Swift Current MLA Everett Hindley is taking on ministerial duties as a member of Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe’s new cabinet.
The appointment of the new cabinet came after the Saskatchewan Party won the recent provincial election. The announcement and swearing-in ceremony took place at Government House in Regina, Nov. 9.
Moe made several changes to the cabinet, and Hindley was one of three MLAs entering cabinet. He is the only new minister who is entering cabinet for the first time.
He served in several other roles since he was first elected as Swift Current MLA in March 2018. He was previously the legislative secretary to the Minister of Trade and Export Development and also the government whip. He will now serve as Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Seniors and Rural and Remote Health.
Hindley spoke to the Prairie Post by telephone from Regina on Nov. 10 shortly after a briefing session with ministry officials. He said it was still an unusual feeling to be called minister.
“It's going to take some getting used to,” he said with a laugh. “I've already been telling people not to call me that and just to refer to me by my first name. So it's a little overwhelming, frankly, but I'm looking forward to the challenge and there's a lot of work in the days ahead here.”
The offer of a cabinet position came during a private meeting with Premier Moe a day before the official announcement.
“It's a difficult decision that the premier makes, and he said it at our swearing-in ceremony yesterday,” Hindley noted.
His ministerial portfolio will be a significant shift from his previous focus on trade and export during his duties as legislative secretary, but he has past experience in health-related issues. In his previous role as executive assistant to former Premier Brad Wall he often interacted with Cypress Health Region officials.
“One of the things that I had to deal with fairly early on when I was first elected as the MLA in 2018 was a shortage of family physicians in Swift Current,” he recalled. “I remember having conversations with the then ministers at the time and senior officials as well as community members about how we can address that. I had the chance to represent the government on a couple of health-related announcements in Swift Current previously.”
There was previously a ministerial portfolio for rural and remote health and seniors in the provincial cabinet, but Hindley will be responsible for an expanded file that now also includes a new priority focus on mental health and addiction resources, programming and funding.
“In the last number of budgets, we've had an increased focus on spending on mental health,” he said. “We've had a record investment in mental health in the last number of years, including this budget year, where it's $435 million, and specific announcements with respect to addiction issues. I just think it's something that's become increasingly important to our government and the premier felt it was important to make sure it was a specific part of this portfolio.”
Hindley felt the COVID-19 pandemic will give added significance to his portfolio due to the impact that it has on people’s mental health.
“There is a greater need, I would argue, with respect to mental health and addiction services right now, just because of some of the additional stress that's been put on everyone's lives and some more than others,” he said. “It affects their mental health and they deal with it through some addictions and that's the biggest challenge.”
His ministry will be responsible for the implementation of the provincial government’s Pillars for Life suicide prevention plan. There has been criticism of the plan by the official opposition and other organizations, but Hindley said the plan will continue to serve as a framework and a guideline for the government.
“It's important for us and it will be important for me as minister to make sure that we're engaging with stakeholders on it,” he mentioned. “We have to take a look at where organizations like the Canadian Mental Health Association and other non-profits and CBOs might have a role. So there's a lot of work to do. We've got to reach out to the FSIN, and we had signed a letter of intent just prior to the election with the FSIN and the feds, and part of that has to deal with mental health and how we address some of the challenges on First Nations and up in northern Saskatchewan. So it really is a guiding document for us, but it provides us with some direction as to how we want to go.”
Earlier this year all 44 Saskatchewan Party MLAs voted against a suicide prevention bill in the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly that was introduced by Saskatchewan NDP MLA Doyle Vermette. Afterwards there was a 44-day fast in Wascana Park by suicide prevention activist Tristen Durocher.
Hindley did not think the government’s response to Durocher’s fast, which included a court application for the removal of his teepee from Wascana Park, caused a feeling of mistrust with Métis and First Nations.
“Tristen did a great job of highlighting the issue when he was here earlier this summer and brought attention to it, but I don't think that there's areas of mistrust,” he said. “There's a lot of conversation and discussion that has to take place. Lots have occurred already with previous ministers and at the premier level too with the FSIN. No, I don't think so. I like to think we have a pretty strong working relationship with them and we can continue to build on that, and I for one am looking forward to that opportunity.”
Hindley’s intention is to liaise closely with the newly appointed Minister of Health Paul Merriman, because there is significant overlap between the two ministerial files.
“It's a busy file, and my office is literally right next door to Minister Merriman's office,” he said. “So there's going to be a lot of back and forth in terms of information sharing as we're working on files both together and separately.”
An important part of Hindley’s ministerial work will be the implementation of the platform commitments made by the Saskatchewan Party during the recent provincial election campaign. It includes an increase to the monthly benefits under the Seniors Income Plan, a reduction in ambulance charges for seniors, and the hiring of 300 more continuing care aides to deliver home care services and to support seniors in long-term care facilities.
“We want to make sure we act on these things fairly quickly,” he said. “There are items we campaigned on as a political party earlier this fall and with the full intention to implement these promises as quickly as possible. On the continuing care aides, the intention is to have those announced in the next budget cycle.”