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Committee for Future Generations on True Stewardship



Indigenous Authority Over Their Lands: True Stewards

Northern Saskatchewan has a population that is 80% Cree, Dene and Metis. Northern communities maintain a strong relationship with the lands, rivers and lakes of the boreal forest we call home. The lands and water are intrinsically tied to the physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of the people.

Since the inception of the colonial institution called Saskatchewan, the Original People have faced trauma through the decimation of the population from diseases introduced by fur traders, the kidnapping, abuse and indoctrination through residential schools, and the continuous theft of lands and resources through the shady legislation, the NRTA (Natural Resources Transfer Act) in 1930. Every single community has been left with intergenerational issues that have not been addressed.

When the government of Canada gave away the lands and resources to the province of Saskatchewan without the agreement or even consultation of the Cree and Dene Treaty partners, they intentionally set up the process to force the Original People of the north to lose their autonomy. This is ongoing, as the Indigenous people are pushed into dependence on the ‘Boom and Bust’ resource extraction economy, which decimates the lands and waters.

The provinces designated the north as ‘Open for Sale’, and northerners whose cultural values of taking care of the land in the best interests of the next seven generations, are becoming ever more stressed, as they see once pristine waters becoming contaminated. Industrial development is scarring the lands, erasing ancestral presence and making some places permanent sacrifice zones.

We are the fastest-growing population in the province. Northerners are intentionally kept on the edge of poverty due to inequitable opportunities and spending rendered on the part of both the provincial and federal governments. Jurisdictional issues further confuse and divide services. Yet, billions of dollars worth of resource commodities are remove from our homelands annually. Forests are literally disappearing down the road, while every northern community has a shortage of adequate housing. We observe how the province has turned a blind eye to corporations like Cameco, which for years has avoided paying billions of dollars in taxes.

The time is long past due for the knowledge of Cree, Dene and Metis land users of the limitations of living systems on their lands, to over rule that of governments. The influx of industrial development and resource extraction is taking a heavy toll. This is having a global impact. These ecosystems contain a great portion of the world’s fresh water. The trees and muskegs are a living part of that. They also provide the key to carbon capture if left intact.

People who live close to the land notice the extreme changes in climate. Indicators from the plant and animal world are no longer able to predict the weather. Eons of traditional science knowledge has been rendered useless by climate change within the last two decades. As climate change progresses, extremes are going to have an increasing impact.

The Saskatchewan government has failed repeatedly to respect the Original People’s knowledge in the consultation process on resource development projects. The government approves exploration and Environment Impact Assessments on Indigenous lands, regardless of and prior to, consent or concern on the impacts this has on the Dene, Cree and Metis land use. When northern people say “No” to these projects, we are looking long term, beyond the economic trade deals. We have a duty to look after land, air and water for the benefit of all future generations.

The federal government has embarked on studying the concept of a Northern Corridor, which would be a several kilometer wide cleared swath running seven thousand kilometers across northern Canada.  In Saskatchewan, it is proposed to begin one hundred kilometers north of La Loche in the northwest, through the Athabasca Basin and splitting north towards the Port of Churchill and east to northern Manitoba. It would include a highway, rail line, pipelines, electrical transmission lines and telecommunication lines. The authors of the proposal, the University of Calgary School of Public Policy, claim this would lower the cost of groceries for northern residents. They also claim this would leave the lightest environmental footprint, while cutting the cost of northern development. The Northern Corridor is, in reality, a thinly-veiled plan for cutting the cost for corporations to move the resources they extract from our north to ports to the international markets. It would open the north to exploitation and increase the environmental impacts as more resource extraction would seize the opportunity.

The authors suggest that legislation be enacted to enable the entire project to be subject to only ONE environmental impact assessment, over all jurisdictions nationally to fast track its completion.

Part of the purpose of the Northern Corridor is to free the southern transportation system in the heavily populated south from being put at risk by using the northern route as the Dangerous Goods Route. This corridor would be totally disruptive to a highly sensitive landscape. The prospect of rail cars, vehicle traffic, and pipelines carrying hazardous materials across thousands of rivers, lakes and muskegs is an environmental nightmare in the making, 3 especially with the weak safety records and minimal cleanup response already evident in this province and country.

This is another made in the south project, which has been hinted at by the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, with little to no input from the Indigenous people whose lands are being targeted. This colonial patronizing viewpoint offers little but further exploitation. In order to get around the indisputable truth that the provinces do not own these lands, the policy designers are suggesting that Indigenous peoples be enticed to partner in to the hundred billion dollar project.

Considering all of the issues that have been imposed on Indigenous people, the impacts, both socioeconomic and environmental, would greatly exacerbate the problems.

Indigenous people must have final authority, as actual true stewards, over what development takes place on their lands and waters, and have the authority to regulate it. Northerners need to develop community and regionals plans, and have those plans respected and supported by the province. Corporate interests have no place, and should not be allowed to influence, the current and future Indigenous leaders to override their people’s values, interests and government systems, with corporate governance programs, such as they have at the University of Saskatchewan, in the Cameco-sponsored Aboriginal Governance and Northern Development.


Our province’s name is Cree, meaning swift-flowing water. Saskatchewan could champion renewable energy by harnessing the abundant kinetic energy of our rivers, the winds, as well as that readily available in our long hours of sunlight.

With the effects of climate change already manifesting themselves worldwide, including in the northern Boreal forests where sparse precipitation has contributed to unprecedented wildfires, maintaining a fossil fuel energy course is both morally and financially irresponsible. It is imperative that all building codes be immediately revised to implement energy efficient designs and practices, such as passive hausing and the use of solar panels.

At the same time, we must denounce the uranium industry’s (and the current provincial government’s) attempt to sell nuclear energy as the “green solution” to the fossil fuel dilemma. Besides contributing significantly to fossil fuel emissions throughout the entire fuel chain, the undeniable fact remains that the byproduct of nuclear energy is, in comparison, by far the most extremely hazardous and long-lasting threat to life on the planet, extending into millions of years.

As is the case with most fuel industries, much of the raw product lies buried in traditional Indigenous lands. Companies including Cenovus and Cameco have targeting vulnerable Aboriginal administrations down to a science, resulting in highly controversial “agreements” for resource extraction signed behind closed doors. By the time the general population finds out, it is too late, and political pressure attempts to silence dissenters.

Indigenous communities worldwide are also being targeted from the other end of the nuclear fuel chain, with the burial of deadly waste product on their traditional territories. The years of “site selection process” imposed by the Nuclear Waste Management Organization on the northern Saskatchewan communities of Pinehouse, English River First Nation and Creighton, served to tear those communities apart as administrations and certain “liaisons” were bribed into pushing the process through. The pain and grief of division left in NWMO’s wake in some cases may never be resolved. The nuclear waste burial was touted to be shallow to allow retrieval and reprocessing of the nuclear fission rods to extract plutonium by dissolving them in acid, creating an even deadlier byproduct. Despite a petition with over 20,000 signatures delivered to the Saskatchewan Legislature in 2012, we are still waiting for a provincial ban on the storage and transportation of nuclear waste in and through Saskatchewan.

We must have a provincial energy policy that serves people as opposed to industry. Elon Musk’s advancing solar battery technology is already precipitating an energy revolution: independence from the electrical grid. In the same way, we must move to community-based energy supply, as opposed to dependence on industry – “energy sovereignty” – if you will. We need policy that weans us off fossil fuels while at the same time creating infrastructure to capture and utilize renewable energies. Mark Bigland Pritchard and Peter Prebble, in their Green Energy Plan, have already written the script for this to happen. We must have an energy policy that prohibits the bribing of vulnerable populations into sacrificing their sacred lands. Ultimately, we need policy that is socially AND environmentally responsible, two things inseparable in the Indigenous way of knowing. It honours and protects the wellbeing of seven generations ahead.

Restoring Well Communities

Since the inception of the colonial institution called Saskatchewan, Indigenous peoples have faced trauma through the decimation of the population from disease, kidnapping, abuse and indoctrination through residential schools, and the theft of lands and resources through the 1930 Natural Resources Transfer Agreement (NRTA) that continues to this day. The result has been intergenerational impact in every northern community, namely ongoing grief and trauma manifesting itself in family dysfunction, addictions, misdiagnosed learning disabilities and widespread mental health issues.

“Indigenous” has recently become a global catchword to describe healing practices founded in earth-based spirituality. We are fortunate to still have people among us who have come about that paradigm honestly, ie directly inheriting the world view, knowledge and skills from their 5 ancestors to genuinely carry it out. However, from an Indigenous viewpoint, every person innately carries this relationship with the earth, as we simply would not exist without the life provided by it. “Wellness” therefore, is something to be restored, not learned from scratch.

There are northern health professionals who have already established successful, trusted working relationships from the bottom up with youth, parents, families, communities and other professionals across the north, in Indigenous healing practices. This essentially means they are local, effective, inclusive and ongoing. They include upstream, proactive measures designed to build positive identity, confidence, dignity and leadership. However, in the present colonialized system, existing policy across a multiplicity of agencies and organizations makes possible the undermining of locally-developed services, as “proven” as they might be. Funding continues to be applied top-down – from the outside in -perpetuating ineffective practices of engagement, diagnosis, unrealistic strategies and lack of continuity. One example is the mailing of referral letters to people whose health conditions have rendered them so vulnerable as to be living on the street, pre-empting the possibility of ever receiving mail, let alone following through to attend a series of 30-minute one-on-one appointments booked in offices several hours away in the city. Yet, the fact that there’s a paper trail referring the individual to a psychiatrist, allows the lie of accountability to continue.

Restoring well communities means that every individual within that community is viewed as valuable, capable and deserving of the best care possible. Although northern Saskatchewan has some of the highest rates of suicide and drug/alcohol addictions in the country, there is not one wellness center. Our population of Elders is increasing dramatically, yet our northern communities have little or no facilities which allow them to maintain quality of life close to their families, while accommodating their higher level health needs. Despite a comprehensive, eight-year study by a northern health board which unequivocally determined the exact infrastructure required within every community on the northwest side to deliver quality health care to local residents, political interference at the eleventh hour resulted in the announcement of a huge hospital to be built in only one of those communities, literally abandoning the rest. That hospital now operates as little more than a holding facility for patients destined to be shipped south, while people and health staff in surrounding communities continue to languish in decades-old, moulding clinics.

On-the-land health practices, by definition, require a healthy land base in which to take place. However, colonial government policies past and present have systematically displaced Indigenous peoples from their land to make way for industry to enter and remove “resources” such as uranium, trees and oil. Traditional territories have been rendered into sacrifice zones where people who populated it for generations become trespassers on their own lands. Locals have referred to the land as their church, and their hospital, yet we are seeing it increasingly mined and clear cut. Industries bribe Aboriginal administrations into signing so-called 6 “agreements” behind closed doors, which are done deals before the population finds out about them. Subsequent “public consultation meetings” are held, while the industry is already hauling the resources off the land. Uranium companies Cameo and Areva are allowed access to youth across the northern school division, conducting aptitude tests in classrooms to determine suitability for work in the mines. Positions underground and in the mill, the most highly radioactive places, are almost entirely held by Aboriginal youth. Mine workers disclose serious safety breaches in private, but refuse to do so publicly for fear of losing their jobs. Health professionals refuse to conduct comprehensive health studies, apparently because we don’t have a sufficient population base. Regulatory bodies such as the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission apply the ALARA principle – “As Low As Reasonably Achievable”, and phrases such as “less than severe” and “non life-threatening” to minimalize impact. Public information sessions show slideshows of utopian green cartoon trees growing over contaminated sites, while at the same time reports come in from other former mine sites of contaminated groundwater, plants and even muscle and bone tissues of large game animals such as moose and deer. Generations of families suffer from increased cancer rates, with the only explanation given as “smoking”, even though the cancers are not all originated in the lungs. All the above is strategically supported by existing government policies, and serve to seriously undermine control over our own effective healing in the north.

Besides all the aspects of community health, a valuable initiative to re-vitalize would be the Healthy Community networking concept. Health Canada introduced this in the 90’s when the Northern Village of Beauval was offered funding for community development. This included the services of two community development facilitators, training, several community gatherings, funding for a Healthy Community coordinator, and expenses to attend national and international Healthy Community conferences. In cooperation with the local municipal office, the coordinator facilitated networking by community agencies, resulted in many improvements. Regular input from community gatherings surfaced needs for services such as an Addiction centre, Kids First, and Head Start.

National networking involved exchange of information with other communities across the country in the project, mostly rural and aboriginal, and the sharing of inspiring ideas. The International Americas Conference was in Quebec City, and reps from each Healthy Community attended. North and South Americas now exchanged ideas and scenarios, and learned strategies and geography.

This is a specific example how funding can be used toward community development, with far reaching effects. Almost 30 years later, the Northern Village of Beauval still has its Kids First and Head Start school, and continues to hold weekly Interagency meetings, with the intent of 7 building community through sharing information. National and International gatherings of community representatives could also still result in benefits. Truly effective healing must be led by northerners themselves, with both provincial and federal governments in supportive roles, namely funding long term community-based healing programs and removing barriers created by colonial socio-economic policies.

Housing and Infrastructure

In northern Saskatchewan there is a severe shortage of housing, yet we are surrounded by building material and have an abundance of capable young adults in need of a purpose. What could be more purposeful than constructing your own home, which would then have the added bonus of ownership, pride, and dignity that comes along with it.

We need housing policies that allow for communities to set their own standards which address specific needs, instead of being constricted by unrealistic laws and codes. For example, one northern village determined through a comprehensive, bottom-up consultative process, that small (600 square feet) two-bedroom homes with the ability to add on if necessary would be the ideal unit type for their community, which had a large population of young single parents in need of housing.

Another example is, to be totally realistic, the whole concept of house insurance should get tossed out the window. Most low income families, or single young adults can’t afford insurance anyway. If the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation is allowed the option of foregoing insurance for its hundreds of units due to the expense, then shouldn’t individual homeowners be given that same choice?

Rather than logging companies cutting down timber on our traditional territories and hauling it out of our region, the practice of selective logging for local use could be re-implemented. Each community could be supplied with the equipment required to log selectively and mill the lumber into building materials. Local youth would be trained in energy-efficient construction, including the installation of solar panels, and the necessary trades. Four houses could be heated by one outdoor woodstove, the maintenance of which would also create sustainable local employment.

Elders in the community could be cared for in much the same way, with an elders residence also built to be energy efficient and heated with the appropriate number of outdoor woodstoves. Each community should be provided a state-of-the-art medical clinic attached to the elders residence, with the appropriate number of acute care beds. Every community should  be provided with the means to administer Level 4 care for its Elders within that community, to allow for ongoing family support.

Assisted living for those with addiction and mental health issues is a must in every community. These would also operate according to local policies.

To improve infrastructure, communities must immediately be given the means to permanently access a clean water supply. Northern communities are regularly subjected to massive power outages, which could be resolved by implementing local energy sources such as solar, wind and water. Policies affecting small business need to change to support success, for example start-up cost and tax breaks. Locally-sourced food such as wild game and fish should be able to be sold and served in local restaurants, without the hindrance of government regulations. In most of our communities, malnutrition and even starvation are too close for comfort. The dependence on food being shipped up to us is a risk we can no longer afford.

Culturally-Valued Education

The present educational system, in special areas, like the foundations, philosophy and axioms, is not strong in the element of learning for life’s sake.

The old and made-irrelevant features of ancient Indigenous world views, based on the pure sciences of interaction with the natural world and its cosmological directive, is hardly a part of the colonial impetus that is today’s meaning of education. The conditioning apparatus of the present system has very little and abiding meaning except for the promotion of a livelihood, which means, the lands/waters destructive companies can have their way, which they have. There is no argument when a very exciting subject matter like nuclear science, bio-tech, and myriad topics, are omitted in classrooms and only “jobs” is being implemented into the learning strategies of curriculum in Native schools.

Whosoever has the control of today’s education, also has the control over a people. True to form, what our parents taught us in the camps,, backed up by ancient premises already developed down the ages, is the mainstay of what a learning is, and to be reinforced if such a colonial dictum is to be destroyed.

Treatise has been developed by genuinely Indigenous educators which will require careful reading, and have also been placed into practicum. Numerous strategies have been applied with success, but not supported by the present education “system”.

Education that is culturally-valued is first and foremost based on respectful relationships. A respectful relationship mutually values the whole person, and recognizes and acts to resolve issues that are keeping someone from being whole, in ways that allow the learner to internalize those ways of retaining and nurturing wholeness.

Culturally-valued education preserves, promotes and celebrates the inherent dignity of all cultures, which means removing the lens of colonialism and bringing the true, entire story into focus. In culturally-valued education, it is recognized that all people, Indigenous or not, are colonialized. Relationships cannot be genuine unless they’re founded in the truth and guided forward from there.

The truth in Saskatchewan is that it was founded in colonialism. The people who were here before European contact were systematically pushed off their lands to make way for the incoming, starved, discriminated against, and forced to release their children into residential schools. The goal was assimilation, to cut off the normal ability of families to pass on generations of wisdom and skills. The result was genocide, and subsequent generations of dysfunction, grief and misery. Culturally valued education recognizes that grief and trauma erode the ability to learn, therefore prioritizes healing over all. This approach naturally accommodates the adult learner, and doesn’t place a limit on age. Culturally-valued education has processes built in place to give voice to local community and be directed by that.

