier of Alberta has stated her government has plans to raise that province’s minimum wage to the highest in Canada, which would bump Saskatchewan down to ninth place.

“The reality is that working 40 hours per week, every week, and never calling in sick – that equals about $21,000 per year with no benefits or pension,” said NDP Labour critic David Forbes.

“The cost of living in Saskatchewan has really gone up, especially when you look at housing, our utility bills and childcare costs. The reality for many minimum-wage earners is two or even three jobs, and tough choices, like choosing between food and rent. We shouldn’t have to hear about food bank use jumping or about kids going to bed hungry in this province – but we do.”

The NDP supports indexing minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index changes, but called for an increase before indexation started to prevent indexation from holding minimum-wage earners back. Now, it would like to see a one-time adjustment to ensure minimum wage is a livable wage.

NDP questions Regina bypass company VINCI’s human rights record

CBC News, June 10th, 2015

The Saskatchewan NDP is wondering if the government asked the right questions about the human rights record of a company hired to build the new Regina bypass.

The Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure selected VINCI, a French corporation, at the end of May as the preferred proponent in a 30-year contract to construct the $1.2-billion project.

VINCI has faced allegations regarding the violation of workers’ rights in Qatar, where the company is constructing a stadium for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

In March, the human rights organization Sherpa filed a complaint against VINCI and its subsidiary in Qatar for forced labour, servitude, and concealment.

Sherpa’s release states: “Modern slavery does not consist of shackling and whipping workers. It is subtler: the penal code defines a vulnerable population, under the threat of an employer and extreme economical dependency, as having no choice but to accept the deplorable working conditions and therefore renew its contract.”

The company has refuted all of these claims and filed a defamation lawsuit against Sherpa.

“We have repeatedly welcomed unions, international NGOs and journalists onto our building sites,” VINCI said in a release. “They have ascertained that we do more than merely comply with local labour law and respect fundamental rights.”

The VINCI release adds that all employees are free to retrieve passports at any time and that appropriate working hours are observed.

However, Sherpa has remained steadfast in its allegations.

David Forbes, NDP critic for labour, as well as quality, diversity and human rights, addressed these controversies on Wednesday.

“If they are found guilty there, clearly we’ll have questions about that. But we want to make sure their practices here are following Saskatchewan standard,” Forbes said of the VINCI corporation.

He said people are anxious to prevent any mistreatment of workers in this province.

“We want to know that the government has asked the questions to ensure that kind of thing won’t be happening here in Saskatchewan,” Forbes said.

The government said it is already aware of the allegations against VINCI and that the contract could be terminated if any of those allegations are proven true.

Human rights abuse allegations hang over bypass builder gov’t chose

France investigating VINCI and its Qatar FIFA World Cup soccer stadium project

The France-based corporation that will build and maintain the Regina bypass on a 30-year contract has been mired in troubling allegations, and an investigation by the Government of France into its human rights practices. The NDP wants to know if the Sask. Party asked the right questions, or just looked the other way before awarding the corporation a massive contract.

VINCI is the company the government chose to build the Regina bypass. It’s also the corporation building the Qatar soccer stadium in preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Paris-based human rights organization Sherpa accuses VINCI of, allegedly, withholding the passports of the migrant workers, forcing them to work long days and preventing them from moving to non-company housing. French authorities determined in April that there is enough evidence to warrant an initial investigation into those allegations.

“We want to know if the government asked the tough questions before inviting this corporation into Saskatchewan, and we want to know what the Sask. Party plans to do should any of the claims be proven in court after their massive deal is finalized,” said NDP labour critic David Forbes.

“This is a corporation we will be tied to for 30 years. Going with a corporation that is connected to alleged human rights concerns just does not match Saskatchewan values.”

In addition to awarding VINCI a contract to build Regina’s $1.2 billion bypass, the government plans to pay a VINCI subsidiary to operate and maintain the bypass for 30 years.

VINCI denies wrongdoing, and says it has filed a defamation lawsuit against Sherpa, noting on its website that: “… All QDVC employees are free to retrieve their passports at any time…”

QDVC is the partnership between VINCI and the Qatari government’s sovereign wealth fund. The partnership adopted the name Qatari Diar Vinci Construction. The Qatar sovereign wealth fund is also a shareholder in VINCI.

Meanwhile, various organizations, media reports and foreign governments allege that hundreds of workers are dying on that Qatar project – perhaps at a rate equal to one every two days.

In Saskatchewan, the VINCI-led bid group calls itself SaskLink Global Transportation Partners.

The NDP is a strong supporter of building a bypass around Regina. It has raised concerns about the route the Sask. Party government chose, which is too close to the city and will be in the midst of future city expansion. It has also raised concerns about the use of a P3 financing and maintenance scheme for the project. P3s tend to cost more. For example, in Ontario, the Auditor General found that 75 P3 projects cost $8 billion extra, compared to straightforward builds.

Education funding shortfall leads to big cuts in growing schools

Cuts in growing school division near Warman, Martensville includes 21 EAs

The Sask. Party has failed to properly fund education, and the newest outcome of its short funding is sweeping cuts being forced at the Prairie Spirit School Division.

More than 21 educational associates (EAs, also called educational assistants) will be cut for the next school year, according to a letter the school division sent to parents Wednesday. There will also be cuts to pre-school programs, early learning, special education resource staff, librarians, vice-principals and programs supporting children learning English.

The division notes that it will have to make further cuts in response to enrolment growth through the year in its fast-growing schools. That would be because the government has refused to budget for a mid-year funding adjustment to accommodate new students. It’ll also combine classes wherever it can, moving to even larger class sizes.

“Saskatchewan has had a decade of resource wealth. We should absolutely be seeing our schools and our students thrive with fantastic programming, smaller class sizes and the capacity to give every child the help and attention they need to be their best,” said NDP deputy leader Trent Wotherspoon. “But, this government has refused to prioritize education. So, we see cuts to programs and layoffs in critical positions.

“This government refuses to make classrooms a priority, and as a result, a generation of kids throughout the province are suffering.”

Wotherspoon said the funding shortfall is a province-wide problem. He’s heard from a number of school divisions, urban and rural, that are facing tough decisions because of budget shortfalls, and are making cuts for the coming school year.

School boards are definitely not to blame, he added. Prairie Spirit has repeatedly flagged for the Sask. Party the funding problem that is hurting students. Like other boards, it’s made administrative reductions and dipped into its long-term savings to try to spare the kids from cuts – but those options have largely been exhausted.

The NDP has called on the government to prioritize education; fund a cap on class sizes and increase the number of EAs to ensure every student gets the help and one-on-one attention they need.

Read the list of PSSD cuts here.

GSAs in Saskatchewan – Media

Monday May 11th

Possible cash hit if Gay-Straight Alliances not allowed in schools (LP, CJWW)**
If schools aren’t allowing gay-straight alliances (GSAs), Education Minister Don Morgan wants to know about it — they may face a financial penalty. Morgan was reacting to a private members bill tabled by the Opposition recently, the Respect for Diversity — Student Bill of Rights Act, which would legislate the right to GSAs.

NDP Seeks to Legislate Gay-Straight Alliances in Schools

Tuesday May 12

NDP pushes government on GSAs (CJWW, CKRM, Global Regina, MJ Times, SP)**
The NDP Opposition says Saskatchewan schools should be mandated by law to accommodate gay-straight alliances (GSAs). “What is the real reason this government is so afraid to pass legalization on GSAs? Is it because the Sask. Party is afraid to offend social conservatives?”

Wednesday May 13th

Saskatchewan students call for government legislation (LP)**
Schools and their respective divisions throughout the province may not be handling requests for gay-straight alliances as well as the government had thought. There are kids in our schools who are contemplating suicide,” Forbes said. “We can’t be avoiding the tough questions and the tough leadership.”

