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Thursday, 24 April 2014 08:15

Spring session resulting in a political chill for Sask. Party

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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When the provincial legislature resumes on April 28 after a week-long Easter break, there will still be three weeks remaining of the current session. This might potentially turn into political water torture for the Saskatchewan Party.


This spring session is one that the party would probably want to put behind it as soon as possible, especially after recent questions over the overseas expenses of Social Services Minister June Draude and an appointment to the Social Services Board.
The session actually started on a positive note for the Wall government with a provincial budget that focused on the control of spending instead of an increase in taxes.
The government also responded to previous criticism from the provincial auditor by moving to the summary budget accounting format that reflects all government spending and debt, including the Crown corporations.
However, the spending priorities of the government came under scrutiny when the Saskatchewan NDP started to raise concerns over the $40 million that will be paid over four years to consultants from the United States to implement Lean principles in the provincial health care system.
The government quickly confirmed its commitment to the Lean approach as a means to achieve quality improvements and cost savings, but the matter did not end there.
The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses highlighted some concerns over the potential impact that a stop watch approach to nursing duties can have on patient care, although the union also noted that Lean can help to identify waste and make improvements.
Last week the opposition raised renewed concerns over the Lean approach when Health Minister Dustin Duncan announced design changes will be necessary to the Saskatchewan Children’s Hospital, which will add millions of dollars to the cost of the project.
The original Lean-designed plans have been found to be too small because the population projections used for the initial design were too conservative.
The government also signalled a change in direction on a key component of its education platform.
For over a year the issue of standardized testing of Grade 4 to 12 students across the province, which was to cost $6 million when implemented, has been a bone of contention between the government and the opposition.
The government released its education sector plan on April 11 with a new approach that will focus on targets for math, reading and writing proficiency. Education Minister Don Morgan indicated that standardized testing is not part of the new plan.
Perhaps most damaging to the Saskatchewan Party government during the past few weeks were details about the $3,600 cost of a London car hire service for Social Services Minister June Draude, which resulted from an access to information request by the NDP.
Draude quickly agreed to pay back the expense claim, but she remained under fire from the opposition over her appointment of a close friend to the co-chair position of the Social Services Appeal Board.
The NDP will certainly continue to raise questions about expense claims and patronage appointments when MLAs return to the legislature on April 28. It will present the party with an opportunity to depict the Wall government as entitled and out of touch with the needs of people.
The response from Saskatchewan Party MLAs to these questions during the final three weeks of the spring session might determine how much the NDP can benefit politically over the longer term. Premier Brad Wall has announced new rules for out-of-province expenses by ministers that will also be posted online, starting in October.
The government will be hoping that the NDP will not dig up any more evidence of dubious expense claims, but there is also a potential opportunity here to convince cynical voters that the government’s reaction is more than just an attempt to put out political fires.
This can be achieved with an initiative to increase broader accountability through regular public disclosure of all expenses by legislators and their staff, irrespective of whether these expenses take place within the province or outside and a review of rules to avoid patronage appointments.
That will be a more convincing approach than the response in the legislature before the Easter break, when Saskatchewan Party MLAs were more interested in the past spending habits of former NDP Premier Lorne Calvert and cabinet minister Eric Cline during a 2006 trip to France, and how individuals benefitted from patronage appointments under previous NDP governments.
That might have been helpful to show how past political behaviour is still continuing, but it did not present an alternative to increase future accountability.
Matthew Liebenberg is a reporter with the Prairie Post. Contact him with your comments about this opinion piece at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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