In the last decade, local school boards were replaced by “community school councils” which, although democratically elected, have virtually no say in things such as budget and hiring, disciplining and firing. Policy needs to change back to empowering the community in the education of its youth. Culturally-valued education is not subsidized by industry that has a vested interest in recruiting students into its production. Northern Lights School Division spans the entire northern half of the province. Cameco and Areva are regularly allowed into NLSD gymnasiums to promote uranium mining, and into classrooms to administer aptitude tests measuring students’ suitability for work in the mines. Students are told, sometimes even by teachers and school administrators, that their purpose in graduating is to “get a good job in the mine”. Elders in the school are warned not to discuss nuclear waste with the youth. Career Fairs are paid for and almost entirely represented by uranium corporations. Our education in the north has truly become corporatized. Our youth deserve better. We are in great need of a diversified economy and “Green Career Fairs” to reflect that. The entire provincial middle years and high school science and math curriculums have been revised to take on an industry focus. Culturally-valued education would consistently foster critical thinking, instead of applying tunnel vision.

The current provincial government has drastically cut school budgets, resulting in a loss of staff and support services for the most vulnerable. Policy must be immediately revised to not only restore but monumentally increase the ability of our schools to operate independently from industry, and serve the needs of our youth to first heal.

Local Food Sovereignty

One of the most serious barriers to health, wellbeing and learning in a region that has been long recognized as having high poverty rates, is the cost of food due to the high cost of transportation. People of the region have always been dependent on the availability of local wild foods from the land, lakes and rivers. The advent of more roads and development, and the effects of climate disasters, has hurt the health and numbers of fish and game. More and more people have had to depend on stores. It is ludicrous that we are burning fossil fuels to transport imported food when we could be developing local food sovereignty. More training in growing food and maintaining greenhouses would go a long way to eliminating both carbon emissions and would benefit the entire population. It could also provide a source of healthy, local and sustainable employment that people could take pride in.

Climate instability is going to wreak havoc on imported and domestic food crops. It is time to be realistic about creating food sovereignty in every community. It is a sad truth that people are literally only weeks away from starvation when food security is achievable.

Economic Diversity

Northern Saskatchewan has been promised “economic prosperity” for decades. It has been the key phrase used by every government wanting access to resources on and under our lands. The problem is that commodification of resources has led to over-dependence on one type of employment in resource-based, market – in other words, a boom-and-bust economy. Boom and bust is neither a reliable, nor healthy, economy. Northerners have expressed discontent to no avail. Career fairs at schools across the north continue to be funded and almost entirely represented by uranium corporations. There has been openly blatant support of the single-resource uranium economy by the Saskatchewan government. To quote Brad Wall, “The best program for First Nations and Metis in Saskatchewan is not a program at all – it’s 11 Cameco!”, and, “Cameco is Saskatchewan’s number one corporate citizen.”

Despite huge tax breaks for corporations and pitifully low royalties, government policy continues to hold us hostage to putting all our eggs in one basket, instead of promoting true prosperity within northern communities. Most people must travel hundreds of kilometers to shop for essentials or access health services that are taken for granted in the south.

A community needs and resource assessment would shed light on ways that a locally sustainable, diversified economy would better offer employment in a wider range of fields and careers, and make better use of resources. Families would not be subjected to absentee parents who are required to be away from home, and would be less stressed. Money would circulate within the local area, rather than always leaving the community.

Restore Environment to Uncontaminated State

Northern Saskatchewan was once a beautiful, pristine, green forest, with clear lakes, rivers and streams so fresh we never had any concern about taking a drink of the life-giving water. Wildlife was abundant; fish, moose, caribou, ducks and berries provided healthy sustenance. Medicines from the plants prevented and cured illness and injuries.

Over the last 60 years, uranium mining in the Athabasca Basin and nickel mining in the northeast have left permanent scars and serious chemical, heavy metal and radioactive contamination impacting the land, air, water, plants, animals and people. Even with today’s so-called “best practices” and “technological advances”, industries have to admit they fall short in ensuring that mine sites, watersheds and surrounding land will be left clear of contamination. In the case of uranium mines, there are already several permanent sacrifice zones that have been harming the health of animals, plants and people. It is also known to have intergenerational effects, reducing the ability to thrive.

It is imperative that the Saskatchewan government and its industry partners take on the responsibility for restoring all impacted areas to an un-contaminated state that will continue to be safe for all generations to come. It is their responsibility, since they did not heed the warnings given by the Dene Elders to “leave the black rock alone”. If this cannot be accomplished, then no further uranium mines and other mineral and gas development should be permitted.

Cheryl Stadnichuk on transforming freedom of information

Supporting the public’s right to know: how we need to reform our Freedom of Information legislation in Saskatchewan

“The overarching purpose of access to information legislation is to facilitate democracy by helping to ensure that citizens have the information required to participate meaningfully in the democratic process and that politicians and bureaucrats remain accountable to the citizenry. Rights to state-held information are designed to improve the workings of government; to make it more effective, responsive and accountable.” – Supreme Court of Canada

When the government of Saskatchewan proclaimed its access to information and protection of privacy legislation on April 1, 1992, it was the first such legislation in western Canada. Saskatchewan was seen as leader in the west for more transparent and accountable government.

Since then, our expectations have expanded faster than changes to legislation. With the age of the internet and free access to all kinds of information, it sometimes appears that anything you want to know can be found on the world-wide-web.

That is not always the case. Governments, local governments and public sector employers collect all kinds of information and make important decisions based on information that is often not publicly available. And many of those decisions are increasingly being made for political reasons without full disclosure to the public of any evidence or sound policy to back the decision.

My idea for transformational change in Saskatchewan is to completely overhaul our freedom of information legislation to make it more effective, grant enforcement power to the Information and Privacy Commissioner, and have government be more proactive in its disclosure of information so that residents do not have to rely on access to information requests to get documents or information they want.

Overhaul freedom of information legislation

There have been relatively few amendments to freedom of information legislation in this province – and across Canada – in the last decade. At a right to know conference organized in May 2015 by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault spoke about the urgency of reforming freedom of information legislation federally and provincially. Her 2014 annual report had 85 recommendations alone to amend the federal Access to Information Act. All 14 information and privacy commissioners agreed that massive changes needed to be made to legislation.

One of the key areas for reform is to the overuse and broad application of “cabinet confidentiality” to deny access to information requests. Under access to information legislation, all public records are to be released unless they fall under certain exemptions. Cabinet confidentiality is one such exemption and is frequently used when a government simply does not want to disclose information. Legault reported that the use of this exemption increased by 48% at the federal level. Someone once joked that the government could have someone walk through the cabinet room with a document and then declare it exempt from disclosure under cabinet confidentiality.

In Saskatchewan there is one case (Review Report F-2012-004) where a resident requested copies of the background information provided to new Cabinet Ministers but was denied under the cabinet confidentiality clause. It took over five years of appeal before information was disclosed to the resident.

Unlike most other provinces, Saskatchewan has two different Acts: one that covers provincial government and Crowns; and one that covers local authorities such as school boards, municipalities, health regions, universities and colleges. This means that residents must know which legislation to follow, which form to fill out for an access to information request, and knowing that an application fee of $20 is required only for requests to local authorities.

Saskatchewan access to information legislation is not as strong as the legislation in Alberta and British Columbia. For example, Saskatchewan law does not cover the Workers’ Compensation Board, even though it is covered in Alberta and British Columbia. Both of the provinces to the west of us also have a public interest override clause that places a duty on the head of a public body to disclose information to the public if there is a significant risk of injury or harm to the public. Saskatchewan does not have this.

Both Alberta and BC have a process to regularly review their access and privacy laws by all-party committees of the legislature, but there is no requirement for a statutory review of our access and privacy laws and there have been limited revisions.[1]

Grant the Information and Privacy Commissioner power to issue binding orders

The access to information process can be complicated and lengthy. If an applicant is not satisfied with the response from a public body, or wants to challenge a decision of the government to deny access to information, that person can go to the Information and Privacy Commissioner to request a review of the decision.

After a review, the Commissioner make agree with the applicant and make a recommendation that government release the information, or reduce the fee it wants to charge.  But the Commissioner can only make recommendations. He cannot force the government body to comply with his recommendation.

Information Commissioners in some other provinces, such as B.C., can issue binding orders. The federal Information Commissioner does not have this power.

Because the Commissioner does not have the power to enforce a recommendation, the government body can delay responding or simply ignore the recommendation. We have seen this happen with the CBC requests for information related to the Global Transportation Hub land sale. The Information and Privacy Commissioner reproached the government three times on its failure to respond to access to information requests.[2]

CUPE won an important victory when the Information and Privacy Commissioner recommended that 3sHealth release a copy of its ten-year contract with Alberta-based private company K-Bro Linens and that the government amend legislation to include 3sHealth under LAFOIP. 3sHealth complied and provided a copy of the contract but the government ignored the recommendation to place 3sHealth under the scope of LAFOIP.[3]

We need to give enforcement powers to the Commissioner so that we can demand more transparency and accountability from our government bodies.


Pro-active disclosure of information to the public

As mentioned earlier, using the access to information process can be complicated and take a lot of time. The attempts to get a copy of the K-Bro laundry contract involved numerous submissions to the Commissioner, discussions with public bodies and correspondence with lawyers over about two years.  Others have had similar experiences trying to pry public documents into the open.

In many cases, a public institution will easily comply with a request. But when a public body refuses to provide information, not every resident has the ability, tenacity or desire to go through a lengthy appeal process.

That is why many right to know activists are advocating for pro-active disclosure of public information, or open government. The view is that public bodies should be proactively disclosing data and information on public websites so that information is easily accessible. Residents would not have to file access to information requests if the information was readily available.

Right to know activists are also calling for governments to be held to a duty to create documents. In Canada, there is a new trend where governments are avoiding the disclosure of information by not producing documents. The paperwork that documented the work of government is disappearing. For example, journalist requests for emails and documents in former Ontario Premier McGuinty’s office relating to the gas plant scandal only turned up 102 emails. Staff in the Premier’s office communicated on their blackberry devices instead of government servers.

BC Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham found that 25% of all access to information requests turned up no records, and 45% of requests to the Premier’s office failed to produce a single document. In Saskatchewan, CUPE’s request to the Ministry of Health and to four health regions for a copy of the ten-year privatized laundry contract was denied because “no document exists.”

An overhaul of our access to information laws must include a legislated duty to document.



Here are but a few ideas of how our access to information legislation should be reformed in Saskatchewan:

  • Review the exemptions in the legislation and limit the mandatory exemptions, such as cabinet confidentiality, so that the Information and Privacy Commissioner has more power to review information requests that have been denied.
  • Merge the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP) and the Local Authorities Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (LAFOIP) into one piece of legislation.
  • Eliminate the $20 application fee for access requests under LA FOIP.
  • Give the Information and Privacy Commissioner the power to issue binding orders on public bodies.
  • Amend the legislation to include a public interest override clause that places a duty on the head of a public body to disclose information to the public if there is a significant risk of injury or harm to the public
  • Create a legislated duty to document the decisions and policy development of government bodies
  • Create an Open Government culture that proactively disclose public data and information so that it is readily accessible to the public



[1] Office of the Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner, 2012-13 Annual Report, p.6-7.

[2] Geoff Leo,”3 strikes: Sask government chastised again for handling of GTH document requests,” CBC News, January 17, 2017.

[3] Office of the Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner, Review Report 068-2015.

Austerity and Health by the People’s Health Movement – Canada

Austerity and Health: Some Lessons from Around the World; Some Cautions for Saskatchewan

The People’s Health Movement – Canada (PHM‐C) agrees with the assessment of austerity’s failure as summarized by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) in their December 2016 report The Futility of Austerity: Lessons for Saskatchewan. We would add that, even before the disastrous decade of austerity implementation proved to international financial institutions that austerity policies did not promote economic growth, overwhelming global evidence had illustrated that investments in health and education are inextricably linked to economic development (and growth). The evidence is clear: making such investments is sound economic policy.

Our submission to SaskForward is based on the work of the People’s Health Movement, a global network of grassroots health activists, civil society organizations and academic institutions guided by the goals and framework presented in The People’s Charter for Health (PHM 2000). The PHM’s Global Health Watch reports locate decisions and choices that impact health in the structure of global power relations and economic governance, and are widely perceived as the definitive voice for an alternative discourse on health. The most recent report in the series, Global Health Watch 4, was released in 2014. Our submission is also based on the thinking of several other major authors in the field, journal articles, reports, articles in the media, etc.

Public finance is a public health issue. Understanding how and why choices about the level and incidence of taxation and public expenditure affect health outcomes and health inequalities should be regarded as a core public health competence. Everywhere we observe it, austerity is selective – with resources continuing to be available for elite projects and agendas of questionable benefit, in equity terms in particular. As public health researchers, educators and practitioners we must therefore challenge the rhetoric of austerity and insist on health equity as a priority in public finance. (Schrecker 2017)

PHM‐C’s primary recommendation to SaskForward is that sustained or increased investments in publicly funded, equity‐based health programs and services are necessary to alleviate the undue suffering that Saskatchewan’s current economic crisis will continue to provoke, particularly among marginalized populations. Oppressed groups often suffer even more under austerity conditions as a results of budget cuts to particular programs, and for this reason we need to pay particular attention to the social determination of health (and ill‐health) among the Indigenous peoples of the province.

In this submission we make several observations of the observed effects of austerity on health outcomes, drawing from the experiences of countries in the European Union (EU) where austerity has been more extensively studied. We examine those effects more closely though an extreme case study of austerity (Greece). We then explore several current Canadian issues related to health care cuts, and end with considerations of the longer‐term impacts of austerity policies through the three policy interrogatives.

1. Who Are We?

Globally the People’s Health Movement operates in more than 70 countries. Within countries and regions, it operates to mobilize support for addressing global health crises caused by growing inequities within and among nations. This is accomplished through local and regional mobilizations, campaigns and awareness‐raising. At the global level the PHM’s major activities centre on watching, documenting and educating activists’ struggles for health; these include the WHO Watch, Global Health Watch publications and International People’s Health University (IPHU) teach‐ins. At the regional level issues and struggles vary and so do mobilizing strategies.

Within Canada we are a small network of concerned individuals and organizations linked primarily through a list‐serve and regular communications. While most of our activist work is undertaken through local initiatives – not necessarily identified as ‘PHM activities’ – we share the PHM’s global commitment to comprehensive primary health care and addressing the social, environmental and economic determinants of health. We also coordinate with and cooperate on issues and campaigns as part of the regional North America chapter. Our most recent regional event was a one‐day North America Regional People’s Health Assembly, held in August, in conjunction with the World Social Forum. More recently, PHM‐ Canada made a submission to the Expert Panel Review of Environmental Assessment Processes entitled Why We Need to Remember Health in This Conversation (PHM‐C 2016).

2. Overview: Causes of the Causes

In health terms, economic policies are often considered “the causes of the causes.” While they do not produce disease pathogens directly, they affect health by exposing particular groups of people to more or less risk, particularly but not solely, by their effects on social health determinants and health‐determining processes. Economic policies and trends can determine who gets or doesn’t get income supports and educational opportunities; they can also can determine who is “more likely to binge on alcohol, catch tuberculosis in a homeless shelter, or spiral into depression” (Stuckler and Basu 2013: 139).

Research linking economic policies and trends to health outcomes has suggested cumulative, unequal, and intergenerational effects. In an extensively cited research briefing by the UK organization Psychologists Against Austerity, for example, evidence shows that austerity policies can have damaging health effects intergenerationally with ”further problems … being stored for the future” (Psychologists against Austerity 2015). The latest research has begun to demonstrate plausible models for the epigenetic transmission of health responses to stress across generations, meaning our choices now that undermine the resilience of already vulnerable communities will have a social cost many decades into the future (Franklin et al 2010, Bowers and Yehuda 2016). We will discuss the health impacts of adverse childhood events in more detail later.

Numerous articles in reputable health journals document how the Great Financial Crisis which began in 2008 and the ill‐conceived austerity policies implemented in its wake have affected health both directly and indirectly. Directly, both health system and population health outcomes are affected and recorded in terms such as health system coverage, unmet health needs, health worker to population density, and morbidity, mortality and self‐ reported health status statistics and reports. Less direct effects are the effects of austerity policies on social determinants of health such as housing, income, food security and employment. While both direct and indirect effects can be studied, the PHM‐C suggests that assembling the case of ‘austerity and health’ requires both an understanding of the political economy of health and the kind of data that can provide for a robust analysis of trends.

To that end, the PHM‐C suggests that the more health and socio‐demographic data that is available, and the more detailed those data are (sufficient to allow disaggregation by gender, ethnicity, geographic location, etc.), the better able critical researchers and health activists will be able to track these trends. Accurate and detailed data allows for the production of solid evidence that can challenge the ideological positions often used to justify cuts to wages, programs and services.

