REGINA — Premier Scott Moe's Saskatchewan Party government says it will work to preserve people's "lives and livelihoods" as the province battles its worst spread of COVID-19 since the pandemic arrived.
Lt.-Gov. Russell Mirasty delivered the throne speech Monday to start a new legislative session. Physically distanced politicians wore masks and sat behind desks with $12,000 worth of new Plexiglas shields.
The speech said the top priority for the government is to contain spread of the novel coronavirus.
"Saskatchewan is facing the most difficult moment of the pandemic to date," Mirasty read from the speech.
"At the same time as we are working to protect lives, my government is also taking steps to protect livelihoods. We can, and will, do both."
The government said more measures to fight COVID-19 "will be added if needed" on top of recently imposed public health orders that limit capacity in public venues to 30 people and ban most team sports for the next three weeks.
The speech also detailed how the government plans to fulfil campaign promises Moe made before the Sask. Party was re-elected in October.
The first piece of legislation to be introduced in the two-week sitting will be for a home renovation tax credit.
Moe's government also intends to introduce legislation allowing victims of sexual assault in a rental home to break a long-term lease. And there is to be legislation that provides greater protection against human trafficking.
Opposition NDP Leader Ryan Meili called the speech status quo and criticized it for failing to address the toll the pandemic is taking on health care and small businesses by not promising extra supports.
“Businesses are being told to stay open while their customers are being urged to stay home: it’s a recipe for economic disaster,” Meili said in a news release.
“We need clear, consistent messaging and a real plan that helps people – instead of mixed messages and half-measures that won’t get the job done."
The speech opened with some familiar thank-you messages.
"Thank you to the people of Saskatchewan for working together to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. The last few months have been difficult for everyone in our province and there are still challenging days ahead."
It went on to give a nod to those "in our health-care system — doctors, nurses, technologists, pharmacists, cooks, cleaners, maintenance workers, and the students, volunteers and retirees supporting the effort."
Some of the phrases were exactly the same as ones used by Moe during a televised address in the spring, when he announced non-essential businesses could start reopening because the COVID-19 curve had been flattened.
At that time, Saskatchewan had recorded 326 confirmed cases of COVID-19. On Monday, the province announced 325 new cases in one day, for a total of 8,239 infections.
"The last few weeks have been difficult for everyone," Moe said in the April speech.
"Thank you to everyone working in our health-care system. Doctors, nurses, technologists and pharmacists. Cooks, cleaners and maintenance workers. Students, volunteers and retirees who have returned to the workforce."
Both the address and the speech also thanked "workers delivering food and parcels to our homes. The truckers keeping our supplies moving … the utility workers ensuring we have power, heat and clean water."
Moe's press secretary said workers are being praised as they were in the spring because it is deserved.
"As Saskatchewan is faced with increased case numbers placing greater strain on these same workers, saying thank you is even more relevant and important today, particularly in an event as significant as the throne speech," Julie Leggott told The Canadian Press.
"The use of similar language is an acknowledgment that the same workers have consistently risen to the challenges brought by COVID-19, and continue to deserve our thanks for doing so."
After the throne speech, Moe said discussions are still underway as to what supports could be provided to businesses and individuals hit hard by the pandemic.
He said he couldn't provide a timeline on when a decision would be made but noted that in the spring his government helped people through programs like an emergency grant for small businesses and financial aid for people self-isolating.
"We have been there throughout this pandemic to support not only the jobs in our communities but to support the individuals. And we're continuing to look at ways that we may be required to do that."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2020.
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press