Kind of struggling with what to write for this blog this week. I’ve got at least half a dozen drafts sitting behind the scenes, but I get sidetracked, or they feel outdated almost as soon as I write them.
I also don’t want to be adding political-noise to an environment where its currently unhelpful.
Really, I’ve been saying for years that the Sask Party government weren’t governing the province, um, competently. Given the enormous lens magnifying the circus that has been their management of this crisis, I probably don’t need to tell you that anymore.
But, I want you to know what happened at the Saskatchewan Legislature this week, because right now these people are making unprecedented life and death decisions on our behalf. It is shocking, even to me, that certain elected leaders are continuing to conduct themselves in this reckless, self-serving manner and it needs to stop.
There must be accountability.
First you need to know how Budget Day normally works in the Legislature – it’s a pretty fun day. Both the Saskatchewan NDP and Sask Party invite guests (supporters, former MLAs etc.), meaning the building is absolutely packed. The day usually wraps up with receptions – tea or something stronger – in the offices of the various MLAs and caucuses.
The day before Budget Day, newsrooms each receive a predetermined number of copies of all the documents. They are forbidden to do anything publicly with the docs until Budget Day, but this gives reporters time to consume the information and have their stories ready to go when they’re allowed to publish.
On Budget Day itself, media from across the province set up in the rotunda (lobby of the Legislature) to broadcast interviews with various stakeholders such as small business associations, mayors, union leaders and the politicians themselves.
On Budget Day morning, reporters go into a room with the Minister of Finance to ask him or her the questions they’ve prepared. Cameras and other recording devices are allowed in, but nothing can be put out to the public until the moment the Minister of Finance stands in the Legislature and starts reading the budget speech, usually around 2pm.
Clearly COVID-19 rendered all of that crowded interaction impossible. But even if the pandemic hadn’t struck, Budget Day 2020 should never have gone ahead as planned. According to Minister of Finance Donna Harpauer, the 2020-21 Saskatchewan budget was sent to the printers on February 28th.
On March 6th, the price of oil crashed. The stock market followed suit. Every annual budget is forecast based on the provincial government’s best estimates of how much revenue they can expect in the coming year. They base that estimate on a number of factors, including resource prices and the stock market.
We know that the oil price and stock market never recovered. The global pandemic that hit North America within the last few weeks has had a lot to do with that.
Today, the economic terror is real. People are losing their jobs, their businesses, their savings. Combine that with the billions of dollars all levels of government in Saskatchewan will spend to battle COVID-19, and yeah, it’s a bit bleak.
So you can see how any provincial budget written before all of that global drama started would be as useless as the paper it’s printed on.
You can see that.
I can see that.
Why couldn’t premier Scott Moe and his inner circle see that?
Especially when they should be otherwise fully occupied with making those life and death decisions?
Understandably they were likely disappointed. The Sask Party government has improbably but vigorously been promoting their 2020 “balanced budget” for three years. The table was set for another lopsided-election. Four more years of power was on the horizon, tantalizingly within reach of Scott Moe’s grasp. So close he could taste it.
Maybe that’s why he refused to quit focusing on his own political future until only one week ago today.
We know now that Moe’s impressive attempts to deny coronavirus reality were throttled last Wednesday, just hours after he and Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer (CMHO) Dr Shahab held a bizarre news conference insisting everything was fine, when President Trump announced the closures of his country’s borders to Europe.
The following morning, as scheduled presenters and performers were literally landing in Saskatoon, Moe confirmed that he would not be calling his precious election and the Junos, slated to begin hours later, were cancelled. Saskatchewan had its first positive diagnosis of COVID-19.
You’d think that would have been it for the political shenanigans – a stinging lesson learned for Moe, maybe even a mea culpa.
You’d think he’d recognize and focus on the defining test of leadership before him, where he could have truly earned the mandate he so badly wanted from Saskatchewan people.
For some inexplicable reason, the Sask Party, specifically a handful of Moe’s advisors including the effervescent Jeremy Harrison, were determined to go ahead with that irrelevant budget.