3. Neoliberalism, Austerity and Health

According to analyst Richard Seymour, the popular representation of austerity as ‘short term spending cuts’ disguises its connection to the pernicious doctrine of neoliberalism, of which it is part and parcel. He suggests that rather than a simple set of policies to erase short‐term deficits under the auspices of austerity, we are seeing a fundamental neoliberal shift that includes: 1) a drastic long‐term ‘rebalancing’ of economies from consumption toward investment – or “away from wages and towards profits”; 2) growing strength of financial capital, and the corresponding spread of precariousness in all areas of life, most notably precarious work; 3) increased social inequality and stratification within classes; 4) growing fusion of the interests of states with that of corporations; 5) reorganization of the state from welfarist toward penal and coercive orientations; and, 6) dissemination of cultures which value hierarchy, competitiveness and “casual sadism toward the weak” (Seymour 2014, p. 3). Not all of these aspects of the shift are considered here, but are all inextricably linked to societal well‐being and would be useful to keep in mind in our collective analysis.

The PHM’s perspectives on the health crises of neoliberal globalization are set out in Chapter A1 of Global Health Watch 4. The chapter sets out a periodization and typology of three forms of neoliberalism:

  •   Neoliberalism 1.0: Structural adjustment
  •   Neoliberalism 2.0: Financialization
  •   Neoliberalism 3.0: AusterityWith regard to the third phase, austerity, the report notes that:The stunning failure of the 2008 crisis to delegitimize neoliberalism reveals the extent to which public policy had been influenced by the private sector (and primarily financial institutions). Neoliberalism was never about eliminating the state; instead, it was about occupying it, ‘a reconfiguring of both (state and market) so that they become thoroughly enmeshed.’ The ‘austerity agenda’ is merely one of the means of completing this phase of neoliberalism. Its key tenets differ little from those of Neoliberalism 1.0 … One key difference is that these policies are now a global phenomenon affecting high‐income countries as well. Contrary to widely held assumptions, however, this fiscal contraction is still most severe in the developing world.

    and concludes that:

    There is, in fact, robust evidence that every dollar in public spending can generate more than a dollar in economic growth in the ‘real economy’ of production and consumption, by purchasing goods and services that employ people, by employing people who purchase other goods and services, and by signalling stability to the private sector, which is then motivated to undertake its own increased activity. In the post‐[Global Financial Crises] environment, government spending is thought to have an average fiscal multiplier effect of 1.6. Recent estimates of European public spending by sector show much greater multiplier impacts for investments in health, education and environmental protection than, for example, in defence. Other data from Eurozone countries show that governments with higher rates of spending are recovering faster from the 2008 GFC. There is similar evidence available from the United States as well. Emergency unemployment benefits, extended by the US government in the wake of the GFC, are credited with reducing the economic impacts of the recession. These emergency benefits ended in December 2013 for 1.3 million Americans, which one economist estimated is costing the US economy US$1 billion a week, owing to decreased spending by the jobless.

Simply put, government spending in the health and social protection sectors is not only good for health equity and social stability, it is also good for the economy. Even the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have begun to accept the empirical evidence of the shortcomings of austerity, calling for government caution in implementing public sector cutbacks in recognition of the ‘fiscal multiplier’ effect of government spending.

The health‐harmful effects of austerity are being better documented and becoming more widely known. This evidence in itself provides health activists with strong arguments to reject austerity. Even by the standards of very mainstream economics, austerity simply does not make any sense. Say it loudly. Say it often.

4. Austerity and Health in the European Union (EU)

Perhaps more rigorously studied than other regions of the world, studies of the health effects of austerity regimes in the European Union (EU) have suggested that both national austerity policies specifically, and the legal obligation to adopt very low deficits that EU member states face have led to legal requirements for cuts to social spending. When imposed on health systems, these have translated as legal limits on health spending, with consequences for quality and access (Legido‐Quigley and Greer 2016).

As Schrecker and Bambra explained in their 2015 book How Politics Makes Us Sick: Neoliberal Epidemics, cuts to social spending and their effects have been not distributed evenly across societies. In describing the consequences of recent economic and social policies as ‘neoliberal epidemics’ they combined or conflated three categories: a health outcome of rising concern (obesity, one of many outcomes they could have chosen); key social determinants of health outcomes (economic inequality and insecurity); and a policy driver of those social determinants (austerity). Schrecker and Bambra felt that this conflation was justified because (a) an abundant evidence base connects inequality, insecurity and austerity with adverse health outcomes, of which obesity is only one; (b) the phenomena in question exist on such a scale and have spread so quickly across time and space that if they involved pathogens they would be seen as of epidemic proportions; and, (c) the epidemics in question are direct consequences of neoliberal economic and social policies.

Within vulnerable populations of European societies, increased stress due to economic hardship has resulted in marked increases in mental stress and depression (Psychologists Against Austerity 2015) and increased risk of initiating substance (alcohol, smoking, illicit drug) use (Dom et al 2016). Specific attention must be paid to the impact of austerity measures on rates of mental distress and suicide behavior over the life course. Recent research from Scotland has demonstrated that “The risk of suicide increased … for those born between 1960 and 1980, especially for men living in the most deprived areas, which resulted in a rise in age‐standardised rates for suicide among young adults during the 1990s. This is consistent with the hypothesis that exposure to neoliberal politics created a delayed negative health impact.” It is profoundly important to note that the impact of austerity policies were greatest on “men living in the most deprived areas” of Scotland. These path‐breaking findings follow on research which outlined the broader impacts of the neoliberal “political attack” on health in Scotland (Collins and McCartney 2011).

5. Greece: An Extreme Case Study

The effects of austerity on health in Greece have been studied intensely. Although Greece as a country has a socio‐economic context and health system that is distinct from Canada and Saskatchewan, the intensity of both the measures of austerity imposed after 2010, and the clear health effects experienced provide a cautionary tale.

In Greece, the financial crisis of 2008 led to successive rounds of austerity imposed by the Troika (the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) as conditions for loans from the IMF. These conditions included drastic cuts to health care coverage, prevention and treatment for Greek citizens such as: the requirement of a cap of 6% GDP for expenditure on healthcare; reduction by 10% of public health expenditure on pharmaceuticals; cuts to hospital budgets and to harm reduction programs (1/3 of street health programs cut; syringe and condom distribution cuts of 10% and 24% respectively) and cuts to municipal budgets for public health activities (e.g. mosquito spraying programs). Cuts to mental health programs and coverage were also reduced 20% from 2010‐2011 and a further 55% from 2011‐2012 (Kentikelenis et al 2014).

Unsurprisingly, according to the Bank of Greece’s own admission, “the large cuts in public expenditure have not been accompanied by changes and improvements of the health system in order to limit the consequences for the weakest citizens and vulnerable groups of the society” (Bank of Greece 2016). Below is a short compendium of published health effects, trends and outcomes since the establishment of these policies:

  • 35,000 clinician jobs slashed (Stuckler and Basu, 2013); 15% cuts in health worker salaries, 10% cuts in pensions; retirement age has increased from 65 to 67; about 1/3 of graduate nurses will remain unemployed for up to four years upon graduation; high levels of job dissatisfaction and burnout for nursing staff (Simou and Koutsogeorgou 2015). Between 2009‐2014, 120,000 mostly post‐graduate level university‐trained professionals had left Greece, among which were more than 3000 newly graduated doctors (Rodgers and Stylianou 2015).
  •  Increased health inequalities: the proportion of individuals on low incomes reporting unmet need due to cost doubled from 7% in 2008 to 13.9% in 2013, while the unmet need among the richest population quintiles decreased, leading to a ten‐ fold increase in the health gap between the rich and poor (Bank of Greece 2016; Karanikolos and Kentikelenis 2016).
  • The prevalence of major depression increased from 3.3% in 2008 to 6.8% in 2009, to 12.3% in 2013 (Bank of Greece 2016; Economou et al 2016).
  • Infant mortality increased nearly 50%; 19% increase in low‐birthweight babies between 2008 and 2010 (Kentikelenis et al 2014).
  • Increase in chronic diseases increased approximately 24% (Kentikelenis et al 2014).
  • In Southern Greece, a West Nile virus killed 62 people in 2010, and malaria returned after 40 years (due to cuts to mosquito spraying programs).
  • Heroin use increase of 20%; tenfold increase in HIV cases in 2011, largely attributable to infected needles (Stuckler and Basu 2013).

These appalling changes in health outcomes have occurred in a country that is part of the European Union. While we in Saskatchewan will likely never experience the severity of these cuts and the magnitude of these changes in health outcomes, the Greek example clearly suggests the direction of direct health effects due to changes to health care systems, worker, coverage and programs in an austerity regime.

6. Canada

In Canada a steady slow erosion of public services spending starting with Paul Martin’s austerity budgets. In the Harper years, a slowing down of public share of total health spending was accomplished by not increasing the percentage of health spending to GDP ratio, which resulted in health transfers stagnating.

Fast forward: throughout December and January of 2016, after a failed attempt at a federal‐ provincial agreement regarding health transfers, provinces representing smaller populations – including Saskatchewan – began making bilateral agreements on transfers. This form of backroom bilateralism is flawed for several reasons:

  1. According to NDP health critic Don Davies, the side deals are divisive and break the spirit of ‘collaborative federalism’ and “end up posing a threat to the uniformity enshrined in the Canada Health Act.” For the Canadian Medical Association, “A national and strategic approach to improving our health care system remains essential” (Kirkup 2017).
  2. The federal government’s insistence on funding of mental health and home care, rather than allowing provinces to tailor a robust transfer to their own needs, is known globally as the vertical program approach to health funding. Authoritative sources have documented multiple countries where the approach has had a devastating effect on health systems worldwide, contributing to fragmentation of health systems (Kentikelenis et al 2014).
  3. Within Canada, perhaps more fundamentally, the formula for health transfers is   questionable. The Canadian Health Coalition suggests have that“negotiations regarding the health transfer have missed the mark when it comes to addressing the needs of Canadians,” “While the negotiations have been centred on 3% or 6%, no one has been talking about how to ensure the funding can continue to deliver the services Canadians need. Tying the health transfer to GDP means that when the economy tanks and health care needs increase, there will be fewer dollars available.People without jobs and health benefits rely more heavily on the public system to meet their medical needs. We need funding that reflects the needs of Canadians, not the fluctuations of markets” (Canadian Health Coalition 2016).

Ottawa’s share of public health‐care spending, currently about 22 per cent, is set to fall to about 18 per cent within a decade (Yakabuski 2016).

We suggest that these current moves reflect the competitive, divide and conquer doctrine of neoliberalism, and set the stage for provincial governments to roll out and excuse their own policies under the blanket of austerity. As noted above, we in PHM Canada do not believe that clear trends in wealth concentration amongst the richest in the country that have emerged since the last round of austerity twenty years ago in Canada are unrelated to the dampened economic growth rates that we have experienced over the last decade. The most dynamic economies are those that support the spending of the poor and middle classes, who push supplemental income into the marketplace, rather than hoarding it as has been the tendency of the wealthy. These vibrant economies are more likely to support steady employment to a wide swathe of the population, with security and social conditions that support the well‐being and health of the whole community.

7. Policy Interrogative 1: What will be the direct and indirect health consequences if the current downturn in Saskatchewan’s economic situation is of a longer duration than the provincial government believes likely?

Austerity policies are often sold to the public as short‐term measures required to allow governments to manage fiscal pressures during a period of economic downturn, the assumption being that cuts can be reversed once robust economic growth resumes. Whether or not one agrees with this ‘belt‐tightening’ logic, there is another question that must be asked: what if global economic growth rates remain low, commodity prices remain low, and the pressure on the provincial government budget remains elevated?

In its latest economic outlook, released on January 16, the IMF estimates that Canada’s economy grew by just 1.3% in 2016, and is forecast to grow by 1.9% in 2017 and by 2.0 in 2018 – the same rates as for the ‘advanced economies’ as a whole. The IMF estimates just 1.6% annual real GDP growth for the ‘advanced economies’ in 2016, down from 2.1% in 2015 and down from its July 2016 forecast of 1.8%. (IMF 2017) This is primarily the result of the US having experienced the weakest economic recovery after a slump since the 1930s. Maurice Obstfeld, the IMF’s chief economist, has noted that “The crisis has left a cocktail of interacting legacies – high debt overhangs, nonperforming loans on banks’ books, deflationary pressures, low investment, and eroded human capital – that continue to depress potential investment levels” (Coy 2016).

Economic growth in the US is not forecast to rise beyond 2.5% in 2017 or 2018, and the IMF update notes that “there is a wide dispersion of possible outcomes around the projections, given uncertainty surrounding the policy stance of the incoming U.S. administration and its global ramifications.” That is far below the rate of 4% that US President Donald Trump has claimed that his proposed policies would achieve. ‘Trumponomics’ – tax cuts for corporations and the rich, private spending on infrastructure, and quantitative easing – may prove to be no more successful at generating economic growth than Japan’s ‘Abenomics’… although it may boost financial markets and launch a speculative boom. This is the reality of the world economy today.

If global – including Canada’s and Saskatchewan’s – economic growth rates stagnate, and if the province’s corporate taxes and royalty regimes are not increased, will Saskatchewan’s public health care system be slashed in the same way that Trump is planning to slash public health care in the US? What would be the direct and indirect health consequences to the people of the province, especially the least well‐off?

8. Policy Interrogative 2: Might the greatest impact of the provincial government’s austerity agenda be felt in decades to come, as a result of elevated rates of adverse childhood experiences?

There is an enormous body of evidence showing the negative health impacts of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) over the life course. Two key studies in this regard are the Adverse Childhood Experiences study in the US [1] and the Christchurch Human Development Study (CHDS) in New Zealand. [2]

The US ACE’s overall findings were that there is “a strong graded relationship between the breadth of exposure to abuse or household dysfunction during childhood and multiple risk factors for several of the leading causes of death in adults.” (Felitti 1998)

Of specific relevance to economic policy is the ACE study’s publication which examined “the relation between eight types of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and three indicators of worker performance (serious job problems, financial problems, and absenteeism)” later in life: “Strong graded relations were found between the ACE Score (total number of ACE categories experienced) and each measure of impaired worker performance. We found strong evidence that the relation between ACE Score and worker performance was mediated by interpersonal relationship problems, emotional distress, somatic symptoms, and substance abuse” (Anda et al 2004). The authors concluded that: “The long‐term effects of adverse childhood experiences on the workforce impose major human and economic costs that are preventable. These costs merit attention from the business community in conjunction with specialists in occupational medicine and public health.”

The implications of the US ACE study and the CHDS are clear: spending cuts which put additional stress on families can result in children experiencing higher rates of ACEs. Higher rates of ACEs mean not only greater human suffering, but also higher demands on the health care system over the long term.

The alternative is to maintain – or increase – what American researcher Stephanie Seguino has termed social infrastructure investment, which “can in fact be self‐financing. This is because such expenditures, by promoting human well‐being, also raise economy‐ wide productivity, and stimulate development and growth. As a result, this type of spending stimulates an increase in taxable income in the future with which to finance the original costs of the expenditures. Thus, human development expenditures can create fiscal space, an effect that is more easily understood once we adopt a longer time horizon than is typically done” (Seguino 2016).

Seguino notes that research on ACEs “is an instructive example of the type of research that can help economists estimate the costs of “doing nothing” versus investing in ameliorating the lives of children through public spending on mental and physical health care, training for parents, as well as policies that improve the economic well‐ being of families.” She concludes: “These studies demonstrate that there are positive externalities to be had from publicly funding investments in what we might call the social infrastructure – the bedrock on which the entire economy is built. This is not to suggest that the purpose of social spending should be purely instrumental. Rather, it demonstrates that such spending is in fact mischaracterized as merely a cost. Research has demonstrated that social spending is affordable because of its effects on well‐being that have economy‐wide effects.”

Does the provincial government understand the life‐course impacts that austerity policies may have on the most marginalized members of our society? If so, how does it plan to protect the well‐being of vulnerable children as its cuts take effect?

9. Policy Interrogative 3: Will data of sufficient richness to allow detailed monitoring of the impact of austerity on health over time, disaggregated by geography and population cohorts, be made available to the public and to analysts?

Citizens are entitled to accurate and accessible data on the state of their society. Given the scale of the austerity measures which the provincial government may be about to implement, it is imperative that data systems of sufficient richness to allow detailed monitoring of the impact of austerity on health over time.

Recent research in the US has shown how changes in mortality and morbidity patterns have been structured by ethnicity, sex and age with “a marked increase in the all‐cause mortality of middle‐aged white non‐Hispanic men and women in the United States between 1999 and 2013” (Case and Deaton 2015). Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are available at the county level, which allows for nuanced understanding of epidemiological transition. For example:

Will data of sufficient richness to allow detailed monitoring of the impact of austerity on health over time, disaggregated by ethnicity, sex, age and geography, be made available to the public and to analysts? It will be especially important to be able to measure the impact of government austerity measures on indigenous peoples and other vulnerable sections of the population.

10. Conclusion

Austerity involves the redistribution of costs in society onto communities that already bear considerable burdens. With the rollback of the formal care sector, caregiving work – whether it be acute medical care or long‐term disability care – falls to individuals and families, where it is overwhelmingly women who do the work. As the demands of this increased caregiving load often falls onto women, their own health falls under strain. Often the last to seek care for themselves, many may find themselves in emergency situations. Migrant workers who may already feeling pressure from precarity may find their working conditions further eroded, thereby exacerbating chronic conditions, their health further compromised by racist violence whipped up by mythologies of scarcity. Indigenous peoples may find the obligations of health services to them under treaty law compromised by rhetoric about limited resources, when in reality, the long goal of neoliberalism under the guide of austerity is to distribute resources away from the vulnerable towards those with power.


