Sask. Opposition NDP, Federation of Labour call for COVID-19 mandates, health minister to resign

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Saskatchewan's NDP opposition and the Saskatchewan Federal of Labour are calling for Health Minister Paul Merriman to resign. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)
Saskatchewan's NDP opposition and the Saskatchewan Federal of Labour are calling for Health Minister Paul Merriman to resign. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)

Saskatchewan's Opposition NDP and the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour are both calling for provincewide COVID-19 mandates and for the province's health minister to resign.

The calls come after Merriman said there are signs the province is entering its fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that the provincial government is not prepared to mandate vaccinations or provincewide restrictions.

Health Critic Vicki Mowat cited Saskatchewan having one of the highest case rates and lowest vaccination rates in the country, and said the minister's approach to this has been to "bury his head in the sand."

The NDP has been calling for measures like mandatory vaccines for health-care workers, teachers and those who work with vulnerable people, along with people who are attending large events like Riders games and concerts.

It has also proposed several vaccine incentive initiatives, such as a $25,000 lottery for fully vaccinated people.

The province announced Monday that it would be requiring proof of vaccination for front-line health-care workers. It said more details would be announced in the coming days.

Doctors and health officials, meanwhile, have also been calling for a mask mandate — similar to what other provinces have done recently.

During a COVID-19 news conference Monday, where Merriman was not present, Premier Scott Moe reiterated that no further provincewide mandates will be introduced. Instead, the provincial government will continue to encourage vaccinations and make them as available as possible.

"Right now, this is a deliberate choice that will kill Saskatchewan people," said Opposition Leader Ryan Meili.

"Frankly, it should disqualify anyone from sitting in government … this health minister, who's been in charge of our response to COVID-19 throughout the second and third waves and heading into the fourth, has been absolutely a failure and it's time for him to go," he said, further criticizing Merriman for not taking advice from health officials and experts.

When asked about the call for Merriman to resign, Moe said Merriman "has been working very hard throughout this pandemic" and will continue to work with health officials.

He accused the NDP of politicizing the pandemic and touted the government's efforts to administer as many vaccines as possible.

"We'll continue to do the work of governing and I'm sure the opposition will continue to do the work of opposing, as they've done for some time now."

Meili also called for more independence for the province's chief medical health officer.

"There are many times where we're hearing from health authority, leadership, and others, that they're sending their advice up to the government and it's getting turned back.... We should give the independence to the experts to make sure that we're kept safe."

Sask. Federation of Labour joins calls

The Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL) is also calling for Merriman to resign and for the government to take "urgent action to protect workers and their families" as COVID-19 case numbers continue to rise.

"The Sask. Party was warned that their disastrous approach of dropping all public health restrictions was reckless and would result in illnesses and deaths that were entirely preventable," said SFL President Lori Johb in the release.

"Now, just as predicted, health-care workers are being pushed to the brink, front-line workers are still at risk of contracting the virus, and parents are worried for their children as school is starting while the virus is spreading and getting kids sick."

SFL is calling for a mask mandate in all indoor spaces and areas where social distancing is not possible, introducing proof of vaccination — or vaccine passports — to enter certain public spaces such as restaurants, large public gatherings, organized indoor events and government buildings. SFL is also calling for plans to ensure that schools are able to remain open while keeping all students, teachers and support workers safe.

The province has not implemented any provincewide COVID-19 rules for schools. Instead, it has issued recommendations while letting each school division set its own rules.

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