Report from the Legislature – February 18, 2021

More than a year has passed since Canada’s first COVID-19 case was confirmed. Since that time, the pandemic has presented challenges few of us could have imagined. Thank you for your patience, understanding and observance of public health orders to keep our friends, families, and communities safe. I offer endless gratitude to all health professionals, emergency responders and service providers, as well as the business owners and employees who have worked tirelessly to adapt and continue serving us through a difficult time.

I ask that you continue to do your part to ensure that our province emerges from this pandemic stronger than ever. On the advice of Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer, the current public health order will remain in effect until March 19. We understand the impact and inconvenience this may cause but these restrictions are necessary to keep COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations down in the weeks ahead.

Saskatchewan’s vaccination program continues to move ahead despite a limited number of vaccines. We soon hope to deliver to Swift Current and southwest Saskatchewan, an area that has not yet received vaccine due to the reduction in delivery from the federal government. Our province remains ready to receive and administer vaccine with Saskatchewan Health Authority clinics scheduled to take place in 181 communities.

After reviewing our delivery plan, the Ministry of Health has added 11,000 additional health care workers to the priority sequencing previously established for Phase 1 of the Vaccine Delivery Plan. This includes those who will be part of our vaccination teams, homecare or direct care providers, and other critical care areas.

The goal of the immunization program is to protect the most high-risk and vulnerable in our communities. We have seen that the older an individual is, the greater the risk, and we are confident that this approach will help reduce illness and minimize deaths.

Phase 2 of the vaccination sequencing will focus on the general population in 10-year increments, starting with ages 60-69. Phase 2 will also target adults and staff in group homes for persons with intellectual disabilities, shelters, and clinically vulnerable adults as priority. Depending on the vaccine supply arriving in our province, this is scheduled to begin in April. An information campaign throughout the province will take place to keep the public informed.

On the economic front, our province has been able to weather this storm better than most others in Canada. Right now, we have the highest percentage of small businesses operating as well as the lowest unemployment rates in the country.

Saskatchewan also had the highest wholesale trade growth among other provinces in December 2020. Compared to the previous year, wholesale trade is up by 18.1 per cent, where the national increase was just 4.8 per cent. This is an important indicator of our economic recovery and shows there is great confidence in the goods sector here in the province. This will put us in a favourable position as we emerge from the global pandemic.

Municipalities are on the front lines meeting the challenges of growth and the challenges brought on by COVID-19. Recently, our government recommitted its support municipalities with more than $275 million as part of Municipal Revenue Sharing. This unconditional funding provides municipal leaders with flexibility and adaptability to invest into their communities.

Our government continues to invest in our recovery with a $2 billion stimulus program for highway construction. This economic booster included targeted projects such as upgrades to thin-membrane surfaces and passing lane projects. Not only will our roads be safer and more efficient but many in Saskatchewan will be employed and back to work.

It is disappointing to see the federal government’s ineffective approach to achieving its stated goal of reducing gun violence and building safer communities. While few would disagree with efforts in this regard, the federal government is introducing new legislation that, among other things, would allow municipalities to ban handguns. So, in addition to arbitrarily penalizing law-abiding firearms owners, this new legislation seems to encourage criminals not to possess, store or transport handguns they already couldn’t legally possess.

Saskatchewan has passed legislation to restrict municipalities from passing bylaws on handgun ownership; we do not need a patchwork system across our province. We have also appointed a new chief firearms officer from Saskatchewan instead of allowing the federal government to appoint one. The federal government should be targeting the real problem: crimes involving stolen, smuggled, and illegal guns. Instead, they are targeting Toronto voters, with law-abiding firearms owners the victims of bad legislation.