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)

Opposition wants budget to re-route spending priority areas

Wednesday’s provincial budget must eliminate spending on wasteful pet projects and move the dollars directly into what matters most to Saskatchewan families, says Cam Broten, Leader of the Opposition New Democrats.

“After a decade of resource wealth, parents want to know why their schools are run down and have leaky roofs, but nothing’s being done about it,” said Broten. “Patients want to know why waits in emergency rooms are out of control, and why hallway medicine and long delays have become the status quo. Families want to know why seniors care homes are short-staffed with caregivers consistently run off their feet and struggling to provide even basic care.

“We can afford to do so much better, but not if the Sask. Party government keeps blowing our resource wealth on its misplaced priorities and wasteful pet projects. This government should use the dip in oil prices to cut its own waste and finally start spending wisely on what really matters to Saskatchewan families today.”

The Sask. Party government is spending roughly $14 billion per year, several billion more per year than in 2007. Broten argues that the Sask. Party government’s misplaced priorities have caused it to miss the opportunity to use Saskatchewan’s prosperity to build a legacy of better schools, dignified seniors care homes and hospitals with no waits and no hallway medicine.

PRIORITIZE

EDUCATION

  • Dedicate adequate funding to repair run-down schools, starting with the most urgent structural and safety needs. The government must reveal reports and inspection records on crumbling schools, which detail at least $1.5 billion in necessary repairs, even without engineer inspections on all older schools.
  • Commit to work with teachers to implement a multi-year plan to cap classroom sizes based on class composition, starting with early years.
  • Add enough educational assistants to bring the ratio of educational assistants to students who need extra help back to 2006 levels.
  • Ensure appropriate academic resources are available in each school to assist with learning, including acceptable internet speeds.

HEALTH CARE

  • Shrink wait times by shrinking bloated administration and redirecting those resources to front-line delivery of care.
  • Immediately stop charging patients for ambulance transfers between health facilities, and cap the amount patients pay by eliminating the per-kilometre charge.
  • Commit to maintain public hyperbaric treatment within our province.
  • Develop a multi-year plan to repair crumbling hospitals, like Royal University Hospital, and immediately commit to properly use under-utilized facilities, like Saskatoon City Hospital.

SENIORS CARE

  • Re-establish regulated minimum care standards in seniors care homes, including appropriate staff-to-resident ratios.
  • Expand home care services, to provide more support for seniors to stay in their own homes as long as they want.

ECONOMIC DIVERSITY AND SUSTAINABILITY

  • Fix this government’s flawed procurement policy, resulting in better value for Saskatchewan taxpayers and more work for Saskatchewan companies.
  • Immediately pass and proclaim The Buy Local Day Act, and develop a promotional campaign to raise awareness about the value of supporting local businesses.
  • Deliver more education and training opportunities for Saskatchewan people, including First Nations and Métis people.
  • Fund a proactive comprehensive drainage and flooding strategy.
  • Invest in proven renewable power to clean up our electricity system and deliver benefits to Saskatchewan businesses and communities.
  • Re-establish a film employment tax credit as good or better for the film industry than the credit the Sask. Party government eliminated. That credit provided a return benefit of $44.5 million, annually, to the province.
  • Create a heritage fund to save for the long-term.
CUT WASTEFUL SPENDING

 

  • Put an end to the hiring of all Lean consultants.
  • Immediately close the Lean Kaizen Promotion Offices, which cost roughly $20 million every year.
  • Cut hundreds of highly paid permanent Lean specialists, immediately saving millions every year that can be redirected to the front lines of care.
  • Reduce the size of the bloated health administration, shifting those jobs to the front lines of care, where they’re desperately needed.
  • Stop flying health care administrators to the United States for John Black Lean field trips, which include a tour of an airbag factory in Utah.
  • Stop taking health care workers off the front lines and forcing them to attend “Kaizen Basics” and other John Black Lean training, which includes folding paper airplanes and memorizing Japanese terms.
  • Stop the endless John Black-style workshops in health care that cost $35,000 a piece, and rarely result in lasting improvements.
  • Slash the government’s spending on private consultants, which has increased by 228 per cent and costs taxpayers more than $120 million each year – even though the auditor says this government can’t explain what at least 70 per cent of these consultants are doing.
  • End the multi-million dollar contract with the premier’s American lobbyist, which includes having highly paid consultants lobby American news outlets to interview the premier.
  • Reallocate government jobs to reduce the high number of communications staff and transfer some of those positions to the short-staffed child protection workers in Social Services.
  • Eliminate vanity projects, such as the sponsorship of exclusive parties in Toronto and Hollywood.
  • Eliminate the $5-million research gift to the American manufacturer of the failed, dangerous smart meters.
  • Recoup all losses for the smart meter debacle, including the $18 million of Saskatchewan taxpayers’ money currently being held by the American manufacturer as part of a future purchase agreement.
  • Stop the pricey P3 rent-a-school scheme. In addition to the wasted money, the controversial P3 method is causing delays in building the schools communities need now.
  • Stop handing so many government contracts to out-of-province and out-of-country companies without a proper value-for-money assessment. This is failing to get best value for taxpayers while Saskatchewan companies can often deliver better value for money for Saskatchewan taxpayers.

Some of the government’s waste can’t be recouped.

The government plowed ahead with the enormously expensive $1.6-billion carbon capture pet project without a proven business case. At its best, the project can only reduce the amount of carbon Saskatchewan produces by less than 1.5 per cent – but no refund is possible for this project with highly questionable returns. Neither is there a refund for years of staff time put into vanity projects like the proposed Premier’s Library, a museum modeled after the American presidential libraries, which would house the premier’s manuscripts, photographs and fine art. Nor can every dollar of inappropriate travel be refunded – like a cabinet minister’s trip to Ghana and London, which was revealed to be primarily a vacation with family and friends; or a Crown CEO’s trip to a Hollywood pre-Oscar party. The Sask. Party’s is plowing ahead with its selfish plan to spend millions of dollars to add three more MLAs to the legislature, and already passed a law to make it happen. It also can’t recoup years of legal fees, spent fighting for its illegal essential services law all the way to the Supreme Court.

“That kind of waste can’t keep happening,” said Broten. “Somehow, despite over a decade of resource wealth, this government hasn’t saved a dime and overall government debt has climbed to more than $19 billion. This government’s spending priorities must change. Because it can’t just be about the province doing well, it has to be about people doing well.”

Broten added that this government’s spending decisions are lacking transparency. The third-quarter update on whether the province is has deviated from the current year’s budget was not released this winter.

The Opposition New Democrats strongly oppose any government effort to recoup the small dip in revenue caused by low oil prices by raising property tax directly or by shortchanging municipalities on the sales tax revenue-sharing deal. Instead, Broten demanded that the revenue reduction be managed by eliminating the government’s wasteful spending.

Government attempt to excuse crumbling schools just plain wrong

Government attempt to excuse crumbling schools just plain wrong

With parents, teachers and the Opposition expressing serious concerns about run down and neglected schools, the government is patting itself on the back Friday for its 2014 education infrastructure spending – which included a $23.5 million cut.

Friday, it issued a short and vague list of school repairs undertaken in the last two years in defense of growing criticism.

“Kids and students don’t need a weak defense – they need their schools fixed,” said Opposition Deputy Leader Trent Wotherspoon. “Parents and teachers are rightfully asking, after a decade of resource wealth, why don’t we have better school buildings all over the province? Where did all that money go?

“Good schools are a priority for families – but the Sask. Party government has been spending on its own pet projects, instead, and letting schools get very run down. Putting out a media release to pat themselves on the back for the little bits of maintenance schools were able to afford, while dismissing the growing and very real problems in schools, is just wrong.”

Wotherspoon pointed to major structural problems, cracks in walls and a library floor that’s nothing more than subfloor because the moldy carpet was ripped out years ago and never replaced. Saskatchewan School Boards Association data shows that 75 per cent of all schools roofs in the province will fail by 2018. The independent provincial auditor reported in 2013 that the government was spending far too little to repair and upkeep schools – and that was before the government made its cuts this year.

The amount required to complete the much-needed repairs in schools has grown to at least $1.5 billion. But the government says the list of schools in trouble is a cabinet secret, and refuses to share it with parents and teachers.