Anda, Robert F., et al. (2004) “Childhood abuse, household dysfunction, and indicators of impaired adult worker performance.” The Permanente Journal 8:1. https://www.thepermanentejournal.org/files/Winter2004/childhood.pdf

Bank of Greece. (2016) Monetary Policy Report 2015‐2016. http://www.bankofgreece.gr/BogEkdoseis/NomPol20152016.pdf Cited at http://www.keeptalkinggreece.com/2016/06/16/austerity‐kills‐bank‐of‐greece‐ reports‐greeks‐health‐deteriorating‐life‐expectancy‐shrinks/

Bowers, Mallory E., and Rachel Yehuda. (2016) “Intergenerational transmission of stress in humans.” Neuropsychopharmacology Reviews 41. http://www.nature.com/npp/journal/v41/n1/abs/npp2015247a.html

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. (2016) The Futility of Austerity: Lessons for Saskatchewan. https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/sasknotes‐ futility‐austerity

Canadian Health Coalition. (2016 December 8) “Health care funding should be determined by need, not market fluctuations.” Media release. http://www.healthcoalition.ca/health‐ care‐funding‐should‐be‐determined‐by‐need‐not‐market‐fluctuations/

Case, Anne, and Angus Deaton. (2015) “Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non‐Hispanic Americans in the 21st century.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112:49. http://www.pnas.org/content/112/49/15078.full.pdf

Collins, Chik, and Gerry McCartney. (2011) “The impact of neoliberal ‘political attack’ on health: The case of the ‘Scottish effect’.” International Journal of Health Services 41:3. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.2190/HS.41.3.f

Couper, Sarah, and Phil Mackie. (2016) ‘Polishing the Diamonds’: Addressing Adverse Childhood Experiences in Scotland. Glasgow: Scottish Public Health Network. https://www.scottishrecovery.net/wp‐content/uploads/2016/06/ACE_Repor_‐ Final_2016.pdf

Coy, Peter. (2016 October 19) “Global markets stumble into a high‐debt, low‐investment 2017: Next year will be mediocre at best.” BloombergBusinessWeek. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2016‐10‐20/global‐markets‐stumble‐ into‐a‐high‐debt‐low‐investment‐2017

Dom, Geert, et al. (2016) “The impact of the 2008 economic crisis on substance use patterns in the countries of the European Union.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 13:1. http://www.mdpi.com/1660‐4601/13/1/122/htm

Economou, Marina, Lily Evangelia Peppou, Kyriakos Souliotis, and Stelios Styliandis. “The impact of the economic crisis in Greece: Epidemiological perspective and community implications.” in: Styliandidis, Stelios (ed.) Social and Community Psychiatry: Towards a Critical, Patient‐Oriented Approach. Springer. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978‐3‐319‐ 28616‐7_24

Felitti, Vincent J., et al. (1998). “The relationship of adult health status to childhood abuse and household dysfunction.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 14:4.


Franklin, Tamara B., et al., (2010) “Epigenetic transmission of the impact of early stress across generations,” Biological Psychiatry 68:5. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2010.05.036

International Monetary Fund. (2017 January 16) World Economic Outlook Update. http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2017/update/01/pdf/0117.pdf

Karanikolos, Marina, and Alexander Kentikelenis. (2016) “Health inequalities after austerity in Greece.” International Journal for Equity in Health 15:1. http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12939‐016‐0374‐0

Kentikelenis, Alexander, Marina Karanikolos, Aaron Reeves, Martin McKee, and David Stuckler. (2014) “Greece’s health crisis: From austerity to denialism.” The Lancet 383:9918. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140‐6736(13)62291‐6

Kirkup, Kirsty. (2017 January 18) “Advocates call for holdout provinces to sign health transfer deals.” Canadian Press. http://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/advocates‐call‐for‐ holdout‐provinces‐to‐sign‐health‐transfer‐deals‐1.3246545

Legido‐Quigley, Helena, and Scott L. Greer. (2016) “Austerity, health, and the Eurozone.” International Journal of Health Services 46:2. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0020731416637158

Monnat, Shannon M. (2015) “Drugs, death and despair in New England.” Communities & Banking Fall 2016. www.bostonfed.org/publications/communities‐and‐ banking/2016/fall/drugs‐death‐and‐despair‐in‐new‐england.aspx

Parkinson, Jane, et al. (in press) “Recent cohort effects in suicide in Scotland: A legacy of the 1980s?” Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. http://jech.bmj.com/content/early/2016/07/18/jech‐2016‐207296.abstract

People’s Health Movement. (2000) The People’s Charter for Health. http://www.phmovement.org/en/resources/charters/peopleshealth

‐‐‐‐‐ (2014) Global Health Watch 4. http://www.ghwatch.org/node/45484

People’s Health Movement – Canada. (2016) Why We Need to Remember Health in This Conversation. Submission to the Expert Panel Review of Environmental Assessment Processes. http://eareview‐examenee.ca/wp‐ content/uploads/uploaded_files/phmceaareviewwhyweneedtorememberhealthinthisc onversation.docx.pdf

Psychologists Against Austerity. (2015) The Psychological Impact of Austerity: A Briefing Paper. https://psychagainstausterity.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/paa‐briefing‐ paper.pdf

Rodgers, Lucy, and Nassos Stylianou. (2015 July 16) “How bad are things for the people of Greece?” BBC News. http://www.bbc.com/news/world‐europe‐33507802

Schrecker, Ted. (2017) Personal communication.

Schrecker, Ted, and Clare Bambra. (2015) How Politics Makes Us Sick: Neoliberal Epidemics. Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Seguino, Stephanie. (2016) “The costs of inequality and the affordability of solutions.” Journal of Human Development and Capabilities 17:3. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19452829.2016.1203029

Seymour, Richard. (2014) Against Austerity: How We Can Fix the Crisis They Made. Pluto Press.

Simou, Effie, and Eleni Koutsogeorgou. (2015) “Quality indicators for primary health care: A systematic literature review.” Journal of Public Health Management & Practice 21:5. http://journals.lww.com/jphmp/Abstract/2015/09000/Quality_Indicators_for_Primar y_Health_Care___A.19.aspx

Stuckler, David, and Sanjay Basu. (2013) The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills. Basic Books.

Yakabuski, Konrad. (2016 March 28) “Provinces will feel the bite when it comes to health care transfers.” The Globe and Mail. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/provinces‐will‐feel‐the‐bite‐in‐health‐ transfers/article29388708/


  1. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/. The full range of publications from the ACE study are available at http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/outcomes.html, helpfully organized by the health outcomes studied.
  2. http://www.otago.ac.nz/christchurch/research/healthdevelopment/index.html. The articles, reports, books and book chapters describing what has been learned from study of the CHDS cohort are listed at http://www.otago.ac.nz/christchurch/research/healthdevelopment/publications/

SGEU on investing in Saskatchewan workers


The “transformational change” promised by the Saskatchewan government in early 2016 has not materialized. Instead, Saskatchewan has primarily witnessed a series of knee-jerk service cuts and austerity measures, driven by desperation to reduce costs by any means possible in the face of a massive budgetary deficit.

An important first step in achieving true transformational change is to recognize that the provincial government’s adversarial attitude towards its public services and public workers, and its increasingly privatized approach to public service delivery, are not benefitting Saskatchewan people. A change in attitude and approach is needed. The Saskatchewan government needs to dispense with the myth that the private sector is inherently more efficient and cost-effective; it needs to recognize that reactionary short-term budget cutbacks do more harm than good; and it needs to emphasize the economic well-being of the province as a whole over the gains of a few businesses.

To that end, following are recommendations for three policy decisions that the Saskatchewan government can make in the immediate term, in order to mitigate the dire economic circumstances facing Saskatchewan and begin reshaping its approach to public service delivery. Each of the points below could be elaborated on considerably (a discussion of the quality of privatized public services, or of the human impacts of layoffs and service cuts, could easily triple the size of this brief), but for the sake of brevity these points are limited to economic considerations.

1.) Keep needed workers on the government payroll, instead of depending on expensive consulting firms.

Over the past several years, the amount spent on consultants’ fees by the government of Saskatchewan has grown at a tremendous and unreasonable rate. From $31 million in 2008, spending on consultants by all government ministries reached $117 million in 2014 – a 276% increase.[1]

That rate of increase has far outstripped the growth of provincial expenditures as a whole. From 2008 to 2014, total government spending rose from $8.04 billion to $12.01 billion, a 49% increase – meaning that consultant spending grew 5.6 times faster than the budget overall.

The great majority of this spending – $101 million of the government-wide $117 million total – was spent by three ministries: Health, Central Services, and Highways and Infrastructure. Spending on consultants soared in these ministries between 2008 and 2014, rising 582% in Health and an astounding 780% in Highways. (Central Services increased its spending by “only” 69%, but as it was by far the biggest user of consultants at the outset, this still accounted for an increase of over $10 million.)

The hiring of consultants by government ministries is not, in and of itself, a problem. Consultants can and do serve a useful purpose. They provide temporary access to individuals with specialized knowledge and skills, in cases where it would be uneconomical to keep those individuals on government’s payroll.

The use of consultants on the scale practiced by the Saskatchewan government in recent years, however, is very problematic. Consultants come at a premium price compared to in-house government staff, so using them instead of hiring government workers is not cost-effective. In two of the most consultant-heavy ministries, however, replacing internal staff with consultants is exactly what happened.

In the Ministry of Highways, consulting costs are primarily directed towards private engineering firms, while the Ministry of Central Services makes extremely heavy use of information technology consultants. These are not occupations where demand is limited or unpredictable – even with the end of Saskatchewan’s nearly decade-long boom, there is no shortage of highway construction and repair projects in need of engineers, or of government computer systems to be maintained and upgraded.

Despite this, a deliberate choice was made to replace existing government engineers and IT professionals with private consultants, according to policies adopted and announced by the government. [2]

This was a costly move for the province. Highway engineering firms, for instance, typically charge between 1.9 and 4.3 times as much as it would cost to have an in- scope ministry employee do the same work, and all indications are that this cost imbalance exists for out-of-scope engineering staff as well. [3] IT consultants are similarly expensive: in a review of contracts that SGEU obtained via a freedom of information request, two major consulting firms billed the province between $100 and $310 per hour per employee.

Unlike in Highways and Central Services, it’s not clear in the Ministry of Health that consultants are taking work directly from in-house staff. It’s not readily apparent what Health receives in exchange for its hefty annual expenditure on consultants (which was nearly $20 million in both 2013 and 2014) – though its four-year, $33 million Lean contract with U.S.-based consultants likely accounts for much of it.

The Lean project raises the prospect that Saskatchewan’s runaway consulting budget isn’t just used to overpay for needed services – it may also be paying for work that Saskatchewan could simply do without. According to a study by the University of Saskatchewan’s School of Public Health, Saskatchewan spent $1,511 for every dollar saved through Lean.[4] The $33 million spent on the Lean consulting contract could clearly have returned better results for Saskatchewan people if it had been used to hire more frontline health workers.

For a government desperate to reduce a billion dollar deficit, cutting back on consultant use is an ideal move. Focusing government expenditure on in-house employees will save money, help avoid expensive mistakes such as Lean, and ensure that public spending ends up in the hands of local workers who will spend it locally – instead of going to the owners and shareholders of consulting firms.

The provincial government has already acknowledged the value in cutting back on consultants. In the provincial government’s 2016-17 mid-year financial update, the Ministry of Highways announced that it would save $700,000 through the “reduced use of consultants” – and notably, the Ministry included this reduction in a list of “initiatives with minimal impact.”

This is an excellent first step – but government can take it much further.


2.) Direct public expenditures towards Saskatchewan workers, not out-of- province corporations

The current Saskatchewan government has worked steadily to redistribute public spending away from local workers, and towards the profits of businesses that are often based outside Saskatchewan and even Canada. This has been accomplished by the contracting out of public services, and in at least one notable case, the partial shutdown of a highly profitable government business operation.

When publicly-run businesses and services are transferred to private-sector control, the first casualty is almost always compensation rates for workers. Especially in jobs requiring lower levels of education and expertise, government employment tends to offer wages and benefits significantly higher than private employers are willing to offer. Accordingly, the first step in the privatization of a government service or agency is usually the dismissal of the existing government workforce, to be replaced by a complement of private employees earning significantly lower wages and receiving greatly reduced benefits.

While the Saskatchewan government has always framed this change exclusively as a savings for the province, it is better understood as a three-party transfer of wealth: money that formerly flowed to workers instead accrues partly to government – in the form of reduced payroll costs – and partly to the new private operator of the service or business, in the form of fees it collects to deliver the service or profits it generates by running the business. The result is that, while government budgets may show some benefit, the province as a whole is left poorer as workers see their spending power drop.

Small-scale examples of this sort of wealth transfer have routinely occurred in Saskatchewan for at least the past decade. Over the past four years, however, the scale of privatization and contracting out – in terms of the dollar value involved and the number of employees affected – has increased greatly. This is evidenced by three major instances of contracting-out, and one major privatization, which have occurred since late 2013.

In December 2013, the provincial government announced that it was closing Saskatchewan’s five publicly-owned hospital laundry facilities, and contracting with Alberta-based K-Bro Linen Services to process the linens at a new private laundry facility in Regina. Shortly before receiving the contract, K-Bro approached a Saskatchewan union to offer a 10-year contract for local workers that would pay between $10.75 and $13.50, compared to the hourly rates of between $15.61and $19.99 then earned by public laundry workers.[5]

When the K-Bro deal was studied by University of Winnipeg economists, they concluded the privatization would result in “a redistribution of income from workers and other residents of the province in favour of a private corporation whose shareholders reside outside of the province,” and that the decision would “decrease income of the residents of Saskatchewan between $14 and $42 million over the next 10 years when compared to public options.”[6]

The privatization of laundry services was followed, in August 2015, by the announcement that a contract to provide food services in correctional facilities had been awarded to the U.K.-owned multinational corporation Compass Group. 62 correctional cooks were laid off, and replaced by a newly-hired group of Compass workers. While government-employed corrections cooks generally earned wages in the $20-$30 range dependent on experience, Compass posted ads for replacement jobs with wages starting at $13.03 or $14.25.

The Saskatchewan government’s next major privatization initiative was to shut down a large segment of the Crown corporation responsible for retail liquor sales, while inviting select private businesses to take the place of publicly-owned liquor stores (as well as allowing them to open 11 new greenfield private stores.) 39 public liquor stores are now slated to be shut down as soon as private replacements are up and running, a move that will cost 116 full-time equivalent jobs as store and head office staff are laid off.[7]

By far the largest beneficiary of liquor privatization has been Nova Scotia-based Sobeys Inc., which was given licences to open nine stores in Saskatchewan’s most profitable locations. Alberta-based Liquor Stores NA and B.C.-based Metro Liquor were also awarded highly-profitable locations in Regina and Saskatoon. While Sobeys, Metro, and Liquor Stores NA do not advertise their pay rates, it is a safe assumption to conclude that their Saskatchewan retail employees will earn far below the $18.99 per hour offered at the bottom of the public liquor retailer’s pay scale.

Less than two months after handing out the licenses for new private liquor stores, the Saskatchewan government announced a contracting-out plan that would cost even more public jobs. On January 12, the province posted a tender to provide janitorial services in 98 government buildings, a move that would put 251 government-employed cleaners out of work. While almost all of those workers occupy the lowest position on the public service pay scale, there is still plenty of room for their wages to fall in an industry that frequently pays minimum wage or just above.[8] Such a cut to pay for cleaning staff would, of course, be necessary in order to allow a private firm to turn a profit off of its contract with government.

There is a clear pattern in the examples above. When government decides to privatize or contract out, the immediate effect is always a sharp drop in the earnings of the workers providing the service, with a significant portion of the former wage costs absorbed as profits by the business now in control. What makes this especially regrettable is that, as shown in the examples above, often these profits do not even accrue to Saskatchewan companies. Money that formerly went to local workers instead leaves the province entirely – it flows to K-Bro and Liquor Stores NA in Alberta, to Metro Liquor in BC, to Sobeys in Nova Scotia, and to the Compass Group head offices in the U.K.

Throwing public employees out of decent-paying jobs, and replacing them with private- sector workers earning the lowest wages possible while businesses pocket the difference is not a sound plan for economic recovery. Local workers spend money locally; the decent wages paid by Saskatchewan’s public sector go towards supporting local business, and are partially returned to government through income and sales tax. When privatization forces workers to accept poverty-level wages, their economic loss is felt through reduced sales for business, reduced tax receipts for government, and increased costs for public support services such as social assistance payments.

Privatizing and contracting out the work of government employees will do nothing to improve Saskatchewan’s economy. Public sector employment is a bulwark of stable, decent-paying work that can offset the downturn in the resource sector by providing a continued revenue stream for local businesses and local governments. The best course of action for the province’s economy is to maintain or even increase public sector employment levels – a move that would benefit Saskatchewan as a whole, rather than a select few out-of-province corporations.

3.) Increase social investment, and realize greater savings in other areas of government.

