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Policy Solutions for a Better Saskatchewan

Addressing climate change, fixing the health care crisis, investing in public education—we’ve got a progressive platform featuring real ideas, real solutions.

June 4, 2024

9-minute read

CCPA Saskatchewan

As we head into what may be the most competitive provincial election in years, we want to ensure that we use this opportunity to advance ideas and solutions that can make our province better. Too often, elections focus on superficial banalities like polls, gaffes and personalities rather than real solutions to the problems we face. Let’s try and make this election about ideas. Thanks to our supporters, we have identified the issues that many believe need to be given priority in this election. To respond to these issues, we have gathered some of the best policy ideas from some of the smartest minds in the province. Please dig in and share with others. Let’s get a real debate about real solutions rolling.

Become a leader on climate education

Despite the best efforts of teachers, Saskatchewan regularly demonstrates some of the poorest understanding of climate science in the country. With climate change fast becoming the most important issue of this century, we need to ensure that the people of our province have the knowledge and literacy required to ensure Saskatchewan remains a great place to live for our children and grandchildren. Let’s make climate education mandatory in our schools. New Jersey recently became the first state in the U.S. to require climate change to be taught in nearly all subjects, from kindergarten to Grade 12, in public schools. Many other U.S. states are now following New Jersey’s lead. The climate crisis threatens to hit Saskatchewan hard: our water sources, boreal forest, farmland, and our way of life could all be at risk. Imagine if we equipped future generations to understand the science of climate change, but also consider the economic, political and social impacts of a warming world.

Become a leader in energy efficient homes and buildings

Energy efficiency is one of the quickest ways to start reducing greenhouse gas emissions for the simple reason that “the less energy used, the fewer emissions produced.” It is also cheap: saving energy is much less expensive than having to purchase new generating capacity. On average, energy efficiency costs only three cents per kilowatt hour saved, whereas generating coal or natural gas-fired electricity can cost anywhere from six to 15 cents per kilowatt hour. Despite these compelling reasons for pursuing energy efficiency, Saskatchewan consistently ranks dead last in energy efficiency programs and policies. It’s time for us to catch up. We propose creating a provincial energy-efficiency utility that makes Saskatchewan a leader in retrofitting and upgrading homes and buildings to be more energy efficient. Efficiency Nova Scotia—an independent utility funded through electricity rates—is the major reason why that province is now considered a “national leader in cutting energy waste.” The creation of our own energy-efficiency utility could see us make the same strides as Nova Scotia, which has completed over 12,000 energy efficient upgrades to homes and buildings, delivering $180 million in annual energy savings while avoiding one million tonnes in carbon emissions per year.

Invest in our public health care workforce

Our prized public health care system is in chronic crisis. We cannot continue to apply band-aid solutions to such an essential public service. Many of the problems facing our health care system result from the simple fact that we have too few health care providers trying to care for too many patients in crowded facilities. We need to make historic investments in our health care workforce to ensure the future stability of the system. That means taking the concerns of Saskatchewan health care workers seriously. A Saskatchewan Health Care Workforce Initiative needs to make the investments required to improve working conditions so we can retain our current health care workers as well as attract, educate, train and recruit our future workforce.

Let seniors retire in dignity

More than 80 per cent of Canada's known COVID-19 deaths happened in long-term care and retirement homes—the highest rate among 38 nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Our seniors deserve better. Let’s adopt higher minimum standards for long-term care facilities, bring in more inspectors, and expand the number of personal support workers so that vulnerable seniors have access to the best care in Canada. Seniors’ homes shouldn’t be where the government cuts costs; it’s where we need to invest in the very people who paid their dues as they were raising their family in Saskatchewan. Long-term care homes need to be an attractive, comfortable place for their residents, not a low-cost place to warehouse seniors. Let’s also expand the number of home care workers across the province, so that seniors can age in place—something most seniors prefer.

Stop the war on teachers and educators

The current government’s adversarial approach to teachers and students has produced weakened teacher morale, diminished recruitment, more work stoppages, legal challenges and alienated some of the most vulnerable students in our province. A more collaborative approach between government, educators and students that secures the urgent needs of our classrooms by making the right investments in our public school system is required to ensure that our schools are preparing our children for the future.

