The inaugural session of the 23nd Legislature opened on February 29, 1995, with Lieutenant Governor John Wiebe announcing a “quiet revolution” of fundamental changes to education, health care, municipal government and welfare programs.
Highlights of the proposed legislative calendar include: restructuring the Provinces’s 846 local governments, revising the municipal tax assessment system, devising a province-wide 9-1-1 emergency service and introducting restrictions on private health facilities. Also outlined were tougher child support enforcement laws and the establishment of a trade and export corporation. University administration costs are to be cut in addition to “wide ranging reforms to our education and training programs”. Agricultural initiatives centered upon revising the crop insurance program and the provision of $200 million over four years for agricultural research. The recommendations of last year’s legislative committee on Driving Safety for stiffer drunk driving penalties and new rules for new drivers are also to be addressed.
Opposition Leader Ron Osika criticized the speech, stating that it failed to present any initiatives to address the province’s economic problems. He argued that the absence of tax relief would adversely affect job creation and economic activity. PC Leader Bill Boyd made similar claims and feared a “noisy and boisterous revolution” -not the government’s “quiet revolution” – if the educational and local government reforms repeated the experience with health reform. Both opposition parties also believed that rural Saskatchewan was being ignored by the government.
Finance Minister Janice Mackinnon delivered her second successive balanced budget on March 28th. The budget contained a four-year plan to safeguard health, education and social services by providing $110 million in new provincial funding to replace federal cuts in 1996-97 and to replace 96% of the $252 million federal cuts to these core services during the period of 1999 to 2000. Also provided in the Budget was a plan for four consecutive balanced budgets, no tax increases for individuals, families or small business and a plan to reduce the provincial debt by $2.4 million from 1994 to 2000. The Minister did announce the elimination of 544 government jobs, a $10 million reduction in postsecondary funding and a $20 million reduction to municipal governments.
Mr. Osika accused the government of tricking the public, the universities, the schools and the hospitals into thinking that the budget would be much worse, knowing “just as we’ve [the Official Opposition] been saying for months, the federal cutbacks just are not going to have a significant impact on our province”. Mr. Boyd noted that the budget contained nothing in the area of job creation but acknowledged its conservative fiscal tone.
The start of the new legislature permitted the establishment of the standing committees after a hiatus of nine months. Pat Lorje (NDP, Saskatoon Southeast) was elected chair of the Crown Corporations Committee while Rod Gantefoer (Liberal, Melfort-Tisdale) has assumed responsibility for the Public Accounts Committee. The Standing Committee on Private Members’ Bills chaired by Lloyd Johnson (NDP, Shellbrook-Spiritwood) considered five private bills, including one for which the notice requirements were waived.
Election of Presiding Officers
Dale Flavel (Last Mountain – Touchwood) has assumed Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole responsibilities following his election on March 1st under the new secret ballot rules. Kim Trew (Regina Coronation Park) is the new Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole.
On March 25th, the inaugural presentation of the Saskatchewan Volunteer Medal to six recepients occured during the daily proceedings in the Assembly. Saskatchewan has one of the highest rates of voluntarism in Canada and the honour, established in 1995, was designed to recognize outstanding volunteer service or exceptional community involvement.
Following the lead of New Brunswick in 1995, Saskatchewan became the second jurisdiciton to acknowledge the contribution and role of military reservists with the declaration of April 15th as Reserve Force Day. A special ceremony held at the Legislative Assembly was attended by representatives of the naval, air and communications reserves, the militia and the cadet instructors cadre from around the province along with members of the Canadian Forces Liaison Council.