As the extent of Saskatchewan’s financial trouble became apparent, some of the first government services targeted for cutbacks were those that support the vulnerable and disadvantaged.

In the 2016-17 budget, funding was cut for the Buffalo Narrows Community Correctional Centre, a low-security facility that helped offenders find work and reintegrate into the community. Soon after the budget came more funding cuts: to the Northern Teacher Education Program, which supports and educates northerners seeking to become teachers in local communities; to the SAID program, which provides funding to support disabled citizens; and to the Lighthouse, a Saskatoon homeless shelter, among others.

These cuts come on top of longstanding resource shortages in other government- funded agencies that support the disadvantaged. Understaffing in the Ministry of Social Services has created enormous difficulty in effectively delivering income support and child protection services. Community-based organizations (CBOs) that support people living with disabilities and other vulnerable groups are perpetually short of funding. A chronic shortage of space in correctional facilities has meant rehabilitation programs are cancelled, as classrooms and gymnasiums are turned into makeshift dormitories.

While each service cutback reduces government expenditure by a small amount, they are unlikely to deliver savings in anything but the extremely short term. The same applies to chronic under-resourcing of support agencies like the CBOs and the Ministry of Social Services – while it may help keep individual Ministry budgets low, the service gaps it creates cause problems that government will ultimately be on the hook to address by other means.

The effects of this refusal to invest in the disadvantaged and vulnerable are apparent throughout Saskatchewan. Homeless individuals – who are denied access to shelters that no longer have the funding to accommodate them – instead spend their nights in police holding cells or end up in emergency rooms suffering from the effects of exposure to harsh weather. Lacking access to any meaningful rehabilitation programs, inmates who have completed their sentences quickly re-offend and return to the correctional system. In the North, poverty and a sense of hopelessness are exacerbated by a shortage of local teachers to serve as role models in elementary and secondary schools, and by a lack of higher education opportunities for those who do graduate.

The bottom line is that there is no financial logic in cutting funding for services that support those most in need of support. Disadvantaged and vulnerable individuals will eventually present a cost to government in some fashion – the only questions are what the extent of that cost is, and what form it comes in. If government wants to limit the costs of medical treatments, legal proceedings, and incarceration, then it needs to commit to funding supports that help people avoid contact with the medical, legal, and correctional systems – such as education, inmate rehabilitation, support payments subsidized housing, or assistance finding employment.

Taken as a whole, the costs of preventing harm are inevitably lower than attempting to address harm after the fact. The Saskatchewan government needs to accept this fact, and adjust its budgetary decisions accordingly – by increasing, rather than cutting, funding for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our province, and realizing savings in other, costlier, areas of government.


[1] Calculated from the government’s answers to Written Question 585 from the 4th Session, 27th Legislature. The increase in consultants spending has been calculated multiple times, with some variation in the results. The Provincial Auditor, using data from the government’s MIDAS database, calculated an increase of 228% between 2008-09 and 2013-14. The Saskatchewan NDP, also using figures from Written Question 585, arrived at an increase of 303% from 2007-08 to 2014-15. The consensus seems to be that expenditure on consultants has doubled or tripled under the Saskatchewan Party government’s term in office.

[2] Joe Couture, “Highways work goes private; Will lead to Regina, Saskatoon lab closures.” Regina Leader-Post, p. A1, April 11 2012; “Simon Enoch, “The Wrong Track: A Decade of Privatization in Saskatchewan.” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, March 2015, p. 16.
[3] These comparisons use the “fully-burdened” cost public employees, which factors in benefit and pension costs, etc., as well as wage costs. See: Taylor Bendig, “Road to Ruin: Use of costly highways consultants has skyrocketed.” Behind the Numbers, March 17, 2015.

[4] “New report ‘final straw’ for Lean, Sask. NDP says.” CBC News, Feb. 1, 2016.

[5] “Backgrounder on K-Bro Linen Systems: The new provider of hospital linens in Saskatchewan.” Canadian Union of Public Employees, Dec. 17, 2013, pp. 3-4.
[6] Hugh Grant, Manish Pandey and James Townsend. Long-term Gain, Long-term Pain: The Privatization of Hospital Laundry Services in Saskatchewan. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, December 2014, p.5.

[7] Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan Hansard for Nov. 22, 2016, p. 1442

[8] The federal government’s Job Bank, which uses Statistics Canada data to provide wage information by community, lists “low” wages for janitors at $11.00 per hour in Regina and Saskatoon, and at the minimum wage of $10.72 in smaller centres such as Prince Albert and Melfort.

Tanya Andrusieczko on gender equality in policy-making


Women disproportionately fare worse than men under conditions of austerity.

Of course, women aren’t a unified group with internally coherent identities, and women don’t experience inequalities in the same ways. Indigenous women, women of colour, new immigrant and refugee women, settler women, queer women, trans women and non-binary folks, women with disabilities, working class women face various forms of inequality and have different priorities, challenges, and ambitions.

Broadly speaking, gender-based social and economic inequalities are exacerbated by austerity. When the government makes cuts to education, affordable housing, health care, social service, and legal aid, care is re-privatized, women’s unpaid labour is entrenched as a normal course of action, and conditions of poverty and precarious labour are intensified. The unpaid work required to make up for these services puts women in a position of having to pick up the pieces, often at a huge cost.

In Saskatchewan, the gendered implications of austerity are substantial. This province has some of the highest child poverty rates in the country, at 24.6%. On reserves, they’re a staggering 69%. This ongoing colonial legacy means that cuts to health, education, affordable housing, social services, and legal aid only intensify the demands on family networks, and women in particular.

We cannot accept gender inequality in this province.

We need an intersectional governance approach that builds social infrastructure, rather than undermines it. We need a progressive childcare strategy and equitable parental leave structures; a poverty reduction plan and a housing strategy; uninhibited access to health care – including reproductive and sexual health – in the North and rural communities; equal funding for on-reserve education and child and family services; provincial transportation networks that improve access to services; universal access to higher education; flexible job training programs; compassionate and responsive elder care and long-term care; and a $15 minimum wage.

But how can we ensure such goals are consistently pursued at the highest decision-making levels?

One transformative possibility is to create a permanent, independent office of gender mainstreaming that ensures that principles of intersectional gender equality are present in all legislation, regulations, and policies. Gender mainstreaming, an approach to building in gender equality lenses into government offices, units, and agencies, would ensure that all governmental decisions (on policy, budgets, taxation, and so on) promote gender equality.

Sweden serves as a great example of a jurisdiction where gender mainstreaming has been supported and implemented in all aspects of governmental work. In the 1990s, the government of Sweden passed a bill that “clarified the responsibility of the government agencies to implement the Government’s gender equality policy in their activities.” Gender policy expert groups and committees work with all government agencies to shape the ways that policy and regulations respond to the overall goal of ensuring “that women and men have the same power to shape society and their own lives.” (Check out Sweden’s gender mainstreaming manual and this video of the ways that gender mainstreaming has affected services like snow ploughing.)

An intersectional, outcome-oriented approach to gender mainstreaming would demand interventions in those policies and laws that perpetuate this province’s colonial past and present, and class-, race-, sexuality-based inequalities. These discussions need to happen at each step of the policy- and regulation-creation process. If every governmental agency and office were accountable to a mandate of gender equality alongside its other work, maybe we would see an end to austerity logic as a default approach to deficit reduction.

Poverty Free Saskatchewan on a Transformative Approach to Poverty Elimination

The Government of Saskatchewan’s announcement following the budget of 2016 to launch a “transformational” agenda in response to a massive deficit was a puzzling and confusing political move. What exactly did Premier Wall have in mind? What magnitude of change was the government considering? Transform has two different meanings, “to change the outward form or appearance” or “to change in character or condition/potential”. (Webster’s) Within a few months and after several government announcements it has become clear that the government is intent on changing the character of governance in the province.

Poverty Free Saskatchewan (PFS) has been advocating for a systematic approach to poverty elimination since 2009, identifying six pillars for addressing poverty: housing access and affordability; income security for vulnerable groups; education, training and early childhood learning and development; enabling and rewarding work and participation in our communities; improving access to and quality of services for low income people; and, promoting health and preventing illness. PFS has also been advocating for a provincial legislative Act on poverty elimination.

Aboriginal children experience poverty at much high rates than others in the province. Of the 55,000 children living in poverty in 2010 31,000 were First Nations and Métis. How will the province ever transform their lives unless Indigenous people are fully included in anti-poverty planning and response?

PFS proposes that the government missed a huge opportunity to undertake positive transformational change when it failed to move forward on the anti-poverty file. The government ignored some important recommendations of the Advisory Group on Poverty Reduction and has not come forward with a real poverty reduction plan, instead implementing cutbacks contrary to poverty reduction. Yet the provincial government says it is committed to implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action. PFS is calling on government to transform its approach to poverty and include more initiatives that address Indigenous child poverty. If the government were to construct a well thought out anti-poverty plan and included the TRC Calls to Action then it would be finally on its way to reaching its poverty reduction target. If it just gives lip service to TRC, anti- poverty gains will not be made.

Saskatchewan Government Poverty Reduction Strategy
In December 2014, the government of Saskatchewan initiated the development of a Poverty Reduction Strategy and appointed an Advisory Group on Poverty Reduction (AGPR) to guide the process. The AGPR was mandated “to review past and ongoing initiatives that address poverty, identify key gaps and opportunities to reduce the incidence of poverty in Saskatchewan, and make recommendations to government to inform the future development of a Poverty Reduction Strategy.” (1) From the outset, it was clear that the AGPR was not empowered to produce a poverty reduction plan, instead it was to merely inform the government about identifying ways forward. Most importantly though, the AGPR report did recommend that the government utilize a comprehensive, integrated approach, and create an implementation plan with targets, timelines and a budget aimed at reducing poverty. This is an important and necessary structural approach to attacking poverty; moreover, this template has been put forward many times in the past by various community groups and academics, including Poverty Free Saskatchewan.

The AGPR report also acknowledged the recommendations of the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The AGPR report stated, “Respecting the dignity of First Nations and Métis people includes addressing the consequences of colonialism, residential schools and ongoing racism.” Recognition of the TRC’s Final Report was an important step forward by AGPR and identifies ways in which the provincial government could support the TRC report’s recommendations.

The government reviewed the recommendations of the AGPR report and in February 2016 released the Saskatchewan Poverty Reduction Strategy (SPRS).

The Minister of Social Services at that time, Donna Harpauer, in the introduction to the SPRS report, set forth the long-term poverty outcome of the government. She stated, “We have set an ambitious goal to reduce the number of people who experience poverty for two years or more by 50 per cent by the end of 2025.” (2) The report, however, failed to provide a working definition of “people who experience poverty for two years or more”; nor did it identify any methodology for establishing this metric and calculating it on an ongoing basis. Thus, one of the key measurements of progress toward poverty reduction is just a vague political promise.

Under housing and homelessness, the SPRS recommends no specific targets for the increase of social housing that would be needed by 2020.

The early childhood development and childcare section does not provide any actual numbers of child care spaces required or how to develop a high quality affordable child care system.

The education section puts much emphasis on increasing the number of students attaining a grade 12. This has been a government target for many years. Increasing investment in public, Catholic and band schools to help attain this target is long overdue. Also, there is little emphasis on a job creation strategy, or how education and employment targets for First Nations could be improved.

The health and food security recommendations lack targets and justification for the limited measures identified.
Although the SPRS report identifies six key components of a poverty plan, it does not identify any changes to government structures to carry out the policy and program changes necessary to affect the lives of those most affected by poverty. The report suggests an independent review body but does not indicate whether this work could be accomplished by a task force, a special poverty office or a new government department. Without a pathway to move the recommendations forward they can easily by lost in the complex relations among ministries.

Unfortunately to date an actual plan, which is needed to implement this Strategy, has yet to see the light of day. Instead of an expansion of social and economic benefits and protections we are seeing announcements of broad-based funding cuts to social, health and education programs that support our most vulnerable citizens.

Addressing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action
In December 2015 after six years of study and deliberation of the history and legacy of Canada’s residential school system the Truth and Reconciliation Commission tabled its report along with 94 Calls to Action. The report estimated that 3200 (5%-7%) of enrolled students enrolled in the residential school system died from tuberculosis, malnutrition and other diseases resulting from poor conditions. Separation of Indigenous children from their parents resulted in lifelong negative impacts on both children and parents and destabilized indigenous culture for generations. While its recommendations are comprehensive, the Commission was set up to address the damages related to residential schools. First Nations people were provided some compensation for those harms. The TRC could not recommend any damages for other impacts of colonialism such as loss of land, loss of control over resources or any other losses at odds with Canadian sovereignty. (3)

The TRC urges all levels of government, federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal to work together to change policies and programs in a concerted effort to repair the harm caused by residential schools. Call to Action 53 recommended establishment of an independent national oversight body to monitor, evaluate and report to Parliament on implementation progress to ensure government accountability. To date no such body has been created thus it is difficult to ascertain what implementation progress is being made by the federal or provincial governments, despite all the verbal commitments. The Assembly of First Nations promised to develop an action toolkit and a progress report to present at the 2016 annual general gathering. Prime Minister Trudeau announced a five-point plan in response to the TRC including: setting up a public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, lifting of the two per cent cap on funding First Nations programs, making significant investments in education, implementing all 94 recommendations including the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples and finally, agreeing to meet with the four First Nations leaders after the final report was tabled. The public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women is underway but progress on other Calls to Action is unclear.

The TRC Calls to Action related to the justice system require wide ranging responses from the provincial government that are closely correlated with poverty elimination. These include “eliminating the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in custody, provide sufficient and stable funding to implement and evaluate community sanctions that will provide realistic alternatives to imprisonment”, address and prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, “ work with Aboriginal communities to provide culturally relevant services to inmates on issues such as substance abuse, family and domestic violence, overcome the experience of having been sexually abused” and finally, commit to eliminate the over-representation of Aboriginal youth in custody over the next decade. (4)

Call to Action 55 requests all levels of government to provide annual reports on such indicators as number of Aboriginal children in care, compared with non-Aboriginal, reasons for apprehension and total spending on preventative and child care services, comparative funding for education of First Nations children on and off reserves, educational income and outcome attainments of Aboriginal people, and progress on closing the gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities with respect to a number of health indicators such as: infant mortality, maternal health, suicide, mental health, addictions, life expectancy, birth rates, infant and child health issues, chronic diseases, illness and injury incidence and the availability of appropriate health services. (5)

There is much overlap between the TRC funding, monitoring and reporting demands and what would be automatically evaluated and rolled up into a high quality, well integrated anti-poverty plan.

Canadian Premiers voiced their support for the Call to Action, including Premier Wall. The Government of Saskatchewan’s media release and web page stated “the government committed to meeting this task (TRC Calls to Action) through the adoption of practical solutions. We will create a multi-ministry team to carefully examine this report and the full report once released. We will look to build on successes, such as teaching Treaty and First Nations and Métis histories in the classroom and the Joint Task Force on improving education and employment outcomes for First Nations and Métis people. The recommendations and the stories conveyed throughout the Commission’s work will be critical to informing Saskatchewan’s future efforts toward reconciliation.” (6)
The Saskatchewan government’s web page sets out the inter-ministry strategies to implement the TRC and highlights the following achievements:

Joint Task Force (JTF) on Improving Education and Employment Outcomes for First Nations and Métis People

  • The government has made good progress in addressing the JTF’s recommendations; many of those recommendations are echoed in the work of the TRC.

What does good progress mean? To what extent has the gap closed between Aboriginal education an employment outcomes and non-Aboriginal employment and education outcomes?
How has the Saskatchewan Poverty Reduction Strategy addressed the poverty of Indigenous people?

  •  The Advisory Group on Poverty Reduction heard from a wide range of community stakeholders, including persons from First Nations and Métis organizations.
  • The advisory group’s recommendations include the principle of respecting the dignity of First Nations and Métis people, which also includes addressing the consequences of colonialism, residential schools and ongoing racism.
  • The recommendations also include enhancing early childhood services and educational and employment outcomes for First Nations and Métis people.
  • Although, the government has produced the Saskatchewan Poverty Reduction Strategy, but a real implementation plan has not been released.
  • Unfortunately, the recommendations of the AGPR have not been fully recognized. The government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy did not accept AGPR’s more stringent poverty reduction target; it has not established a basic income pilot project; it has not supported living wage initiatives, nor has it advanced new policies and programs to overcome structural causes of poverty such as assessing health outcomes in all new anti-poverty policy development.


Saskatchewan Disability Strategy

  •  A key recommendation in the Disability Strategy is to ensure that First Nations, Métis and Inuit people experiencing disability are well-supported regardless of their home communities.
  • Responding to this recommendation will require discussion with the federal government and First Nations.

In 2016, unfortunately we have seen funding cutbacks to benefits programs. While some people who previously received benefits will continue on, others who are new to programs, or change housing locations, will not receive the same level of benefits. These include cuts to: the Saskatchewan Assistance Plan, Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability, the Seniors Income Plan, and the Saskatchewan Employment Supplement. In addition, the Saskatchewan government is now counting the federal Guaranteed Income Supplement as income after the age of 65

Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan

  • The Ministry of Health is leading the development of cross-ministry implementation of the 10-year Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan.
  • One of the plan’s key recommendations is to partner with First Nations and Métis people in the planning and delivery of mental health and addictions services, to better meet community needs.
  • This is one of 10 recommendations that have been prioritized to take place over the next four years.

