Vote over 2nd reading of Saskatchewan First Act leads to procedural political sparring

Saskatchewan NDP house leader Nicole Sarauer speaks with media after question period on Nov. 24. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)
Saskatchewan NDP house leader Nicole Sarauer speaks with media after question period on Nov. 24. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)

A vote on a procedural step toward the provincial government passing its controversial Saskatchewan First Act led to political sparring between the Saskatchewan Party government and the Opposition NDP Monday.

Introduced at the beginning of November, the Saskatchewan First Act is meant to confirm the province's autonomy and jurisdiction over its natural resources.

Government lawyers have argued that the amendments in the bill will allow the province to argue cases of jurisdiction with the federal government in court if it comes to that.

But First Nations in the province say that it actually infringes on their inherent and treaty rights.

On Monday, six NDP MLAs — Doyle Vermette, Vicki Mowat, Trent Wotherspoon, Matt Love, Meara Conway and Jennifer Bowes — joined 37 Saskatchewan Party MLAs in support of the second reading of the bill.

While second readings — a key step in a legislative process that requires three readings — can be approved through a voice-only vote, the vote on the bill Monday was recorded.

At issue is whether the NDP's votes in favour of the second reading constitute an endorsement of the legislation.

Government house leader Jeremy Harrison said they do. He pointed to the procedural traditions of the House of Commons and to descriptions of how law is made on the website of the provincial legislature.

The second reading is meant to be a general debate on the principle of a bill and the House of Commons website says that passing, or adopting, a motion for second reading "amounts to approval by the House of the principle of the bill."

A controversial vote

The Saskatchewan Party had more than enough votes to pass the second reading without the Official Opposition's support.

During a scrum with reporters on Tuesday, NDP house leader Nicole Sarauer was asked many times why the six MLAs voted with the provincial government.

"The bill is largely a copy paste from what already exists in the Constitution. So of course we support those things," she said.

She said the Official Opposition is interested in getting the bill to committee.

"That's when we're actually going to be able to ask officials the questions that we're hearing from stakeholders that they want the answers to," she said.

Sarauer noted that the NDP does have concerns about the lack of consultation.

Harrison said the NDP could have showed its concerns about the act by voting against it — but didn't. He said the NDP's attempt to defend the votes is disingenuous.

"On the basis of that logic, they should be voting for everything on second reading to send it to committee if that's actually what they believe," Harrison said.