Thursday May 14th

Rick Mercer tweets do the right thing:

Friday May 15th

Letter – Margi Corbett asks Why won’t our provincial government legislate protection of students’ human rights in public schools?

Wall says the government’s policy on gay-straight alliances in schools ensures they can exist and legislation won’t make a difference. The Opposition tabled a private member’s bill in April that focused on anti-bullying, but it didn’t get government support.

Tuesday May 19, 2015

Sask. gov’t weak on gay-straight alliances – Op Ed (LP, SP)
The explanations offered by Education Minister Don Morgan for the provincial government preference for a policy stance instead of legislation to enshrine the right of students to establish gay-straight alliances in schools actually seem to make a better case for enacting a law.

Tuesday May 26, 2015

Letter – Don Cochrane writes in response to NDP pushes government on GSAs

 

NDP wants school funding fix before kids go back in the fall

Band programs latest victim of Sask. Party’s short funding of students

The Opposition wants the funding for school boards repaired before the school year starts.

The NDP also says the government was wrong to cut the mid-year adjustment that funded enrolment growth, and wants money set aside for that.

“The Sask. Party has had record revenues and has been spending all of it as fast as it comes in, and then some. But, where has all the money gone? School boards and kids sure aren’t benefiting – and this government isn’t making them the priority they should be,” said Trent Wotherspoon, NDP deputy leader and Education critic.

“School boards are being forced to make painful spending decisions. That means the classes are getting more and more crowded. There are already too few educational assistants, after the government slashed their numbers, and one-on-one attention is often not there when kids need it. And, in the case of Prairie Spirit School Division, they’ve been forced to eliminate the band program – and the Sask. Party should be absolutely ashamed of that.”

Prairie Spirit, a growing division near Saskatoon, has repeatedly expressed concerns about the funding shortfall – concerns Wotherspoon said he’s heard from other parts of the province, too. It’s a matter of priorities, he said.

“Does this government actually need to spend $120 million a year on private consultants? Does it need to spend millions to introduce the Lean fiasco we know from health care into schools? Or, could it use those millions to add some teachers, hire more educational assistants and give kids the band programs they deserve? That’s the approach I want.”

Among NDP Leader Cam Broten’s proposals for education is a cap on class sizes based on class composition, starting with early years; reinstating the role and ratio of educational assistants; and scrapping the more expensive P3 rent-a-school scheme that’s delaying the building of overdue schools. Those and more plans were laid out in an opposition bill during the spring session of the legislature, but the government refused to debate the bill, or vote on it.‎

Sask Party refuses to vote on GSAs

The Sask. Party government refused Thursday to agree to a free vote on whether or not Saskatchewan students should have guaranteed access to a safe space in school through a Gender Sexuality Alliance, also called a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA).

The Opposition New Democrats moved an emergency motion to pass Bill 612, The Respect for Diversity – Student Bill of Rights Act, prior to the spring session of the Legislature ending at noon Thursday. The government refused to consent to a debate and vote on the bill.

“This is common sense, and there should be a sense of urgency to get it done – but the government is bending over backwards to prevent a GSA law here in Saskatchewan,” said David Forbes, the NDP’s critic for Diversity, Equality and Human Rights. “We know that over half of all gay teens consider suicide, and we know that GSAs save lives.

“We also know there are a number of students who have been told ‘no’ when they requested a GSA under the current weak policy, and we know there are countless more who are afraid to ask.”

The Respect for Diversity – Student Bill of Rights Act gives every student attending a school that receives public funding the right to form a GSA or a similar club, promoting anti-racism, for example. It also gives students the right to have a disability accommodated, and to have a bullying-free learning environment in which any concerns about bullying can be taken to the school principal or administration, including cyberbullying.

Issues that matter to families dominated legislature this spring: NDP

Seniors care, outrageous ambulance bills, schools up against government’s misplaced priorities

This year, the government is adding $1.5 billion to the debt and blowing through billions faster than it comes in – but the Opposition New Democrats showed during the spring session of the legislature that money is not going to the things that matter most to Saskatchewan families.

NDP Leader Cam Broten and the Opposition MLAs spent the spring session of the Legislative Assembly showing massive shortfalls, cuts and neglect when it comes to the seniors care crisis, the condition of schools and hospitals and the massive ambulance fees Saskatchewan patients pay. The spring session of the legislature wrapped up Thursday.

“This province’s resource wealth should translate into great education and lots of opportunities for young people. It should mean affordability for families and an easier chance to get started in Saskatchewan. And it should guarantee dignity and security for seniors,” said Broten. “Instead, this government is wasting far too much money.

“This government has spent well over $100 million on the toxic John Black Lean project. It spent $1.5 billion on a carbon capture experiment that will barely touch our carbon emissions. It is spending more than $120 million every year on private consultants, most of which don’t even have job descriptions or any accountability, according to the independent provincial auditor. In health care, it has way too many managers and communications staff sitting at desks. And the spending on entitled behavior is getting out of control. Pre-Oscar parties in Hollywood, wasting time and money designing a Premier’s Library and especially having highly paid senior staff travel the world to scope out VIP lounges, interview luxury hotels, request upgrades for Mr. Wall and ensure his favorite drink will be waiting in his hotel rooms. This is not what everyday people want their tax dollars spent on. With Saskatchewan’s resource wealth, we could be doing so much better for everyday families.”

Over the last year, an unprecedented number of families came to the Legislature to speak out on short-staffing in seniors care, the erosion of rural health care, crippling ambulance bills and poor decisions in health care, including the decision to build a much smaller hospital than what Moose Jaw needs or currently has, and exclude the life-saving hyperbaric chamber – the only one in Saskatchewan.

Premier Brad Wall showed a new level of dismissiveness of those families and whistleblowers – often attempting to discredit their claims and dismiss their concerns. The only whistleblower still working in health care to reveal his name suffered severe consequences from the government. Within days, the employee with an excellent employment record was being investigated for new complaints and was suspended. Wall admits he sought out that confidential information, and then ordered it to be leaked to the media.

Wall, his chief of communications and operations and the health minister are all now under investigation for breaking privacy laws, an offense that can result in a fine or jail time.

“Not only is the premier failing to get the job done when it comes to spending on what matters; he’s failing to listen and admit mistakes,” said Broten. “Attacking workers, dismissing families and literally laughing off entitled behavior like spending thousands to vet one five-star hotel against another five-star hotel – this is not the leadership Saskatchewan people deserve.”

The Opposition New Democrats put a number of important bills on the table this session, showing a strong vision for a government that focuses on what really matters.

Several of the bills were about building a stronger, more stable economy. The Fairness for Saskatchewan Businesses in Government Procurement Act and The Buy Local Day Act were designed to support local industry and small business. The Public-Private Partnerships Transparency and Accountability Act would make P3 deals accountable to taxpayers and prevent the worst, most expensive deals from going forward. The Opposition New Democrats took a strong stand for the environment, economy and green jobs with ambitious but achievable targets in The Green Energy, Green Jobs and Diversified, Sustainable Economy Act. The NDP proposed better care for seniors with minimum, regulated standards through The Residents-in-Care Bill of Rights Act. And, it proposed better schools with smaller class sizes and an anti-bullying strategy, including allowing students to form Gender and Sexuality Alliances or Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) with The Respect for Diversity – Student Bill of Rights Act.

NDP introduces anti-bullying act

The official Opposition introduced a bill Thursday that will ensure students who request a Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA, also known as a Gay-Straight Alliance) at school cannot be denied.

The Respect for Diversity – Student Bill of Rights Act also gives students the right to have any cyber-bullying or other bullying concerns properly addressed by their school administration; and that students have the right to have any disability appropriately accommodated.

The act will apply to all schools that receive public funding.

All three actions were clauses in an Opposition education bill introduced last week, which also called for smaller class sizes, more educational assistant support for students and timely repairs to school buildings. The government refused to debate that bill, challenging it on the grounds that it would cost money to improve schools, and arguing that only ministers are entitled to make budgetary allocations.