Has the government provided any monitoring, funding, reporting of mental health outcomes? Are there any government reports on TRC Calls to Action 33-38?

Child Welfare Transformation Strategy

  • The Child Welfare Transformation Strategy has three themes:
    1) Work differently with First Nations and Métis people
    2) Increase prevention and support for families; and
    3) Renew the child welfare system.
  • The Ministry of Social Services is committed to working differently with First Nations and Métis people to provide the best possible child welfare services and outcomes for children and families.
  • First Nations and Métis people have been engaged in the strategy and will continue to be engaged as the child welfare system is transformed and continually improved.
  • The focus of Saskatchewan’s current practice is to strengthen the family home to support children to remain safely at home and/or to safely return home from being “in care” with the ministry.
  • A review of child welfare legislation has taken place with new legislation anticipated in 2017.

The Child Advocate and others have documented many issues related to the child care system in Saskatchewan as it relates to First Nations children.
A recent study by the University of Regina, Department of Social Work revealed for the first time the extent of child poverty among Indigenous and other Saskatchewan children. (7)

  •  For children in First Nations families, the poverty rate in 2010 was 59.0 per cent. Among those families indicating they were Métis, 25.9 per cent were in low-income households. In 2010, of the 55,000 poor children in Saskatchewan, 31,000 were in First Nations or Métis families.
  •  The child poverty rate for children in immigrant families in 2010 was 27.1 per cent and for those in non-immigrant visible minority families was 19.3 per cent.
  •  Depth of poverty was greater in the Prairie provinces than in other Canadian provinces. In Saskatchewan in 2014, the income for one-half of families in poverty was at least $12,000 to $13,000 below the poverty lines.

Transformational Opportunity
It is abundantly clear that if the province wishes to create a positive future for all we must greatly reduce the numbers of children in poverty and particularly indigenous children. The TRC Calls to Action demonstrate that redressing the legacy of residential schools and advancing reconciliation will only occur if the root causes of poverty are addressed. The AGPR report suggested some ways forward; however, the government continues to ignore the report’s most important recommendations.

Poverty Free Saskatchewan’s publication Budget 2016: Transformation or Austerity? documents the negative effects of the government’s diminishing social expenditures, which inevitably create increased social exclusion and inequality and higher longer term costs to government. Most recently the government has decided to centralize all the regional health authorities and has recommended amalgamation of Saskatchewan’s school boards creating confusion and disruption and an unknown number of job losses. Governance is about how power is distributed and shared at the provincial and local levels and how accountability is rendered. Therefore, a redistribution of more power to the provincial government at the expense of the regions and local communities will produce minuscule savings and merely create more disaffection toward the current provincial government system.

Since 2009 Poverty Free Saskatchewan has advocated for a poverty elimination plan and since 2014 for a Saskatchewan Anti-Poverty Act which entrenches the human rights the province is committed to in the United Nations International Covenant. Such legislation is the essential ingredient of an effective anti-poverty plan and would allow us to once again play a leadership role in pioneering progressive social legislation. Most importantly it would provide needed protections for our most vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens, especially children in poverty.
Real transformation would occur if the government would undertake the following:

  • Pass legislation to establish an Anti-Poverty Act.
  • Set up a multi-discipline anti-poverty office and develop a comprehensive and integrated anti-poverty plan that takes account of the TRC calls to action.
  • Implement a multi-year plan, with a dedicated budget, that is in full compliance with the Anti-Poverty Act, with a dedicated budget and reporting of annual progress to the legislature.

1. AGPR report http://publications.gov.sk.ca/documents/17/87896-Poverty-Reduction-Strategy.pdf
2. SPRS report Minister’s statement http://publications.gov.sk.ca/documents/17/87896-Poverty-Reduction-Strategy.pdf
3. http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/index.php?p=890
4. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls to Action http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/index.php?p=890
5. Ibid.
6. Premier’s Statement on TRC Calls to Action https://www.saskatchewan.ca/government/news-and-media/2015/june/05/commission-report
7. Child and Family Poverty in Saskatchewan 2016 http://campaign2000.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/SASKReportCard2016.pdf

PFS is a network of individuals and organizations working to eliminate poverty in the province since 2009. The province has many other individuals, businesses and community organizations working to alleviate the harmful effects of poverty and address the root causes of poverty. Working together more closely, we can eliminate poverty.
Poverty has serious consequences. The Poverty Costs campaign estimated spin off costs of poverty to be $3.8 billion, about five per cent of the province’s gross domestic product.
The guiding principles underpinning PFS’s anti-poverty strategy are:
• A focus on vulnerable groups;
• Community involvement carried out through meaningful province-wide engagement processes that hears from all vulnerable groups and includes them in planning and implementation of strategies and programs;
• Anti-poverty targets timelines for achievement and performance indicators to be met; and
• Adoption of government accountability mechanisms that are clearly set out in a Saskatchewan Anti-Poverty Act.

PFS’s strategies to eliminate poverty were developed and have been communicated to the public and government. These strategies must cut across key issue areas and be supported by investments in the following:
• Housing access and affordability;
• Income security for vulnerable groups;
• Innovation in education, training and early childhood learning programs;
• Enabling and rewarding work and participation in our communities including support for a living wage;
• Improving access to quality services for low income people; and
• Promoting health and preventing illnesses among vulnerable groups, including food security initiatives.

Poverty Free Saskatchewan, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Website: www.povertyfreesask.ca

E-mail: povertyfreesask@gmail.com

Transforming Policing by Colonialism No More and Voices for Justice and Police Accountability


If we are serious about decolonization in Saskatchewan, then the role of police in targeting, harassing, assaulting, incarcerating, and disrespecting Indigenous people – as well as the low-income, disabled, and marginalized – must be addressed. Too many people experience the police as a violent, racist force in our cities, yet this province lags behind when it comes to building a movement to address the impunity and inflated budgets that city police services continue to enjoy.

Carding and Street Checks

The police practice of targeting racialized people for “random” ID checks and harassment has been the subject of mass opposition and front-page reporting in eastern metropolises like New York City and Toronto, where Black Lives Matter and activists like Desmond Cole have doggedly pressed the issue and won legislative reforms. Until recently, police practices of carding and street checks have received comparatively less attention in Saskatchewan and the prairie provinces. However, a national investigation published in the Globe and Mail August 17 2015 revealed that on a per capita basis, police card five times as many people in Saskatoon as they do in Toronto (Regina Police Service, meanwhile, refused to offer any of their data for the Globe investigation). The overwhelming majority of people subjected to this unconstitutional and arbitrary authority in prairie cities are Indigenous.

We call for the abolition to the practice and policy of carding and street checks by police in Saskatchewan.


The “Unwanted Guest” Initiative

The “Unwanted Guest” initiative is a collaborative project of the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District and the Regina Police Service that was introduced in May 2015. Based on legislation in the 2009 provincial Trespass to Property act, the policy allows business owners and police to target panhandlers, the homeless and low-income, and people with mental health or addiction issues, who are identified and placed in a police database. Once in the database there is no mechanism for appeal and individuals are subject to heavy ticketing for failing to adhere to their banishment.

The “Unwanted Guest” initiative has been used by police in place of the “Tag Day” anti-panhandling bylaw that was repealed in 2009. Business owners and the police are able to impose and enforce the ban with impunity. Those targeted have no formal recourse other than to file a complaint with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. Meanwhile, existing laws already prohibit shoplifting and violent behaviour.

The “Unwanted Guest” initiative reveals how the propertied business class uses the police as an institution of social cleansing and social control in violation of the Charter rights of vulnerable and oppressed peoples, many of whom are simply seeking a warm place to be or enough money to live.

We call for the “Unwanted Guest” initiative and any similar policies in other cities to be repealed and for the database of targeted individuals to be deleted from police records.

Oversight and Accountability

The fact there is no credible form of civilian oversight for police services in Saskatchewan is an affront to basic notions of democracy. Police are the only people permitted to move through our communities with open guns and other weapons and with the power to arrest, detain, and shoot people. Yet, they are subject to less scrutiny and oversight than schoolteachers or bus drivers.

Take the case of Constable Robert Power in Regina. Constable Power lied at least three times in official police records about his assault of Eddie Stonechild while on duty in 2012. It was only after a judge ordered the release of security camera footage in 2015 that we could see Constable Power kicking Eddie Stonechild –  a frail, unarmed, and homeless Indigenous man –  in the torso. The kick knocked Stonechild backwards and he smashed the back of his head on a concrete barrier. Constable Power’s lies were revealed and he was convicted of assault. However, the provincial oversight body for police in Saskatchewan, The Saskatchewan Police Commission, ruled that Constable Power should be reinstated and so he continues to serve as a police officer in Regina despite his lies and his conviction for assaulting a homeless Indigenous man while on duty. In August 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed Power’s appeal of his assault conviction.

When community members raised this issue in a presentation before Regina City Council vote on the police budget in December 2015, Mayor Michael Fougere, who chairs the Board of Police Commissioners, repeatedly interrupted them and told them they were not permitted to even mention the name “Eddie Stonechild” before council. This public display of censorship in which the chair of the Board of Police Commissioners sought to silence and intimidate those calling for police accountability demonstrates how little credibility present oversight mechanisms have.

Or take the case of Regina resident Simon Moccasin, who was racially profiled, physically assaulted, and unlawfully detained by Regina police on December 10, 2014.  Directly afterward, Mr. Moccasin was discouraged by RPS personnel from filing a formal complaint. After a year of relentless grassroots organizing on the issue that included demonstrations, a town hall event, and interventions by activists at meetings of the Board of Police Commissioners, the Public Complaints Commission finally issued a report in response to Moccasin’s formal complaint.
Commissioner Brent Cotter’s January 5, 2015 report validated and confirmed every detail of Moccasin’s account of events, including his unlawful assault and detention, but, crucially, it refused to comment on the primary issue of racial profiling. In addition to finding that Moccasin was assaulted and detained without justification, the PCC report found that:

  • the two officers involved omitted their violent use of force in their official incident report;
  • the Watch Commander with whom Moccasin attempted to file a complaint “did not take appropriate action”;
  • the officers involved were “not sufficiently familiar with the limitations of police authority… and it is suspected this knowledge deficiency is widespread.”


Despite the findings of the report, neither the two officers, the Watch Commander, nor any of their superiors received any discipline. When Moccasin tried to arrange a direct meeting with the mayor and chair of the police board, Michael Fougere, to discuss the findings of the PCC report, Fougere declined.

Most people who file complaints with the Public Complaints Commission never receive any response but a form letter informing them that there will be no further investigation into their complaint. For every complaint that is dismissed without investigation, there are many more police victims – the vast majority – who never file a complaint.

The current system of Boards of Police Commissioners mandated in the provincial Police Act merely provides an additional public relations service for municipal police, offering nothing in the way of accountability or credible oversight. Boards of Police Commissioners function as boosters and sycophants for police chiefs and make a mockery of civilian oversight.

And how can you have oversight and accountability without transparency? University of Regina journalism professor Patricia Elliott has written that the Regina Police Service may be the least transparent and most opaque police organization in Canada. Writing in January 2016, Elliott revealed that that the RPS came dead last among police services in Newspaper Canada’s Annual Freedom of Information Audit for 2015.

A third recent case in Regina further highlights systemic shortcomings in police responsiveness and transparency. Regina resident Nadine Machiskinic, an Indigenous woman and mother of four, died from injuries sustained from a 10-story fall down the laundry chute of the Delta Hotel in the middle of the night on January 10, 2015. The police – called 60 hours after Machiskinic was found by staff – told the family there was no surveillance footage from the hotel, Yet, more than a year later footage was released. Toxicology reports were delayed and investigators were shuffled. The family has struggled to access updates on the investigation from police. Reports that Machiskinic had pulled the fire alarm and banged on hotel doors seeking help appear to have been dismissed. In fact, police told the family they had ruled out foul play almost a year before a coroner’s report was even released. A Coroner’s Inquest has now been set for March 2017 and the family is raising money on its own in order to pay for legal representation during the inquest as they seek justice in the face of systemic barriers.

Machiskinic’s case highlights a further issue that is well known about police culture: the prevalence of misogyny and sexism. Women in Saskatchewan, and Indigenous women in particular, often fear and distrust the police because of their own experiences with police or because of the experiences of women they know. As autonomous grassroots groups, we have been approached by numerous women expressing concern and dissatisfaction about their encounters with police and with how police investigations are handled.
We call for the provincial Police Act to be amended such that the current regime of Boards of Police Commissioners be replaced with credible, independent, arms-length Civilian Oversight Committees charged with the mandate and the resources to critically monitor police practices and conduct.

Such Civilian Oversight Committees would monitor the police and consider public complaints from the standpoint of protecting the public safety of all residents, especially those most vulnerable to police abuse. We know that today, as throughout Saskatchewan’s history, the police are more likely to be a source of fear and distrust among vulnerable communities than a source of safety and support. And we know that this is not by accident.

Funding and Budgets

Despite persistently high levels of social inequality, poverty, and homelessness in our cities, gigantic annual police budgets continue to crowd out resources for public housing, mental health and wellness services, income supports, and other community priorities like public transit.

It has become standard practice for city councils to approve large budget increases for city police year after year, without any discussion of whether more policing is the best use of public dollars. In 2015, four of the top 10 City of Regina earners were on the police payroll, with then Chief of Police Troy Hagen in the top spot earning more than $256,000 a year. This was the same chief who in December 2015, just days after RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson acknowledged the presence of racists in the RCMP, denied that there any police with racist views in Regina.
As a profession and an institution, the police are not trained or equipped to address the most pressing social needs within our communities, yet they continue to consume the lion’s share of city budgets. Furthermore, in the midst of major public sector budget cuts and scores of frontline layoffs in health care and education, in November 2016 the province allocated nearly $10 million to hire 81 more police officers in Regina and Saskatoon.

A large proportion of the incidents police are called to address have their root causes in inadequate mental health supports, systemic poverty, and addiction. Constantly ramping up the number of uniformed officers on the streets does nothing to address these root issues. The social issues that are prevalent in “high crime” neighbourhood’s like Regina’s North Central are simply not addressed by placing more cruisers with new carbines on every block. It is neither fiscally prudent nor sound policy to continue pumping money into police salaries, overtime, and equipment when, by nature of the case, it does nothing to address issues at their source. It is a mark of authoritarianism to rely on the police to respond to systemic poverty and social hardship when there are more sensible, more effective, and more just ways to empower communities.

We would like to see municipalities and the province begin to direct public funds away from police services and toward the services and programs that address root causes and best meet the needs of people in our communities.


A Future without Police

In our vision for Saskatchewan, the boot print of the police is always shrinking rather than ever expanding. When we orient collective resources to meet genuine social needs, communities are empowered. Safety arises from the good relations that are fostered when people are able to live in dignity, with adequate housing, food, and cultural resources.

Historically, the police emerged in the nineteenth century in North America as a means to suppress working-class people and, with the formation of the North-West Mounted Police in the Prairies, to assert colonial dominion over Indigenous nations and their lands. We should not view the police as an apple cart, in which some of the apples are rotten. We should understand that from the perspective of those at the bottom of social hierarchies, the police have always been a rotten institution that plays a structural role in maintaining an unjust society dominated by colonial and capitalist relations of power.

In our vision for Saskatchewan, the institution of the police will become a relic of a colonial past. Before the police can be abolished however, we must ramp up efforts to bring civilian oversight to the police, to defund and demilitarize the police, and to redirect resources to meet genuine social needs in our communities.



Renters of Saskatoon and Area (ROSA) on Provincial Renting Concerns


Renters of Saskatoon and Area (ROSA) is a grass-roots group of renters and allies, formed over 2 years ago. We have prioritized a few of our many renter concerns here.

Saskatchewan’s rental housing market has failed to meet the needs of low income and marginalized renters in both the boom and bust times. A generation of renters of all ages have indeed already paid through lost job and education opportunities, personal, health and financial loss, precarious and subsistence living, and homelessness. Austerity, and poverty, affects us unequally. Renters continue to fall through the holes in Saskatchewan’s housing safety net. Investments are needed especially in times of economic troubles, to prevent further unequal offloading onto disadvantaged renters.

We call on the Premier to:

  1. Support the development of rental literacy awareness and support systems, to help renters find and keep affordable, appropriate rental housing
  2. Invest in, and protect low-income renters now more than ever, through expanded rental housing supplements, supports and rent-geared-to-income housing developments
  3. and Ensure a fair, dignified, rights-based rental housing system for all.

The planning of just and equitable changes to our rental systems must include the voices of the vulnerable, lived experience renters, for good business management of our shared resources, and to fairly transform Saskatchewan for all.


A). Rights and Responsibilities:  Presently, a shortage of basic rental literacy skills on the part of both landlords and renters costs too much for both parties, and for the overall community. A lack of timely access to appropriate supports and consumer protections are preventable barriers to housing security, and sustainable, low-income rental housing stock. Investing now, with community engagement, in inclusive, successful and transformative system changes and practices such as the Ready to RentBC model, can save money, prevent homelessness, and build stability and sustainability for landlords and tenants.