Make higher education more affordable

Saskatchewan charges the second-highest undergraduate tuition rate in Canada. That just doesn’t make sense. Our future economy relies on well-educated workers. We need to ensure that every student can afford a college or university education, no matter how much—or how little—their family makes. Let’s implement a plan to make Saskatchewan the most affordable province for tuition in Canada by 2028. Studies show that people with higher education earn more over their lifetime. Let’s ensure every young person in Saskatchewan can thrive in work and in life.

Become the most affordable place to live in Canada

People in Saskatchewan are rightly concerned about the rising cost of living. Let’s make Saskatchewan the most affordable province to live in Canada. That starts with building more affordable housing and implementing rent controls. Let’s help young families make ends meet by expanding the number of $10-a-day child care spaces throughout the province. Saskatchewan has some of the biggest child care deserts in Canada. Let’s fix that!

End Homelessness

Many cities in Saskatchewan have had to develop their own homelessness strategies without support from the provincial government. That needs to change. Municipalities are at the forefront of the homelessness crisis but don’t have the resources to tackle the problem head on. Matters have gotten worse over the last decade due to provincial inaction. Real solutions involve a coordinated Housing First strategy that includes community organizations, Indigenous governments and leaders, as well as local governments. The Saskatchewan Housing Corporation needs to play a role in tackling both housing unaffordability and homelessness.

Getting the best return for our resources

As the owners of our provincial natural resources, we need to ensure a fair return that compensates the people of Saskatchewan and mitigates the environmental impact of extraction. The volatility of resource prices makes it incumbent on the government to ensure that sufficient royalties are in place when prices are high to compensate for those periods when prices fall. Riding the resource roller coaster without sufficient safeguards to protect our financial interests has, too often, led to erratic and unpredictable levels of public spending on essential services and infrastructure. Saskatchewan needs to institute a royalty review on all key resources, as well as consider the introduction of a windfall profit tax, the creation of a provincial sovereign wealth fund and sufficient environmental reclamation fees that ensure the public is not left to pay the environmental costs left behind by private interests.

Tackle Saskatchewan’s addictions crisis

Few communities in Saskatchewan remain untouched by the addictions crisis. Last year, Saskatchewan registered its deadliest record for drug toxicity deaths. Let’s implement an upstream strategy to help prevent substance use and ensure a continuum of care for those who are using substances, to ensure their lives aren’t cut off too soon.

Let’s extend funding for harm reduction institutions—safe injection sites, more support for people with additions, mental health supports, and community-led solutions, with proper social worker support. A meaningful addictions strategy also means working closely with municipal leaders, community-based organizations, and Indigenous Peoples to affect change. We can’t police our way out of this problem. We need people-centred policy so all can prosper.

Invest in intraprovincial public transit

The Saskatchewan government made a terrible mistake when it stopped funding the Saskatchewan Transit Corporation. That single decision cut rural communities off from getting to and from our major cities. Rural seniors, in particular, pay the price as they struggle to find ways to get to health care appointments in the city. And young people who can’t afford a car are stranded. Let’s create a new, energy-efficient public transportation system that connects all Saskatchewan communities to each other.

End violence against women

Saskatchewan has the highest rate of police-reported family violence in the country, at double the national average. This contributes to the worsening homelessness and housing crisis in our province. Coordinated action is needed to provide safe spaces for women and children fleeing domestic violence. Recent restrictions on sexual health education in the province’s schools have prevented vital education on consent and bodily autonomy from reaching the province’s students.

Make sure private companies are accountable for P3 projects

Politicians have fallen in love with public-private partnerships (P3s) because it allows them to push debt way down the road, with bills that come due long after they have left office. Corporations love the P3 model because their size often limits competition and they guarantee a 30-year stream of profits. For the rest of us, the P3 model is an overly expensive, overly bureaucratic and often undemocratic way to build our public infrastructure. P3 assessments and contracts—despite being paid for with public money—have been shielded from public scrutiny and accountability, with their true costs only revealed when called to account by provincial auditors after spiralling costs or substandard construction force governments to act. P3 transparency and accountability legislation would mandate the Saskatchewan provincial auditor to review all P3 assessments and subsequent contracts and inform the public on their accuracy and veracity. If these contracts cannot withstand being subject to the light of day, then surely they are not in the public interest.