“Every student in Saskatchewan, regardless of factors like where they live and what their school community looks like, should be guaranteed fundamental rights,” said David Forbes, NDP critic for Diversity, Equality and Human Rights, who introduced the bill. “We should be entrenching best practices for preventing discrimination and bullying, and promising that those best practices will be followed for every student.”

Budget is not family friendly

It’s a $14 billion budget – but everyday families won’t get a piece of it

The provincial budget shows the government can afford to fix seniors care, build a better education system and make life more affordable for middle class families – but they aren’t going to.

“Revenues are projected to be higher than last year, but this government won’t pass that benefit on to everyday families,” said Trent Wotherspoon, Deputy Leader of the Opposition. “They’ll keep blowing through the cash as fast as it comes in, and even ask families to pay a bit more and get a bit less in order to support the government’s spending habit.”

Saskatchewan will spend more than $14 billion this year.

“This government is choosing to hold back things that matter to people rather than cut waste,” said Wotherspoon. “Mr. Wall has decided to make some cuts to important things and take a pass on the things that really matter to families in order to keep spending on government’s own interests and pet projects.”

Families will pay a little more.

This budget makes the cost of living problem Saskatchewan families cope with a little worse. The government will kick 6,000 middle class seniors off the seniors drug plan. Families will pay a little more on their taxes with the cancellation of the Active Families Benefit. The Graduate Retention Program is being walked back. Parents will no longer get a Saskatchewan Employment Supplement once their kids are over 12 years old.

The Sask. Party will not put the money into things that really matter to Saskatchewan families.

Crumbling hospitals and health centres need at least $2.2 billion in repairs. But, instead of tackling that critical work, the Sask. Party government will set aside only $27.8 million – a tiny fraction of the need. The government will not offer any help for Saskatchewan patients who pay the highest ambulance fees in the country.

The Sask. Party is continuing to stubbornly refuse to seriously address the seniors care crisis. It won’t add additional staff in seniors care homes, won’t fund the re-establishment of minimum care standards for seniors in care and won’t even catch up on the “urgent” needs in seniors care that health regions identified over a year ago.

With this budget, the government also won’t reduce class sizes, or increase in the number of educational assistants to give kids back the one-on-one attention they’ve lost. The budgeted amount for education is enough to cover teacher’s wages, but no improvements in overcrowded and under-resourced classrooms. Previously promised and already-inadequate expansion of childcare and pre-Kindergarten spaces has been scrapped for this year.

The Sask. Party will not cut back on its wasteful spending.

“The government is planning to spend more than $14 billion this year, but won’t fix schools or hospitals, won’t help with the cost of living and won’t put more hands on the front-lines of education or health care – so where’s the money going?” Wotherspoon asked.

The government will continue with the John Black-style Lean program; the bloated administration in health care; and the army of consultants charging taxpayers more than $120 million per year, but largely don’t appear to have so much as job descriptions explaining what taxpayers are paying them for. It still plans to waste money on a controversial P3 rent-a-school-scheme and still intends to use its flawed procurement policy, failing to draw economic benefits and value for taxpayers, giving more work to out-of-province and out-of-country corporations.

The government has also planned to borrow $700 million for SaskBuilds, which is largely to fund P3 projects. While still failing to save even a dime from Saskatchewan’s decade-long resource boom, this government will increase debt by another $1.5 billion, now up to $13.2 billion, not including pension debt.

Instead of cutting waste, the government is borrowing from the future in several places in order to keep spending at record levels. That includes withdrawing $255 million from the growth and financial security fund, often called the rainy day fund. The fund will finish the year at just $200 million down from $1.35 billion in 2009-10. It will also take future years of potash revenue now, forgoing future revenue; will defer portions of the Graduate Retention payments through its walk-back of that program; and will use P3s in order to show less debt this year, while actually paying more in the near future and long-term.