The renters have said that more supports are needed for awareness of the rights of marginalized renters, including increasing awareness among small rental businesses that lack  awareness of rights and responsibilities.  Measures to increase the accountability of some market landlords who systematically take advantage of disadvantaged renters, and better renter protections and transparency in the handling of security deposits, would make renters’ lives better.

B). Discrimination: Another renter concern is discrimination particularly when trying to get housing. We are all treaty people! Saskatchewan Human Rights Code prohibitions of discrimination in rental housing must be better ensured and enforced, for all citizens regardless of race, country of origin or other protected categories.

The Saskatchewan Human Rights definition of protections from discrimination for those on income programs as ‘in receipt of Social Assistance’, must be expanded to match Alberta’s definition ‘based on source of income’ to fairly protect clients of other low income programs too.  Increasing awareness online and through other measures, such as the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s range of awareness promotions, can create a more inclusive, safe and productive community.

Enforcement of these systematic marketplace discriminations is too great a burden to ask vulnerable renters to carry.  A new, timely and accessible enforcement system is needed, particularly when applying for housing.

C). Advocates:  Increased access is needed to qualified advocates and support services, and increased funding for training and sustainability of this relatively cost-effective community-based asset for marginalized renters.  Investing in more affordable conflict resolution alternatives, like mediation, could help reduce court time, and money for all.

D). Affordability:  “We simply can’t afford the costs of poverty” – Trevor Hancock, 2015.

Renters even in this high-vacancy market still have to worry about stability and affordability of housing options for themselves, their children and their elders. Protecting and strengthening the renter economy can be achieved by supplementing inadequate income programs and precarious wages in a more timely way to cover actual rent when it does increase, a common renter concern, whether increasing due to unmanaged gentrification,  wider market fluctuations, or other pressures. Targeted, direct investment is needed now to restore and expand the portable Rental Housing Supplement benefit and extra shelter funds to cover the actual rent of all previously eligible renters.

E). Rent-Geared to Income: Preserving existing affordable rental housing and expanding sustainable funding for maintenance and energy efficiency is needed for Saskatchewan Housing Corporation’s housing and renovation programs, part of our valuable social safety net for the growing and changing needs of Saskatchewan’s marginalized renters. Ongoing investment is needed now to develop complete social rental housing developments (rent-geared-to-income with services and features). It needs to be reserved for vulnerable renters in a range of household needs and sizes, in locations that meet the renters needs, like schools and affordable transportation (aligning with a rights-based system) to support the health, wellbeing, inclusion and education of our future generations.

F). Renter supports for safe housing: Finding and holding onto safe, healthy and pest-free housing is an overwhelming burden for disadvantaged renter households. This is the result of barriers like inadequate incomes to cover the sudden costs of housing emergencies, transportation, extra supplies, caregiving, and sometimes 24 hour relocation , or barriers maybe due to lacking health or abilities for the labour and organizing challenges of pest and mold preventions and treatments.  Subsidized, supportive community services are needed, along with increased investment in pest prevention and treatment research, and public health protection services, to preserve and protect our affordable rental housing stock.

G). Appropriate housing needs: Access must be improved to disability supports including transportation, to find, or develop disability-appropriate and barrier-free rental accommodations close to needed services and community supports. Increased funding for renovations for physical accessibility needs such as bathrooms, entrances or maintenance supports would provide dignity, health and safety, so renters can age in place. Rental housing is needed with more bedrooms and bathrooms for larger, culturally appropriate or multigenerational household options, along with affordable, age-appropriate 1 bedrooms for vulnerable single occupancy households under 65. Renters have also called for rental housing that is pet-friendly, along with pet-free and smoke-free housing for disability needs.






Mark Bigland-Pritchard’s Green Energy Vision


Green Energy and the SaskForward Vision

By Mark Bigland-Pritchard

The author is a Saskatoon-based independent energy consultant, with a background in applied physics and engineering. He is principal researcher for Green Energy Project Saskatchewan, and a core member of Climate Justice Saskatoon. Political views expressed here are his own.

It doesn’t have to be this way

In July, a pipeline broke, and diluted heavy oil leaked into the North Saskatchewan River, threatening the water supply of North Battleford, Prince Albert, James Smith First Nation and others, poisoning traditional First Nations medicine-collecting sites, and creating longterm ecological damage from the toxic constituents of sinking oil deposits. In the aftermath, we discovered that the pipeline in question had not needed to undergo an environmental assessment, that, on average, there have been over 18,000 reported leaks in the province since 1990, and that we have 27 inspectors to check on over 100 thousand kilometres of pipeline. And it’s set some of us wondering how Saskatoon would fare if the newly Trudeau-approved Line 3 (or, for that matter the old pipeline which it replaces) were to rupture close to where it crosses the South Saskatchewan river at the north end of Lake Diefenbaker.

Meanwhile, in the Athabasca basin in the north of the province, traditional Dene and Metis hunting and trapping lands are being segmented and disrupted by an unprecedented level of mineral exploration – mostly for uranium.

At Thunderchild First Nation in 2013, exploration for frackable gas included the desecration of the band’s sundance grounds. For resisting this offence, Marilyn Wapass ended up in prison.

It doesn’t have to be this way. But why is it?

What these events have in common is clear: the overbearing influence of extractive industry in our province, such that it can avoid accountability, threaten health and lives, and ride roughshod over the Treaty rights and the traditional practices and livelihoods of the First People of this territory.

But there is a still larger threat posed by this dominance. Per capita, Saskatchewan emits more greenhouse gases than any other Canadian province or territory (67 tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent per person per year), more than 48 out of 50 US states, and more than any nation state worldwide. In Paris just over a year ago, Canada committed to a document which set targeted limits to the extent of average global warming – no more than 2°C, with an ambition to keep it below 1.5°C. There is a global carbon budget attached to each of these limits, which we must not exceed if we are to stay within them.

Let’s pretend for a while that we lived in a fair world where every person was entitled to an equal share of carbon emissions. Saskatchewan’s share for a 2/3 chance of staying below 2°C warming would be about two-and-a-half times our current annual emissions – i.e. we would use up our for-all-time allowance in about two-and-a-half years. It’s even worse for the budget for a 50% chance of staying under 1.5°C warming – we would blow through that in just 14 months. After that, we are in effect stealing from other peoples’ budgets or else driving global temperatures past manageable limits.

And even a 2°C world is a disturbing prospect. According to a recent detailed study,

“The risks posed by extreme heat and potential crop yield reductions in tropical regions in Africa and South-East Asia under a 2° warming are particularly critical given the projected trends in population growth and urbanization in these regions.”

“In conjunction with other development challenges, the impacts of climate change represent a fundamental challenge for regional food security, and may trigger new poverty traps for several countries or populations within countries.”

Together with the predicted increase in drought in the middle east and north Africa, and the impact of rising oceans and storm surges on small island states and low-lying river delta areas, these trends threaten to lead to streams of refugees and more failed states.

Our economic overdependence on resource extraction isn’t just threatening the water and the lands that we should be caring for. It isn’t just threatening our own health. It isn’t just the latest phase of colonialism. It also contributes to a massive, indeed potentially unprecedented, threat to human society globally.

I don’t believe that represents who Saskatchewan people are, deep down. And it doesn’t have to be that way.

But it will be for as long as the corporations rule. For as long as they are allowed to dominate instead of just doing their job of supplying a service in return for fair recompense. For as long as profit is more important than people. For as long as narrow corporate-friendly economic dogma dominates government priorities. For as long as economic “growth” matters more than communities or human health or the earth itself.

My vision

But if we want things to be different we need a vision. Only with an inspiring and life-giving vision can we overcome the anxiety and denial which is gripping this province. More accurately, we need lots of peoples’ visions that we can piece together into one big vision.

As an energy consultant, applied physicist and policy researcher, here’s my piece of the jigsaw. This started as a vision for energy provision – but it rapidly became also a vision for good jobs, for an economy under our control, for a better concept of prosperity, and for a more harmonious way of living together:

I see a Saskatchewan in which energy is a servant not a master – where our energy systems are designed for us, instead of the current situation where we have to fit in with the edicts of private corporations and insufficiently accountable Crowns. I see people mostly working close to home, living in comfortable homes which cost next-to-nothing to heat, taking the opportunity to play an active part in managing their energy supply, and using a diverse range of efficient transport options. I see liveable cities, where for most of the things which we need to do we can travel by foot or by bike or by comfortable and efficient public transit.

I see a Saskatchewan where the power of big corporations is reduced because local small business offers many more employment options. I see the housing crisis addressed with state-of-the-art homes. And I see a culture which encourages innovation for the public good.

So how can we work this out? Here are my suggestions.


Let’s start with electricity. Northern European jurisdictions would look with envy at our wind resource, our solar resource, our potential to plan biomass operations which threaten neither food production nor ecosystems.

But it is some of those European countries – especially Denmark and Germany – which have shown us how to make the transition in a way that can benefit everyone. Government in both countries has enabled community ownership of green electricity generation. Often this is through establishment of a local cooperative; more recently Germany has seen the emergence of municipally owned utilities committed to 100% renewables generation. And even when wind and solar were expensive, a system was in place to give those new power generators a virtually- guaranteed financial return. Much has been written in North American media about the supposedly horrendous cost of electricity in Germany – but the reality is that this is not a cause for protest in Germany, and many are enthusiastic about their ability to sell power as well as buying it. (In any case, German householders pay no more for their electricity than we do, even though the retail unit cost is higher – a result of a whole-society endorsement of principles of conservation and efficiency.)

Community ownership means that power becomes democratized – no longer the subject of decision-making by a distant unaccountable body, whether privately or publicly owned. It means that people gain control over another piece of their life. It brings communities together to work on a local project for the common good. It also means good local jobs.

A 2012 study by Blue-Green Canada found that, for the same amount of investment, green energy could create between six and nine times as many jobs as the oil industry. A more recent study from the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts arrives at a more modest figure: two-and-a-half times as many. Already, solar power employs more people in the USA than coal, oil and gas put together. The potential for job creation is phenomenal – provided that we can move fast enough. While most of those jobs will be in installation, consultancy or maintenance, we should be developing manufacturing capacity. South Dakota can attract wind turbine manufacturers, so why not Saskatchewan?

In the period from January 2015 to March 2016, Saskatchewan generated 46% of its power from coal, and another 34% from gas. Over the next two to three decades, both of these fuels need to be phased out – first the coal and then the gas – if we are at all serious about climate change. Looking at the current example of Scotland, and based on my own preliminary modelling, I believe we can achieve that by 2040 – but it will require a determined and consistent programme. The essential technical elements in that programme are deep efficiency measures, rapid renewable power rollout, stronger interconnection with Manitoba, smart-grid development and, towards the end of that period, storage capacity development.

To enable that, we need a series of policy changes:

  •   A commitment that all new generating capacity ordered by SaskPower will be from renewables.
  •   Financial mechanisms to decouple SaskPower profits from the number of units of electricity sold – thus strengthening the incentive for demand-side management (SaskPower or government efficiency initiatives).
  •   Amendment to the Saskatchewan Power Corporation Act, specifying that, in ensuring that power supply adequately meets power demand, new investment should be limited to the following in reducing order of priority: (i) energy efficiency, (ii) community-owned renewables and individual home photovoltaics, (iii) other renewables, (iv) energy from waste and industrial cogeneration. This should be supplemented with investment in whatever mix of other technological approaches (smart grid, power trading, storage) is necessary to ensure and improve grid stability.
  •   Amendment to the Saskatchewan Power Corporation Act, limiting the SaskPower monopoly by enabling local cooperatively- and municipally-owned generation for public sale. In addition, First Nations reserves, which come under federal rather than provincial law and so should already be able to generate and sell within reserve, should also be permitted to sell off-reserve within Saskatchewan.
  •   A feed-in tariff scheme, guaranteeing renewables generators (i) priority on the grid, and (ii) stability of price (with a reasonable but not excessive rate of return), with preferential options for First Nations, community-run schemes, cooperatives and municipal projects.
  •   Agreement with Manitoba Hydro to expand the interprovincial interconnection to 2MW in both directions, so that we can export when wind and solar facilities provide an excess and import hydro power when we have a shortfall from our own generation.
  •   A decisive shift in the structure of the economy, with active encouragement not only for green energy but also for IT, for high-efficiency manufacturing, for essential services. This should include green power manufacturing facilities in the province. And,at the same time, an end to the expansion of extractive industries, an end to new fossil infrastructure, and a planned quarter-century-long phase-out of fossil fuel production.The last point is perhaps the most important. The rapid growth in demand from energy-intensive mining operations has demanded substantial investment in infrastructure – new power stations and new transmission lines. Because it costs more to generate from a new power station – of whatever sort – than from an old one, this has contributed to the rise in electricity rates. Shifting to renewables will also result in a small short-term price rise – not because renewables are inherently more expensive (they no longer are), but because some fossil plant will be “stranded assets,” closed before the end of its financial life. It is important that we minimize the costs to the consumer of the transition, and this can only realistically be done if new infrastructure costs can be limited.Heating buildings

    Energy to heat homes and offices is responsible for only about 3% of our provincial emissions. But this is still an important area to address, for four reasons (besides the climate imperative):

  1. (i)  People on low income need affordable homes. This doesn’t just mean that the rent should be affordable: with electricity prices already rising, and gas prices subject to a volatile market, fuel poverty is a very real future risk if we don’t build to tough energy standards.
  2. (ii)  It enables people to see, in their own lives, what is possible at reasonable cost.
  3. (iii)  The opportunities for job creation in this sector are massive.
  4. (iv)  High-performance buildings don’t just emit less and cost less to run – they are also more comfortable to live in and more pleasant to work in (and corporate Canada is increasingly recognizing that good working conditions lead to higher productivity)

Modern high-performance building need not be expensive – especially if we consider lifetime rather than initial costs.

It’s easiest to act on new-build. It’s a lot cheaper to build in efficiency from the outset. Nearly all wealthy industrialized jurisdictions in the world have energy building codes for new-build. Saskatchewan needs to join them.

Performance-based codes make the most sense – what matters is how much energy a building will use, and how much carbon dioxide it will emit, not whether it is built to some prescribed method. We could start with a requirement for all new buildings to satisfy LEED for Homes or (for office buildings) LEED gold, and gradually ramp up the demands over a decade so that anything being built in the late 2020s meets Passivhaus standard (requiring about 1/10 of the energy of current good-practice construction), provides heating and electricity from renewables, and conforms to the non-energy sections of the LEED standard.

While it could take a decade to fully make the transition in new-build design, the knowledge and methods exist already to build to these high standards. One Passivhaus-compliant project is close to completion in Saskatoon, with others not far behind. With real government support, affordable housing units constructed to this standard could rapidly become the norm, for example in municipal Housing First initiatives.

Existing buildings offer more of a challenge. The incentive programmes offered by previous governments resulted in some improvements, but they were limited in scope and difficult for those on the lowest incomes to take advantage of. A better option – and one which could avoid the need for government funding – would be for longterm financing to be enabled, such that energy savings pay for the monthly payment on the investment. Such a scheme needs to be tied to the property, not the owner, because ownership can change. Toronto is already experimenting with this option, using Local Improvement Charges, following some enabling changes to provincial legislation. Could we do the same here? Or could we achieve the same result through a network of non-profits, or through SaskEnergy?

Such legislation would demand the availability of a skilled workforce. Indeed, tightening codes and retrofit incentives (see reference to carbon pricing below) should offer a degree of employment stability in a traditionally volatile industry. So, as with green power, there will be a need for specialized training for all trades – carpenters, plumbers, electricians and so on. Contractors, architects and engineers will also need new training. But none of this is difficult, and some of it is already being done on a volunteer basis, through mid-career courses and through work experience on energy-efficient new-builds and retrofits.


Transport policy is complex. We travel to local shops, to workplaces, to schools, to appointments, to city centre events, to other communities – and the most pleasant and quickest way to travel may vary according to distance, location and time of day. A good planning strategy will consider this. It will also consider the impact of our travel on others around us. It will ensure that most of us have mainly short distances to travel – and that we can do so safely on foot or by bicycle for much of the time. It will gear public transit to peoples’ needs, making it comfortable, efficient and rapid and giving it road priority over personal vehicles. It will challenge the dominance of the big box stores and the malls.

We also need a shift in the types of vehicles we drive – in the short term towards more efficient models, and in the short to medium term increasingly to electric vehicles. This transformation can be driven by a mixture of positive incentives, federal regulations, SGI differential insurance rates and carbon pricing. It will also require a comprehensive network of electric charging stations.


I’ve said a lot about industry already. While I see the biggest opportunities in diversification, most of the present facilities and infrastructure will stay in place at least for the next couple of decades. Their contribution to our carbon footprint is very substantial – roughly half of the total if their electric demand, transport requirement and fugitive emissions are included. So in addressing climate change we cannot avoid making strong demands on these corporations. A mixture of carbon pricing and low-interest loans should enable substantial energy efficiency improvements, and a mine or factory which decides to shift to renewable power should be rewarded. As with buildings and electricity, investment in energy efficiency provides an opportunity for job creation and for skills development.