“The list of repairs needed has grown to $1.5 billion – and that doesn’t include structural inspections on all of the older schools,” said Wotherspoon. “It’s disturbing that schools have become so run-down during such good economic times; and it’s equally disturbing that the government is hiding the list of repairs that are needed from parents and teachers. What doesn’t the Sask. Party government want parents to know?”

NDP concerned with lack of specifics on inspection changes

Terrence Mceachern, Regina Leader-Post, March 6, 2015

NDP MLA David Forbes continued to question the government Thursday on its record of unannounced and random occupational and health safety inspections, and raised concerns about the lack of specifics on a plan moving forward.

In particular, Forbes raised concerns about the inspection record at the Agrium Vanscoy potash mine.

During Question Period, Forbes said inspections at the mine showed a disturbing pattern. Of note, he said there hasn’t been an unannounced inspection at the mine since April 2012, nor has there been a scheduled inspection since August 2013. The five visits to the mine were in response to a specific complaint, he said.

According to an NDP Freedom of Information request, between Jan. 5, 2011 and April 27, 2012, there were four unannounced inspections at the mine compared with 12 announced inspections between Feb. 1, 2011, and Aug. 6, 2013.

Since Aug. 6, 2013, there have been four inspections after a complaint was received, the most recent on Jan. 16.

After Question Period, Minister of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety Don Morgan said the ministry has been given a directive to return to unannounced and random inspections by a “significant number.” In terms of specific details, he said the deputy minister will be coming back with a business plan on how to “target resources most effectively.”

But Morgan disagreed with the NDP argument regarding the record of scheduled or unscheduled inspections at the mine, arguing there have been five in the past few months.

“When we became aware that the number of unannounced inspections had dropped right off we gave (the ministry) a direction that is not acceptable, they have to bring it back up.”

Morgan said that it is good for inspectors to be unannounced at construction sites so employees and employers are aware they are being watched for workplace safety. He noted that, although the numbers are improving, Saskatchewan still has the second-highest injury rate in Canada.

“I don’t think we’re doing nearly as well as I’d like to see us doing,” he said.

Forbes was asked about the Morgan’s lack of specifics in a plan moving forward. He said that, despite the directive, it sounds like the government is continuing with the status quo and “going to continue the downward trend of not doing random inspections or unannounced inspections.”

Plowing ahead based on ideology is a bad idea

Supreme Court of Canada rules the government’s Essential Services Act unconstitutional

NDP Labour critic David Forbes said Friday’s Supreme Court of Canada ruling against the Government of Saskatchewan’s labour laws is historic – and should send a loud message to Brad Wall that recklessly plowing ahead with plans based on ideology, instead of fairness and common sense, is a bad idea.

The Supreme Court of Canada affirmed that the right to strike is protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and, as a result, declared Saskatchewan’s essential services labour law passed in 2008 to be unconstitutional

The country’s top court ordered the provincial government to pay the unions’ considerable legal fees for the Charter challenge, adding to the significant amount of money the government has already spent trying to save a law which the court says it never should have introduced in the first place.

“We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision, but it never should have had to come to this,” said Forbes. “A good government works in the interest of all people and brings forward balanced legislation that takes everyone’s rights into consideration. But Mr. Wall just plowed ahead based on ideology, rather than in the interests of fairness and common sense, and he recklessly ignored the fundamental rights of working people.

“The result has cost Saskatchewan a whole lot of money, and a whole lot of time.”

Forbes said the NDP Opposition wants the government to move swiftly to fix this flawed legislation.

“We expect a fair and balanced law, that fully respects people’s constitutionally protected rights, and is written with meaningful consultation with all stakeholders,” said Forbes. “The Supreme Court is clear: that law cannot designate large swaths of workers for no reason. It must include a good appeals process. And, it must provide another fair method – like third-party binding arbitration – in the rare cases when a worker is considered too essential to strike.”

Labour peace should always be the goal, and that is best brought about by good faith bargaining, according to the NDP.

“The Supreme Court said the right to strike is there because it’s necessary to achieve a balanced bargaining table,” said Forbes. “We couldn’t agree more. We believe that labour laws should aim to create an environment that delivers labour peace through fairness. The fact is that the vast, vast majority of public sector contracts in Saskatchewan have been settled without job action. That’s in the best interests of Saskatchewan families, and unfair labour laws only serve to disrupt that.”