Backgrounder

What the 2015-16 budget cuts

Health

  • Provincial Targeted Programs and Services – $2.9 million cut (-4.6 per cent)
  • Health Research –  $5.6 million cut (-100 per cent)
  • Provincial Programs Support – $9.4 million (-100 per cent)
  • Regional Targeted Programs and Services – $52.1 million (-38.4 per cent)
  • Medical Services and Medical Education Programs – Out-of-province – $1.2 million cut (-0.9 per cent)
  • Provincial Infrastructure Projects – $31 million cut (-72 per cent)
  • Saskatchewan Prescription Drug Plan – $282,000 cut (-0.9 per cent)

Education

  • Achievement and Operational Support – $4.2 million cut (-12 per cent)

Advanced Education

  • Universities, Federated and Affiliated Colleges – $12.2 million cut (-2.5 per cent)
  • Innovation and Science Fund – $6.4 million cut (-100 per cent)
  • Science and Technology Research – $9.7 million cut (-100 per cent)
  • Saskatchewan Advantage Grant for Education Savings $1 million cut (-13.3 per cent)

Social Services

  • Child and Family Community-Based Organization Services – $939,000 cut (-1.1 per cent)
  • Income Assistance and Disability Services – Transition Employment Allowance – $384,000 cut (-2.2 per cent)
  • Income Assistance and Disability Services – Saskatchewan Employment Supplement – $1 million cut (-6.2 per cent)
  • Income Assistance and Disability Services – Child Care Parent Subsidies – $590,000 cut (-4.0 per cent)
  • Income Assistance and Disability Services – Rental Housing Supplements – $1.7M (-4.3 per cent)
  • Client Support – Case Management Project – $2.3 million cut (-28.3 per cent)
  • Saskatchewan Housing Corporation – $5.5 million (-78 per cent)

Agriculture

  • Business risk management – Crop Insurance Program Premiums – $11.6 million cut (-8.7 per cent)
  • Business risk management – Agristability Program Delivery – $1.4 million cut (-6.4 per cent)

Economy

  • Skills Training Benefit – $2.5 million cut (-37.5 per cent)

Environment

  • Climate Change – $178,000 cut (-6.3 per cent)
  • Environmental Support – $2 million cut (-21 per cent)
  • Environmental protection – Environmental Protection Program -$1.7 million cut (-30.7 per cent)
  • Environmental protection – Environmental Assessment – $58,000 cut (-4.8 per cent)
  • Reforestation – $1.2 million (-38.2 per cent)
  • Forest Fire Operations – $1 million (-2 per cent)

Highways and Infrastructure

  • Strategic Municipal Infrastructure – Municipal Roads Strategy – $9.5 million cut (-37.3 per cent)
  • Urban Connectors Program – $733,000 cut (-8.7 per cent)
  • Operation of Transportation System – Operational Services – $798,000 cut (-3.8 per cent)

Government Relations

  • First Nations and Métis Engagement – $89,000 cut (-3.5 per cent)
  • First Nations and Metis Consultation Participation Fund – $400,000 cut (-66.6 per cent)
  • Municipal and Northern Engagement – Building Canada Fund, Communities Component –  $7.7 million (-67 per cent)
  • Building Standards and Licensing – $423,000 cut (-31 per cent)
  • Public Safety Telecommunications – $380,000 cut (-17.6 per cent)

Justice

  • Salaries – Justices of the Peace (Statutory) – $831,000 cut (-22.8 per cent)
  • Community Justice – Community Services – $489,000 cut (-2.9 per cent)

Labour Relations and Workplace Safety

  • Occupational Health and Safety – $469,000 cut (-5.4 per cent)
  • Labour Relations Board – $53,000 cut (-4.6 per cent)
  • Labour Relations and Mediation – $15,000 cut (-1.8 per cent)

Parks, Culture and Sport

  • Resource Stewardship and the Provincial Capital Commission – $145,000 cut (-5.3 per cent)
  • Community Infrastructure – $397,000 cut (-69.9 per cent)
  • Active Families Benefit – $6 million cut (-52.2 per cent)
  • Film Employment Tax Credit – $2.5 million cut (-100 per cent)