Fugitive emissions

Nearly one-fifth of Saskatchewan’s current greenhouse emissions are from venting, flaring and leaks in the oil and gas industry. Other jurisdictions (Norway, Alberta, even North Dakota) have found ways to limit this. Instead of venting and flaring methane, producers should be required to either use it to generate power for their rig or else pipe it into the provincial gas system. And pipelines wouldn’t leak so much if they were subject to environmental assessment at the planning stage and regular inspection once installed.

Carbon pricing

I have identified a number of measures which can overcome barriers and enable the transition. But there is another that we cannot easily avoid if we are to move fast enough. That is carbon pricing. This must be transparent, publicly accountable and socially just in its financial impacts, which limits us to a couple of carbon tax models, both of which preferably involve charging a fee at each point where fossil fuels enter the economy. Then either return all the proceeds in equal cheques to every citizen and permanent resident aged 16 or over (Fee and Dividend), or else return about half the proceeds in that way, but only to people on lower incomes, and use the other half to fund green infrastructure, business start-ups, etc. In Saskatchewan, some provision needs to be made to protect export-focussed agriculture, but in my estimation that is the only necessary complication.

Kicking the economic addiction

And, finally, we have to recognize that it is necessary to plan for a transition away from economic dependency on oil and gas production. The message from climate science is clear. To exceed the aspirational lower Paris temperature limit or 1.5°C means death or dislocation for millions worldwide; to exceed the higher limit of 2°C means a slow-motion global train wreck. But to stay below even that higher limit requires an end to fossil fuel use, worldwide, by some time around mid-century. (The precise timing depends on a number of things, one of the most important of which is how quickly we in the industrialised world can cut our emissions in the short term.)

Usually when an industry needs to come to an end the workers are left high and dry. That must not happen this time – we have time to plan and to build the industries which can provide good well- paid jobs in green energy and green construction. The initiatives in this direction which have been taken by former Alberta oilpatch workers in establishing Iron and Earth, securing diverse funding and support, and creating multiple retraining and demonstration projects, are impressive. But they are only the beginning, they need to spread across the provincial border to Saskatchewan, and they need active encouragement. Most importantly, both government and civil society need to take up the cause and build the green economy from the ground up. And those workers need time to retrain, and proper recompense through EI while they do so.


If that happens, we can start to build a society based on local autonomy, not the dictates of corporate headquarters. A society where work and community are linked together. A society which practices community cohesion instead of relying on distant commuting. A society where human values matter – health, happiness, community, connectedness with the natural world, and not just profits and “growth.” And a society which is doing its part to avoid climate catastrophe.

A Publishers’ Weekly review of Faultlines, by our own Emily Eaton and Valerie Zink, says this: “Zink and Eaton portray a precarious population with little control over an existence driven by unseen and unaccountable global forces.” It is time we worked to wrest control away from those unaccountable forces and put it back into the hands of the people. We have the technology to do so. We can find the financial resources – not least by making those unaccountable forces pay their fair share. What is needed is the political will.

Jim Harding for Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Society on the Yancoal Southey Project




Yancoal’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was only released on April 23, 2016, yet Yancoal tells us in its April 17th letter that “the public comments deadline will be May 24th”. Meanwhile it took the Saskatchewan Environmental Assessment Review Board two years to do its technical assessment.

The freeze on the process until after the April 4, 2016 provincial election contributed to the suppressing of these vital issues from public scrutiny. The extension of 15 days to June 6th remains a slap in the face of Saskatchewan’s democracy, especially for area farmers during high seeding time.

We know that “politics” and “economics” enter environmental assessment, mostly through narrow terms of reference and errors of omission. The big picture and the future typically don’t get sufficient attention. It is unacceptable for the broader public to only be given 45 days to consider the wider and long-term public interest.

QVEA POSITION # 1: Yancoal’s Southey Project should immediately be taken off the fast-track to allow public due diligence to prevail.


CARBON FOOTPRINT: The Yancoal mine could create as much as 1.09 million tonnes of C02 equivalents per year.[i] This would increase, not decrease Saskatchewan’s already high carbon footprint.[ii] Yet Yancoal has not looked at the potential of using any renewable energy and it even rejected co-generation (power from waste heat). This business-as-usual approach will not help Saskatchewan reorient its economy towards sustainability. The Yancoal project will not help Saskatchewan assist the country to cut its emissions by 30% below the 2005 level by 2030.

EXTERNALIZING COSTS: Yancoal wants to use gargantuan amounts of surface water to bring the potash above ground for processing; this solution mining will reduce Yancoal’s costs while externalizing huge costs to the environment and watershed.[iii] Yancoal admits that the benefits of solution mining include “lower up-front capital costs and no underground workforce.” This shows how, while costs are being externalized, benefits such as jobs are being greatly reduced.

Yancoal expressed an interest in a pipeline to Quill Lakes, perhaps to be supplemented by water from Last Mountain Lake. The Water Security Agency (WSA) and Sask Water prefer a costly pipeline from Buffalo Pound, possibly because they can better control the supply coming from Lake Diefenbaker.

Either way this is a totally unacceptable use and waste of fresh water. Yancoal’s figures suggest it will use 13 million cubic metres a year, 50% of the water used by Regina[iv]; it could be larger. Year in and year out for up to 100 years all this water would be permanently lost from the natural cycle. We must start to truly value and protect water; with the coming water crisis we can’t be removing fresh water from the hydrological cycle.

CLIMATE CHANGE: Furthermore, Buffalo Pound and Last Mountain Lake are both fed by Lake Diefenbaker, which provides domestic water to more than half of Saskatchewan’s residents. The amount of water in the South Saskatchewan River which, since the mid-60s, flows into Lake Diefenbaker has been markedly decreasing for a century and this decrease will accelerate with climate change. Recent summer flow levels have measured 86% below those recorded in 1910.[v] Both water quantity and quality will be at even greater risk.[vi] When surface water becomes scarcer, as it surely will, Yancoal and other companies could end up using water from and risking contaminating the Hatfield Aquifer on which many communities already depend.

A 2012 report already projected a 200% increase in water taken from the Qu’Appelle watershed by 2060.[vii] And this calculation was made before the Yancoal project or some other solution mines were even proposed.[viii] We see no credible provincial strategy behind the steady, incremental industrialization of water that will ensure that future water sources are protected and secure. [ix] The Water Security Authority (WSA) modeling and forecasting doesn’t even take climate change into account. There hasn’t been a study of the cumulative impact of Yancoal using the massive projected volume of water over 100 years[x]. Would the amount of water being extracted violate inter-provincial water-sharing agreements? There is simply too much uncertainty about future water supply or the impacts on other water users for this project to be approved.

NOT SUSTAINABILITY: Sustainability is about inter-generational justice; not undermining the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The incremental approach of the Sask Party government puts future generations at risk. It would therefore be foolish to approve the prolonged use and waste of such valuable water for the Yancoal mine.

QVEA POSITION # 2: Until a credible sustainable water strategy which takes climate change into account is developed there should be a moratorium on all mega-water industrial projects.


VIABLE AGRICULTURAL DISTRICT: The area to be immediately affected by the Yancoal mine is a viable agricultural district: there are 126 homes and 325 residents within a 5-mile radius of the proposed mine site.[xi] The way Yancoal has been treating land owners is of great concern. Yancoal has resorted to corporate “divide and rule” tactics which pit those who are more removed from immediate impacts and see short-term benefits, against those that face the brunt and lasting effects of this mega-project.

UNDERGROUND IMPACT: This is not the way to approach the risks to the land, habitats and communities. Many vital questions remain. We know from other locations that fracking carries its own risks.[xii] Yancoal estimates that during operations it will be injecting underground about 20,000 cubic metres (m3) of brine a day from its reclamation ponds.[xiii] This amount of water will be permanently lost to the hydrologic system every day for the 100-year life span of the mine. And have the risks from the continual injection of such massive amounts of wastewater from solution mining underneath the Hatfield aquifer been fully considered?[xiv] It is admitted that subsidence or downward displacement of surface material would occur over the next 250 years but what would be the extent of land slumping? Are there other risks of underground movement, including earthquakes, such as have occurred from wastewater injection in the oil and gas industries across the border?[xv]

We prefer the Precautionary Principle. Some may want to argue that the geology is different here and that there has been some solution mine wastewater injection without noticeable underground impacts. The cumulative impacts, with Yancoal’s 100-year timeline and so many other solution mines being considered within this already vulnerable watershed should, however, now be very carefully considered.

ENDANGERED PRAIRIE ECOREGION: Underground contamination can come from pipeline leaks, rock fracturing and brine seepage into aquifers. Further, Yancoal plans to leave the salt tailings exposed. Just because this un-ecological practice has been allowed at potash mines does not mean it should continue. According to Parks Canada the Moist Mixed Grassland Ecoregion in the Prairies Ecozone where Yancoal wants to mine is already one of the most endangered areas in the world. And what are the risks of contamination of fragile fish habitat in the West and East Loon Creeks?

What are the risks of farm lands being greatly devalued? And why is Yancoal being allowed to side-step the foreign ownership guidelines? Yancoal has already purchased 4,200 acres but has an exception that allows them to buy up to 60,000 acres; does it really need this for a potash mine?

YANCOAL’S ENVIRONMENTAL RECORD: The foundational knowledge for all the technical assessments should be fully released and carefully scrutinized. Yancoal’s dismal environmental record abroad[xvi] should also be fully assessed.

QVEA POSITION # 3: At a minimum a panel of fully independent hydrologists should be formed to report on all the pertinent research about deep underground waste water injection before any further consideration is given to approving this project.


CONTROL OF POTASH: Yancoal is a Chinese state corporation which operates on a different time span than other resource companies. Their goal is as much about securing long-term global supply of non-renewables as it is about profitable production and marketing. It has a guaranteed interlocked purchaser, China.

With nearly half of known potash reserves, Saskatchewan is a prime target. And with its own domestic overuse and contamination of watersheds and aquifers, China is also interested in accessing cheap water abroad for its resource extraction. This greatly externalizes its costs onto the Saskatchewan environment.

ROYALTY IMPLICATIONS: Yancoal could be here for 100 years. This is its first such mine, which likely makes us their guinea pigs. And as it plans this huge project, other companies are laying off workers due to the slump in the global potash market. Is anything in place to ensure that Yancoal will not come to control Saskatchewan potash production and undermine the competition and the marketing system (Canpotex) that ensures that the province benefits somewhat from potash royalties? Will Yancoal’s involvement lead to lower prices as well as a shrinking commercial market? If BHP Billiton was kept from purchasing Potash Corp because it was considered a threat to this “strategic resource”, then shouldn’t Yancoal be held to the same standard?

QVEA POSITION # 4: Before this project is allowed to proceed any further there must be full public disclosure of all agreements and obligations made by the Saskatchewan government and those regarding the Chinese-Canada FIPA trade agreement which have any bearing on Saskatchewan’s long-term public interest in resource royalties and revenues.


PROTECTING THE QU’APPELLE WATERSHED: The Lower Qu’Appelle is already considered to be facing “high intensity” stress regarding surface water allocation and ground water use. Roads, aquatic fragmentation, impact of landfills, livestock and fertilizer inputs, pesticides and contaminated sites all contribute to such stress in the watershed.[xvii] The diversion of millions of cubic metres of precious water for Yancoal’s mine will inevitably further undercut the aquatic health and recreational vitality of the Lower Qu’Appelle, which flows through the Qu’Appelle Valley. Furthermore, over the very long time span of the Yancoal solution mine, upstream saline and other contamination will almost inevitably make its way through the natural drainage system into the Loon Creek which goes into the already vulnerable Qu’Appelle Valley watershed.[xviii]

Yancoal’s solution mine has direct implications for both water quantity and quality throughout the Qu’Appelle Valley Basin. The environmental review process should therefore not be skewed to exclude those who will ultimately be impacted downstream. Downstream indigenous as well as settler communities have a lot at stake here, yet in both cases the broad public has not been directly involved in the review process. This is unacceptable.

QVEA POSITION # 5: Before this project goes any further there must be a full, informed public discussion of the implications of the Yancoal project for the quantity and quality of water passing through the Q

[i] Yancoal Southey Project, Saskatchewan Environmental Society, June 2, 2016.

[ii] In 2011 Saskatchewan surpassed Alberta as having Canada’s highest per capita carbon footprint. The Canadian average was 20 metric tonnes per person per year, while Saskatchewan was 68 metric tonnes per person per year. This is among the highest level anywhere in the world.

[iii] Other Potash companies also admit this transfer of costs: e.g. Encanto Potash Corp writes that at Muskowekwan First Nations it plans “a solution mine for a number of reasons including longer mine life, lower CAPEX (capital expenditure), higher rate of return and shorter time of production…” See encantopotask.com/muskowekwan project.

[iv] On its website Yancoal says it will use 1,450 cubic metres (m3) an hour, which would amount to 13 million cubic metres (Mm3) a year. Regina’s water consumption was 23 Mm3 in 2013.

[v] Glaciers feeding the headwaters of the two Saskatchewan Rivers have shrunk by 25-30% since the 1950s. The maximum depth of snow and number of days with snow on the ground have both declined significantly. See W.F. Donahue, Freshwater Issues and Challenges in Alberta, Canadian Forest Service, Science Seminar Series, March 13, 2008.

[vi] See “Climate Change and our Watershed”, In We Are All Waterkeepers, Fort Qu’Appelle Kairos, Sept. 2014, pp. 20-23.

[vii] One proposal is to build an Upland Canal from Lake Diefenbaker to Buffalo Pound Lake to try to increase the flow to handle a projected 219% increase in demand for agriculture and a 172% increase in demand for industry and mining by 2060. See Clifton Associates, Upper Qu’Appelle Water Supply Project, 2012. Also see “Upland Canal Project”, Kairos 2014, pp. 14-16.

[viii] The Mosaic solution mine at Belle Plain already draws water from Buffalo Pound. The K & S Legacy solution mine near Bethune which the company admits will be “water-and-energy intensive” has now been told that it will also be provided water from Buffalo Pound. Vale was promoting a solution mine at Kronau which initially was to draw water directly from Katepwa Lake; it is now on hold. Western Potash is proposing a solution mine at Milestone, Karnalyte Resources is proposing another, the Carnallite project, at Wynyard and Encanto is proposing a solution mine on Muskowekwan First Nations. How many such water-gorging solution mines can the Qu’Appelle Watershed bear? Potash Corp also has a solution mine at Patience Lake near Saskatoon.

[ix]With climate change come earlier springs and algae buildup in the 5.5 metre deep Buffalo Pound Lake. Regina’s supply has already been restricted by 50% in May of 2015 due to this convergence. And the ability to increase the flow into Buffalo Pound from Lake Diefenbaker is highly limited, especially in winter months, without a very expensive canal mega-project, to which the WSA and Sask Party government has not committed. And even then there would, over time, be a reduced flow from Alberta.

[x] One billion, 300 million cubic metres of valuable surface water would be taken out of the natural system. This is not sustainable.

[xi] Havelock Special Projects Committee.

[xii] See Bob Weber, “Fracking, Not Water Disposal, Caused Canadian Earthquakes”, Canadian Press, March 29, 2016. David Eaton at the University of Calgary studied 12,000 fracked and disposal wells drilled in Western Canada by the oil and gas industry between 1985-2015 and found that earthquakes were twice as likely to be associated with fracking as with wastewater disposal.

[xiii] If Yancoal uses 34,800 cubic metres of water a day (1,450 m3 an hour), this figure of 20,000 m3/day suggests there will be some recycling of water before it is disposed.

[xiv] “The amount of pressure on the injected water should be disclosed and the risk of earthquake generation should be investigated.” Saskatchewan Environmental Society (SES) submission, June 2, 2016.

[xv] “Earthquakes and Hydraulic Fracking”, Earthwork Fact Sheet, n.d., states that earthquakes have been “linked to fracking wastewater injection in at least five states.” Also see “Earthquakes triggered by fracking wastewater in Oklahoma”, Associated Press, July 3, 2014. This reports that the salty “wastewater is leftover from unconventional wells that drill for oil and gas with the help of high pressure fracking and from the removal of water from diluted oil. These new methods mean much more wastewater has to be discarded.”

Also see Terry Reith and Briar Stewart, “Do fracking activities cause earthquakes? Seismologists and the state of Oklahoma say yes”, CBC News, April 28, 2016. This reports that a number of earthquakes in Oklahoma have been “blamed on the injection of wastewater from oil production into wells”.

The 700 people from 20 countries who attended the Seismology Society of American meeting in Reno Nevada heard about studies showing that there definitely is a relationship between “deep disposal and earthquake activity” that has been increasing since 2011.

Could a similar thing occur from potash solution mining when the massive amount of toxic brine wastewater is injected into deep wells?

[xvi] Yancoal is a subsidiary of Yanzhou Coal and Yankuang Group, one of China’s largest fossil fuel conglomerates. Yancoal controls 10 coal mines in Australia and plays a big role in China’s huge C02 emissions. Coal mining and coal-generated electricity also contribute to widespread toxic contamination of both land and water in China. See Jim Harding, Are We ready to Sell Our Future to China? R-Town News, May, 31, 2014 and also available at: www.crowsnestecology.wordpress.com

[xvii] State of the Watershed Report, Water Security Authority, 2010, p. 32-36.

[xviii] The first lake, Pasqua Lake is already suffering from a massive nutrient load which comes in part from decades of Regina’s untreated sewage.