Smart farmland policy

Since 2003, when the government lifted restrictions on the ownership of farmland in the province, non-farm investors have been buying up larger and larger tracts of land, increasing competition for prime agricultural land and drastically increasing land prices. These trends make it more difficult for existing farmers to expand their operations or to allow new, younger farmers to enter the market. Sound policy making around farmland ownership is necessary if we are concerned about ensuring access to land for the next generation of farming families, who are integral to the social and economic fabric of rural communities. Saskatchewan should consider adopting legislation similar to Prince Edward Island’s Lands Protection Act to regulate the amount of land that individuals or corporations can hold in the province to better ensure the equal distribution of farmland to Saskatchewan farmers.

Ensuring meaningful reconciliation

Too often, governments in Saskatchewan make merely symbolic nods to reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples without enacting real change. The passage of the Saskatchewan First Act without meaningful consultation or consideration of inherent treaty rights is just one of a long list of examples of how our provincial government regularly neglects to take reconciliation seriously. Establishing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN Declaration) as the province’s framework for reconciliation would be a important first step towards meaningful reconciliation. UNDRIP affirms the minimum standards for the survival, dignity, security and well-being of Indigenous Peoples. Both the federal government and the government of British Columbia have enacted legislation to implement UNDRIP. As Jordan Calladine argues, enacting Saskatchewan’s own UNDRIP legislation “would reinforce the Treaties that are the foundation of this province and require the province to finally engage nation-to-nation with Indigenous peoples as intended by our ancestors.”

Making sure every job is a good job

Saskatchewan is a great place to live, but it’s not a great place to work for everyone. With the rise in precarious, low-paying jobs, it’s harder for too many workers in this province to pay the bills. Saskatchewan currently pays the lowest minimum wage in all of Canada. That’s outrageous. Let’s implement a plan to raise the minimum wage from $14 an hour to $16 an hour by 2027. Let’s also ensure that all contractors with the provincial government become a living wage employer, which would mean paying their workers $17.90 an hour in Regina and $18.95 an hour in Saskatoon. Raising the wages of the lowest-paid workers in Saskatchewan is good for the local economy—because those workers spend their hard-earned dollars locally, in their own communities. It also helps employers with employee retention, which saves them on worker training.

Protecting workers’ and labour rights in Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan once had a proud history in protecting the rights of workers. In addition to being the first jurisdiction to allow public sector workers the right to collectively bargain in the 1940s, the province also brought in some of the most far-reaching occupational health and safety laws in the 1970s. Today, much of that innovation is a thing of the past. That needs to change. To protect workers’ rights in the 21st century, Saskatchewan needs to address the gaps that have lingered in the Employment Act (once the Trade Union Act) for several decades. In order to do so, the province should adopt:

  • Immediate return to a card-check certification procedure

The current model of organizing forces unions to organize a workplace twice. First, they must have prospective members sign cards to demonstrate support, then an election is organized in the workplace to again seek support. That procedure is cumbersome and violates employees’ right to create associations of their own free choosing. In order to avoid unfair employer interference, Saskatchewan should return to the card check model, where demonstrating support of 50-60 per cent of the workers through card checks is proof of support for automatic certification.

  • An immediate ban on scab labour during strikes and lockouts

Picket lines are often focal points of conflict. Yet, when the employer chooses to use scab labour during a legal strike or lockout, it seeks to undermine the legal rights of workers to freely strike and escalates tension on the picket line. A ban on scab labour avoids such a powder keg, resulting in more peaceful strikes and lockouts. Saskatchewan should follow B.C., Quebec, the federal government, and Manitoba in banning scab labour.

We know we haven’t addressed all your concerns. Have a policy idea or solution we didn’t think of? Contact us at ccpask@policyalternatives.ca and let us know!

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