On Monday and Tuesday, frenzied attempts were made by the Sask Party to proceed with that now-fictional-budget, unprecedented global crisis be damned. Precious time and energy, including that of cabinet ministers and the premier, were wasted attempting to figure out how the Sask Party could still use their budget to salvage political capital from the smouldering wreckage of their re-election strategy.
The very talented CP reporter Stephanie Taylor’s Tweet-thread, which she posted this morning, confirmed my hunch that this reckless behavior was going on.
So I made some calls and here’s the story that unfolded.
At the very least CMHO Dr Shahab knew on Tuesday night that the number of cases of COVID-19 had doubled from eight to sixteen, with potential community transmission.
Do I believe Shahab shared this rather alarming new development with the premier on Tuesday night?
But I do not know for sure.
What I do know for sure is at least by early Wednesday morning, Moe and Sask Party cabinet ministers knew not only about the doubling of positive cases in Saskatchewan, but that the premier was going to declare a state of emergency in Saskatchewan.
So why did the government wait an extra six hours, minimum, to announce significant new public health measures to fight this virus, including the reduction of public gatherings from 250 to 50 people?
Because of that fairytale budget, obvi.
Remember that morning news conference held by the Minister of Finance on budget day? That went ahead as planned on Wednesday morning at 10am.
But if reporters had been informed beforehand about the new COVID-19 cases and the incoming provincial state of emergency, do you really think they would have only asked Donna Harpauer questions about her completely useless, politically-motivated budget stunt?
Of course not. (Though media wasn’t exactly easy on her about the stunt as a whole, as you may have seen, heard or read.)
In fact, it was only shortly before Harpauer’s news conference began that the decision was made that Moe would not force all 70+ MLAs into the Legislature to listen to her speech at 1:30pm.
By the way – why do you think public gatherings weren’t reduced from 250 to 50 until 2:30pm Wednesday afternoon? Well, at least in part because you couldn’t announce that measure on Tuesday and then put 70 MLAs into the Legislature on Wednesday to listen to a budget speech, could you.
I’d venture as far as saying not being the bad guy and canning St. Paddy’s day celebrations might have had something to do with it too.
So to recap, after two full days of making delivering their budget a priority over that COVID-19 pandemic, here’s how yesterday (Wednesday March 18, 2020) went down:
Early morning: Moe and Cabinet know that COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan had doubled, that there was potential community transmission, and that they were going to declare a state of emergency and evoke much stricter social distancing measures in an attempt to protect Saskatchewan people.
10am: Harpauer holds her budget charade with media. Definitely doesn’t mention what she knows about the virus.
1:15ish: a news release is sent out advising media of the new virus cases and state of emergency.
1:30pm: media is allowed to release their “budget” coverage, which at least some of them had been working on relatively unencumbered – because they didn’t know until 15 minutes prior about the dramatic new COVID-19 developments.
2:30pm: Moe and Shahab hold their news conference, finally imposing the new public health measures on the province that they’d been sitting on for at least six hours. Exhausted reporters likely hadn’t even had the time to process the implications of the timeline of the information as it was released.
“Speed is critical. Speed is absolutely critical… act robustly and aggressively. … Look for this virus,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the emerging diseases and zoonoses unit for the World Health Organization’s global infectious hazard preparedness team.
Consider this an open letter to the Sask Party caucus, particularly cabinet:
Your. Decisions. Will. Kill people.
If you guys don’t get the clowns amongst you hindering your government’s response to this unprecedented crisis OUT OF THE WAY, immediately, your legacy will be that you allowed this to continue until it was too late.
If some individuals simply cannot recognize how dangerously lacking their judgment has become, MOVE THEM OUT OF THE WAY.
The stakes have never been higher for Saskatchewan. You chose to put yourselves ahead of the people who elected you by allowing at least six hours – during a PANDEMIC OUTBREAK – to go by before sharing critical information and instructions.
What is wrong with you?!?
Whatever it is – FIX IT.
I’m Tammy Robert. I’m a writer, but pay the bills consulting in political strategy, media and public relations. Feel free to email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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