It was International Women’s Day and the only Indigenous woman in the Saskatchewan legislature asked the premier to apologize for suggesting people who refused to get vaccinated during a pandemic might have suffered the greatest discrimination in the province’s history.
But rather than extend the courtesy of responding to NDP MLA Betty Nippi-Albright’s question, Premier Scott Moe deferred to Health Minister Paul Merriman who proceeded to defend this province’s worst-in-the-country vaccine uptake.
Later, Merriman would add his government no longer bears responsibility to provide the public with daily information on hospitalizations or deaths. After all, government doesn’t offer daily reports on heart attacks, said Saskatchewan’s health minister, seemingly unaware that cardiac arrest isn’t contagious.
Outgoing NDP Leader Ryan Meili re-asked Nippi-Albright’s question the next day and Moe did respond. Evidently, the premier has decided he need only respond to questions from the Opposition leader, because nothing says understanding discrimination or International Women’s Day like ignoring an Indigenous woman and only responding to a white dude a day later.
Moe still didn’t really apologize. Instead, he repeated his support for the decision to end COVID-19 restrictions early — a decision that may have contributed to rising COVID-19 emergency room admissions and turning February into the third-worst month for COVID-19-related deaths.
When asked again in a reporters’ scrum the next day why he struggled to simply say “I’m sorry,” Moe did finally utter those words that he seems to dread saying. Again, nothing says understanding discrimination and International Women’s Day like apologizing to a grumpy, old, white dude in a scrum three days later.
It’s not as if Moe and his government don’t understand the need to send out the right messages that they oppose discrimination and support International Women’s Day. Moe released a puff-chested picture of himself in a purple tie, that demonstrates his support for women.
Unfortunately, the premier’s ever-so-stiff poses are quickly becoming much-mocked social media memes — something that those in government don’t seem to understand.
Why not consider using Finance Minister Donna Harpauer — the longest serving female cabinet minister in Saskatchewan history and in the country right now — if you want to deliver a serious, non-self-servicing International Women’s Day message?
Is there really interest in meaningful solutions to long-standing issues like real discrimination and sexism? Can we no longer get a serious response to the ongoing pandemic? Might we want to seriously consider how we could help hit Russian oligarchs supporting Vladimir Putin by cutting off the profits they are now making from the local steel industry? Is plunking down a Ukrainian flag on your desk for one day really doing anything?
There again, why bother saying or doing anything mildly controversial if you can get away with doing nothing or simply paying awkward lip service to issues?
Under normal circumstances, such hubris might spell the demise of a government. But the Sask. Party is benefitting from unusual circumstances.
It’s highly unusual in this country for a government to have the massive, fourth-term majority it secured 17 months ago or for it to have handily won a by-election in a riding like Athabasca.
One gets why Moe and the Sask. Party feel they are politically invincible. Most days, the NDP reminds us why it is no threat.
The NDP is now into its fourth leadership race since losing power 14-plus years ago. So far, this “leadership race” consists of sole candidate Carla Beck popping up from her seat in the legislature like a spring gopher to utter the phrase “real leadership.”
The response from government MLAs? Well, they look up from watching the Brier on their laptops or playing video games on their phones and shout: “That’s the clip.” It is funny, but it’s also a sad reminder that there really isn’t much pushing this Sask. Party government to do better.
Right now, the problem is a government gets to think it doesn’t feel it has to do anything other that provide lip service if it so chooses.
We deserve something better than lip service.
• Murray Mandryk is the political columnists for the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.
Want to know how we decide what to cover and how editorial decisions are made at the Regina Leader-Post and Saskatoon StarPhoenix? Get the weekly Letter From the Editor newsletter from the Editor in Chief Russell Wangersky and join the discussion on what goes into covering news and delivering commentary, both in print and online. Click here to subscribe.