Saskatchewan legislature kicks off over carbon levy, labour strife with teachers

REGINA — Saskatchewan's spring legislative sitting kicked off Monday with the Opposition NDP demanding Premier Scott Moe at least pick up the phone and talk to Ottawa to resolve the escalating dispute over the carbon price.

The two sides also sparred over the ongoing labour standoff with teachers, while an Independent MLA rose to publicly apologize for sexual solicitation.

On the carbon price issue, NDP Leader Carla Beck rebuked Moe for not meeting with his federal counterparts to patch up the dispute even though a key minister was recently in Ottawa but failed to arrange a meeting.

Moe fired back by saying his government has been in contact with the federal government and he last spoke with federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault at a climate conference in Dubai.

"I would tell the premier that there are perhaps cheaper places for him to have conversations with federal ministers," Beck later told reporters after question period.

"He's probably got his cellphone plan as part of the job that he could phone the prime minister."

Members of Moe’s Saskatchewan Party heckled back on the phone gibe, telling Beck to call her purported boss, federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

"You're used to that, you tune it out," Beck said.

"But I do note when people are in the galleries, like we had teachers in there today, their response to that is it looks childish."

Moe announced in October that SaskEnergy would stop collecting the carbon price from natural gas customers beginning in 2024. And the province confirmed last week it wouldn't be sending the money to Ottawa, a move that breaks federal emissions law.

Dustin Duncan, the minister responsible for SaskEnergy, has said it's about fairness, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has refused to exempt natural gas from the carbon charge like he did with home heating oil, which largely benefits Atlantic Canadians.

Ottawa then said it will no longer give the rebates to Saskatchewan residents because of the province's decision.

Duncan stood on the steps of Parliament in a social media video when he made the announcement. He later told reporters he had no conversations with Ottawa about the decision.

Beck questioned that.

"(Moe) could have directed his minister when he was out doing the selfie video on the steps of Parliament to go in and try to get a meeting with the prime minister or one of the federal ministers," she said.

The NDP had spearheaded a motion last fall urging Parliament to remove the levy on all forms of home heating. Other provinces had also called for an exemption.

Moe told reporters earlier Monday he hopes Ottawa treats the province fairly when it decides how much it will rebate residents.

The teacher dispute was also on the agenda in the house during question period.

Beck said the government needs to get back to the bargaining table, and that her party would negotiate on issues of classroom size and additional supports should the NDP form government. The next general election is scheduled for Oct. 28.

Moe said Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation leadership needs to return to the bargaining table. Teachers were there for only 30 minutes the last time they met, he said.

The union wants the province to include those non-monetary issues in the new labour contract, but says the government is only offering a take-it-or-leave-it deal.

The province has remained firmly opposed to including those measures, saying it would give the union more control, rather than school boards.

Prior to question period, Ryan Domotor, a former Saskatchewan Party backbencher, apologized in the legislature after he was charged last fall for seeking to obtain sexual services and arrested at a hotel in Regina.

The Crown stayed the charge against him, as he completed a prostitution intervention program. It's an alternative measure that lets people address an offence without having to go through court.

Domotor, who now sits as an Independent, told the assembly he was struggling at the time emotionally with his personal life and marriage.

"This affected my mental health and my lapse in judgment, which resulted in me making a decision I will regret for the rest of my life," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2024.

Jeremy Simes, The Canadian Press