Protests, pandemic debate overshadow Sask. throne speech as fall session begins

·5 min read
Premier Scott Moe at a news conference before the Throne Speech at the Legislative Building in Regina on Wednesday.  (The Canadian Press - image credit)
Premier Scott Moe at a news conference before the Throne Speech at the Legislative Building in Regina on Wednesday. (The Canadian Press - image credit)

The first two days of the Saskatchewan legislative sitting were unlike any other in memory.

On Wednesday, an anti-vaccination protest forced some throne speech ceremonies to be cancelled. On Thursday, the premier and opposition leader sparred over how the pandemic should be handled.

The two days were dominated by discussion about the pandemic, overshadowing the throne speech and offering a preview of how the sitting is likely to proceed.

The speech itself was criticized by the opposition for not having any new commitments to battle the pandemic. Premier Scott Moe defended the government's plan, saying COVID remains a priority but that people expect the government to deal with other policies as well.

Throne speech ceremony scuttled

Wednesday's throne speech welcomed guests back into the assembly for the first time in more than a year.

But outside, a protest led security officials to cancel a planned ceremony due to "recent threats." The planned ceremony included an inspection of a Canadian Forces Honour Guard and a fly-past by 15 Wing Moose Jaw.

It was the first time outdoor throne speech festivities have been cancelled, according to Government House Leader Jeremy Harrison.

"This is a very small proportion of the public who, for whatever reason, have bought into different conspiracy theories about vaccines and, you know, a whole host of other conspiracies which are just off the wall," Harrison said.

Leading up to the speech, protestors outside the building held signs with slogans such as "Coercion is not consent," "No vax passport" and "Anti mandate — not anti-vax."

The crowd of mostly unmasked protesters of all ages chanted "Scott Moe, come on out."

They were greeted and thanked by Independent MLA Nadine Wilson, who resigned her seat in the Saskatchewan Party caucus after misrepresenting her vaccination status.

Wilson did not reveal her vaccination status when asked by reporters this week, but would be required to show proof of a recent negative test to gain entry to the legislative building if she is not vaccinated.

She said she intended to share the positions of those who disagree with the government's COVID-19 policies and health measures.

"These are real people with real concerns. And it's not about the vaccination anymore. It's about the control that has taken over their lives or the lack of control that they have."

Letter from doctors, health orders dominate 1st debate

Thursday morning saw the first debate of the fall sitting. Opposition Leader Ryan Meili spent the entirety asking Premier Scott Moe about what chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab has recommended, specifically if Shahab has pushed for additional health orders.

Meili referenced a letter sent to the government last week from 21 Saskatchewan medical health officers requesting several additional health recommendations to slow the spread of COVID-19 and lessen the impact on hospitals.

If all goes according to plan, as of this Sunday 28 critically ill patients will have been transferred from Saskatchewan to Ontario for care.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

Moe characterized Meili and the medical health officers' position on how to handle the next steps in the pandemic response as "divergent" from the government's.

One of the recommendations from the doctors was a 28-day order limiting unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people to gathering only within their household, and fully vaccinated people to only gathering with one other household when indoors.

Meili referenced another letter in August sent by doctors calling for mandatory masking and vaccination policies. The government introduced those measures more than three weeks later.

"We should have listened to them in August, let's listen to them now," Meili said.

He mentioned support for measures including gathering restrictions and eliminating the option to provide a negative test result in place of a vaccination record "in certain settings."

Those settings include:

  • School staff, students 12 and older, and households of students under 12 that aren't vaccinated.

  • All daycare staff.

  • All facilities hosting youth sports or extracurricular activities.

Moe said Meili and the doctors were officially calling for a removal of the option for a negative test for those who work in the public service, but that is not included in the letter and the opposition said it does not support removing the testing option across government.

Moe said the government would consider moving on gathering limits for unvaccinated people if cases did not continue to track downward.

"The trajectory that Saskatchewan is on is much better than our peak of the fourth wave, which has hit our province quite severely, but we're down about 50 per cent in those numbers and our hospitalizations are starting to drop."

Saskatchewan's fourth wave has led to overwhelmed ICUs, which required patients to be airlifted out and for Canadian Forces staff flown in to work hospitals.

In October, 146 people with COVID-19 have died in Saskatchewan. In January, 151 people died, the deadliest month of the pandemic in the province so far.

Saskatchewan's seven-day average of new cases peaked near 500 last month. It sits at 209 as of Friday.

Moe maintained both in the debate and outside with reporters that the province planned to stay the course because a large majority of those who are eligible to get vaccinated have done so.

He said his government planned to "respect the personal freedoms" of those who were vaccinated and said he hoped those that have not been vaccinated would "revisit that decision" given the increased risks.

Income assistance protest

Wednesday's anti-vaccination protest was preceded by another demonstration that began on the legislative grounds two hours before the throne speech.

Anti-poverty advocates, landlords and those on social assistance have called on the government in recent weeks to scrap changes it made when introducing the Saskatchewan Income Support program, specifically how social assistance payments are made and the amount that recipients receive.

Dayne Patterson/CBC
Dayne Patterson/CBC

The issue has garnered more attention since a tent encampment, named Camp Marjorie after a homeless woman who died earlier this month, spring up in a Regina park.

The government has said it will not revert to its previous income assistance programs and has vowed to work with those affected.

LISTEN | CBC Saskatchewan's political panel discusses the opening of the fall sitting

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