REGINA — Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe shuffled his cabinet Tuesday, changing the representation of many major portfolios — including an education file that's been subject to controversy over pronouns.
The premier switched the education minister amid changes that require parental consent when children under 16 years old want to use different names or pronouns at school.
Moe doubled down on the rules, telling reporters they are meant to be inclusive.
"I think at any point in time that you have an opportunity as a government to standardize a policy across all of the school divisions and all of the schools that are going to bring families closer together, we have a responsibility to look at that," he said.
He cited a recent Angus Reid poll, conducted in July, that found 36 per cent of 255 Saskatchewan respondents said parents must be informed if their child wants to change how they identify. Fifty per cent said parents must be informed and give consent for this change.
"When people are phoning our elected members' offices and asking for a policy, something like this, and most certainly with the most recent polling … I think it's on the right path," Moe said.
Human rights organizations have condemned the policy, saying it could out LGBTQ kids to their parents, putting some at risk if they're not accepted at home. Teachers must also use a child's birthname if they don't have consent, which the groups say is harmful.
Jeremy Cockrill is to become the education minister, moving from highways. He takes the role from Dustin Duncan, who now oversees the province's Crown corporations.
Cockrill, who supports the new policy, said he had heard from parents who aren't aware of their children going by different names and pronouns at school.
However, he did not say how many parents have dealt with that issue specifically.
"I don't know how that number is necessarily relevant," Cockrill said. "This policy is about bringing parents back into the classroom and part of their child's education."
The Saskatchewan School Boards Association, teachers union and some parents have said parents are heavily involved in their children's lives at school, and that it's easy to get involved if they're not.
Cockrill said supports are to be provided to students who aren't comfortable speaking to their parents about their different name or pronoun. He did not provide details on what that support looks like.
Egale Canada, a national LGBTQ rights organization, announced Tuesday that UR Pride, a community organization based in the University of Regina, would take legal action against the province if it doesn't suspend the policy by Wednesday evening.
Egale said it and McCarthy Tétrault LLP would act as co-legal counsel.
Nicole Sarauer, the Opposition NDP house leader, said the changes should be scrapped.
"It seems like it's just going to be more of the same from the new minister of education," she said.
On Tuesday, Moe also announced his cabinet includes new ministers for health and policing.
Everett Hindley is to become health minister, moving from mental health and rural health.
Hindley said he's heard from no parents who are unaware of their children going by different names or pronouns at school.
"We've had a number of people contact my office in Swift Current, on both sides of this issue, but vastly in support of the government's position," he said.
Paul Merriman, the former minister of health, moves to corrections, policing and public safety. Christine Tell, who oversaw that portfolio, now oversees the Ministry of Environment.
Tim McLeod, an MLA from the Moose Jaw area elected in 2020, becomes the minister for mental health, addictions and rural and remote health.
Prince Albert MLA Joe Hargrave re-enters cabinet as minister of SaskBuilds and procurement.
The size of cabinet remains unchanged at 18 members.
Moe described the shuffle as "significant," and that it's expected to be the government's cabinet until next year's election.
Last week, two former cabinet ministers announced they would not seek re-election in 2024.
Former environment minister Dana Skoropad, who was elected in 2020, said he was not seeking re-election for family reasons.
Longtime Saskatchewan Party MLA Don Morgan also announced he would not run next year, saying voters should have an opportunity to choose a fresh face.
Morgan is to become a provincial secretary in this new shuffle. Moe thanked him for his years of service.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 29, 2023.
Jeremy Simes, The Canadian Press