Premier, cabinet tame 'bear pit' session with rural leaders

·2 min read

A virtual bear pit doesn't have the same bite.

The traditional bear pit session is a chance for municipal leaders from across Saskatchewan to engage political leaders in direct and sometimes heated debate at the annual Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities convention.

But Premier Scott Moe and members of his cabinet offered few surprises on Wednesday, mirroring the quieter free-for-all at the Municipalities of Saskatchewan bear pit last month, where the convention's virtual format cooled the usual fiery debate.

Minister expects more mental health commitments

Brian Fornwald, an RM of Browning councillor, urged cabinet to put more support behind mental health resources.

He expressed concern about people in distress who say phone counselling is insufficient, and asked when in-person services will return.

"Addiction and mental health services in this province are woefully underfunded," he said. "(That's) exponentially worse in this time of pandemic."

More commitments are set to arrive with the upcoming budget, Mental Health and Addictions Minister Everett Hindley said.

Reopening in-person clinics had to balance safety concerns, he said, noting the province is also exploring virtual care options.

Moe told Fornwald that he plans to focus more on outcomes of mental health commitments.

"You question is valid. With all of that investment, and the increasing need we're seeing in our communities, I'm not certain we're getting the outcomes that we all expect, including us in government.," he said, tying the challenges to the overdose and addictions crisis.

"Ultimately, all too often we're faced with the conversation around suicides in our family, our community, our province."

Carbon tax challenge decision

Justice Minister and Attorney General Gordon Wyant told viewers to expect a decision "shortly" on Saskatchewan's legal challenges against the carbon tax in the Supreme Court.

Wyant said he received word earlier this week that the province should be prepared for a decision.

"We're anxiously waiting for the decision to come down and we should know fairly soon," he said.

Moe holds out hope on Keystone XL

SARM President Ray Orb pushed cabinet on its Keystone XL plans after U.S. President Joe Biden nixed the project.

Moe said he's been in contact with U.S. lawmakers to keep the issue on the agenda.

"I don't write Keystone off by any stretch," he said. "I'm convinced that sometime, likely not this year (or) next year, it will be moving forward."

Despite support for the project, "it's not looking great," Minister of Energy and Resources Bronwyn Eyre said.

Eyre noted she hopes U.S. lawmakers "see the light" on the project.

Nick Pearce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix