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Ten things to know about the 2018 Saskatchewan budget

On April 10, the Saskatchewan government tabled its 2018-19 budget. Here are 10 things to know:

  1. This year’s budget was quite status quo. Provincial expenses for the upcoming fiscal year are forecast at $14.6 billion, while total spending on health will see a 2.5% increase. Revenue forecast for 2018-19 is $14.2 billion. No major tax changes were announced. (Last year’s budget, by contrast, announced significant tax changes and spending cuts.)
  2. Saskatchewan still has one of the lowest total debt-to-GDP ratios in Canada. Saskatchewan’s total debt represents 26% of its GDP. Ontario’s is more than 45%, and Manitoba’s is nearly 67%. A modest deficit of $365 million is forecast for 2018-19, while the government is predicting a return to balance by 2019-20.
  3. Saskatchewan continues to struggle on the revenue side of the balance sheet. In 2014-15, the provincial treasury took in nearly $1.3 billion in revenue from the oil and gas sector. For the upcoming fiscal year, it’s expected to take in just $700M from that sector. Last year’s budget increased the provincial sales tax (PST) from 5% to 6%, while also expanding the range of goods against which the provincial sales tax applies.
  4. Last year’s budget announced a cut to corporate income taxes, but this decision was later reversed. Last year’s budget announced a one percentage point reduction in the corporate income tax rate, to take place in two half-point phases. But last fall, the Wall government reversed course on this decision.
  5. Last year’s budget also announced a cut to the personal income tax rate, but then altered course here as well. Specifically, the government announced last year that it would decrease personal income tax rates by one percentage point, to take place in two half-point steps. But after announcing the first half-point reduction, it recently announced it would not go through with the second half-point reduction.
  6. Social assistance benefit levels in Saskatchewan remain very low. For example, a single employable adult on social assistance in Saskatchewan receives approximately $9,000 annually on which to live (and pay rent). A person with a disability gets between $12,000 and $16,000 annually, depending on the severity of the disability. Every year, the value of inflation erodes the value of these benefits. (All of these figures can be found here.)
  7. This budget announced the phasing out of a rental housing benefit for low-income households. The Saskatchewan Rental Housing Supplement provided some additional rent money for low-income households with either children or a disability; but this budget announced that no new applications will be accepted as of July 1. The provincial government expects this will save the provincial treasury $5 million in the first year (or 0.03% of the total budget). Without the rent supplement in place, I believe it’s likely we’ll see more people becoming homeless in Saskatchewan, which itself comes with added costs to the public treasury.
  8. The budget’s decision to extend the PST to used car sales may disproportionately impact low-income households. The budget removes the PST tax exemption on (light) used car sales, which may translate into almost $100 million in new annual revenue. This will make it slightly more expensive to purchase a used car in Saskatchewan. The budget also restores the trade-in allowance when determining the PST—so, when a car owner is trading in a vehicle, they will only pay the PST on the difference in price of the trade in and the selling price for the vehicle they’re buying.
  9. The budget fails to address on-reserve child poverty. According to Census data, Saskatchewan’s on-reserve rate of child poverty (as measured by the After Tax Low Income Measure) is nearly 70%, second highest in the country after Manitoba. Neither this year’s budget nor last year’s takes meaningful steps towards addressing that. 
  10. There’s some reason for cautious optimism about the future. In 2017, Saskatchewan saw a 10% increase in potash sales from provincial firms, an 8.7% increase in international exports and a 12.6% increase in manufacturing sales.


In Sum. This budget, while relatively status quo, is mostly bad news for low-income households in the province. And this comes one year after a budget that announced significant cuts to social programs.

The author wishes to thank Daniel Béland, Simon Enoch, Dionne Miazdyck-Shield and one anonymous reviewer for invaluable assistance with this blog post. Any errors lie with the author.

Nick Falvo is Director of Research and Data at the Calgary Homeless Foundation. You can follow him on Twitter at @nicholas_falvo.

Originally posted to CCPA.

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Anti-Austerity Activist John Clarke: Fighting Back

John Clarke speaks on Saskatchewan’s austerity budget and how to fight back.

As an organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), John Clarke has been involved in poor people’s movements for over 25 years. He first became active in anti-poverty struggles in 1983, when he helped form the Union of Unemployed Workers in London, Ontario. In 1989, he was among the organizers of a province-wide March Against Poverty that helped force the Liberal government of the day to increase social assistance rates. Since 1990, John has been a Toronto-based organizer with OCAP, which has played a leading role in mobilizing against policies of economic violence. OCAP has close links with the Irish Housing Network, and John recently traveled to the UK to observe and learn from anti-austerity movements there.

Saskatchewan Speaks: Policy Recommendations for Transformational Change

In December, SaskForward began an online public consultation process that asked people across the province to answer the question, “What ‘transformational change’ would you introduce to make Saskatchewan a happier, healthier, and more prosperous place for all?”

After receiving over one hundred submissions from individuals and organizations and hosting a policy summit and discussion with over 120 participants, SaskForward releases Saskatchewan Speaks: Policy Recommendations for Transformational Change. This report puts forward a series of policy recommendations based on the ideas and suggestions Saskatchewan people shared with us.

Three key messages emerged from the ideas shared with us during the consultation process. The first is that public spending that addresses the root causes of social problems needs to be viewed as an investment that will save us money in the long run. While cuts to social spending may improve balance sheets in the short-term, they will create long-lasting health and social impacts that outweigh any initial cost-saving. Indeed, there was widespread consensus that social program cuts – even in spite of the current deficit – were ill-advised and counter-productive to the overall health of the province.

The second message that emerged from the submissions was that respondents want to see much more emphasis on new revenue streams and sources. Saskatchewan’s revenues as a share of GDP have declined from 22.4 percent in 2007 to 17 percent in 2015. Respondents were unified in their call for the government to consider new revenue sources, with a strong preference for increased progressivity in the provincial income tax system.

Lastly, there was a real appetite for a grand vision for the province, particularly in regards to energy and the environment. Many respondents believe that Saskatchewan – with its ample renewable resources and provincial crown corporations – is uniquely situated to take advantage of the nascent green energy economy given the appropriate direction and investment by the provincial government.

Despite the province’s current economic woes, there was a tremendous optimism in the ability of the province to become a more just and sustainable place in the future. We want to thank the people of Saskatchewan for sharing their visions for the province with SaskForward. We certainly hope the government and the rest of the Saskatchewan public will seriously consider the thoughtful and inspiring ideas we have collected in this report.

Download the full report: SaskForward – Sask Speaks (03-15-17)-4

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Summit Panel: Simon Enoch

Re-thinking Deficits and Austerity

I want to discuss the elephant in the room that haunts any of the subsequent policy discussions we will have the rest of the day and that is obviously the current economic health of the province and the government’s financial situation. How we view the current economic situation will determine whether we believe we have choices going forward or whether we have to accept the government’s narrative of deep and immediate cuts as inevitable. So I’d like to use my time this morning to challenge some of the economic assumptions that limit the horizon of what is possible – even in the current economic situation.

I certainly think we can see some of these economic assumptions at work when we look at the scope of the transformational change undertaken by the government so far.

It’s pretty clear that the Saskatchewan government’s “transformational change” agenda is really a clever euphemism for austerity.  Everything that the government has done under the banner of transformational change has been to cut, down-size, roll-back or eliminate. More often than not, these cuts have been directly at the expense of the province’s most vulnerable – such as the cuts to Seniors and Children’s Drug Plans, reduced funding for the Alternative Measures sentencing program and Aboriginal Courtworker Program, and claw-backs to some social assistance programs. Most recently the government has eliminated the 251 custodial jobs – the lowest paid of most government employees and is threatening to eliminate more.

So the government has been entirely focused on the cost-side of the ledger to the neglect of any revenue-generating ideas. Although I suspect we will see some tax increases – most likely a regressive sales tax increase – by the next budget. The government appears to view transformational change as an exercise in cost-cutting, to the detriment of any alternatives.

Now obviously the justification for these cuts is the size of the provincial deficit and the government’s insistence that we have to return to balance as quickly as possible (Surplus by 2018 if we are to believe the Finance Minister).

But If we believe that these are the wrong choices to make, and that there are alternatives that do not disproportionately burden those most vulnerable in our province, then we need to stop buying into the deficit hysteria that allows the government to justify cuts as the only means forward.

Every time we decry the size of the deficit or liken it to the Devine-era, we are, intentionally or not, playing into the government’s frame – that it is the deficit that matters – not unemployment or preserving social programs or the environment or ensuring the most vulnerable in our province are taken care of.

That’s not to say that we can’t criticize why we are in a deficit position, particularly after nearly a decade of booming commodity prices, but if we act as if the mere existence of the deficit is akin to the sky falling, then we are just painting ourselves into a corner when it comes to possible remedies.

So I think we need to put the deficit in perspective in relation to our current debt levels so we can better see what choices are available to us.  Saskatchewan’s economy is much larger than what is was in the 1980s and 1990s. So while a billion dollar deficit in 1991 was cause for grave concern, I don’t think it warrants the same alarm as it did thirty years ago. So let’s look at comparisons.  While Devine-era debt reached over 40 percent as a percentage of GDP (closer to 60 percent if we include Crown debt), Saskatchewan’s current debt as a percentage of GDP is only 19.9 percent, that’s the second lowest in the country after Alberta. Compare this to Manitoba’s 30.9 percent, British Columbia’s 26.6 percent, or Ontario’s 39.6 percent and Saskatchewan’s debt burden is relatively low, leaving the option open for maintaining current spending levels and even enhancing them.

Indeed, as the National Bank concludes in their analysis of Saskatchewan’s 2016 budget:

“Overall then, the debt burden can be deemed low (second only to Alberta), with the interest bite very manageable, contingent liabilities fairly limited, liquidity very healthy and budget flexibility/taxing room available (should it ultimately be required).”

So we have room to manoeuvre, which means we don’t have to try and balance the budget immediately as the government insists. Which means we don’t have to accept massive cuts to public services and the public sector as an inevitability.

Does that mean we don’t have to deal with the deficit? Of course not, but we can choose how and when to deal with the deficit and on grounds that are more favourable.

Let me give you an example, many of you probably remember Paul Martin’s “Hell or High-water” budget in 1995. That’s when Martin as Finance Minister in the Chretien government vowed to defeat the federal deficit “come hell or high-water.”

So Martin made probably the most dramatic cuts to health and social transfers in Canada’s history in his effort to tackle the deficit. That budget is a large part of how the federal government managed to extract itself as a full partner for funding provincial health and other social programs. So these cuts still reverberate with us today.

And like Saskatchewan today, Martin conducted his cuts during a recession – and the cuts had the effect of actually contracting the Canadian economy for a short period of time. But by 1997 Ottawa was back to surplus. So this is a success story right? Well, not if you compare it to other industrialized countries that were also fighting deficits during that period. In fact 18 other countries balanced their budgets during that same period – slightly later than Canada, but balanced them nevertheless. And they did this by either maintaining or expanding spending. How did they achieve this?

Well the economic conditions changed, the world economy recovered and in a positive growth environment its a lot easier to balance budgets – more people are working, increasing tax receipts and less are relying on social supports. So governments are bringing in more revenue while spending less. That makes fighting deficits a lot easier than in a recession when tax receipts are low and you are spending more on social supports. Indeed, as Economist Jim Stanford demonstrates, had the Chretien government merely held the line on spending and merely waited for positive growth to return, the deficit could have been balanced by 1999, only two years later, and without any of the massive dislocations caused by such traumatic spending cuts. And it’s important to note that for the most part, those cuts were never restored, even during the period of year-after-year surpluses that the federal government enjoyed.

But this is what I mean by tackling the deficit on grounds that are more favourable. It is much easier and far less painful to tackle deficits when you are in a positive growth environment.

But the second important thing to keep in mind is that implementing austerity during an economic downturn can actually hinder the return to positive growth. As I mentioned, the Martin cuts actually had the effect of briefly contracting the economy. The fact that austerity measures implemented during a downturn actually contract the economy is pretty much the received wisdom now.

Even the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – once a champion of fiscal austerity – has been forced to admit this. Assessing 30 years of evidence, the IMF unequivocally concludes: “In economists’ jargon, fiscal consolidations [austerity] are contractionary, not expansionary. This conclusion reverses earlier suggestions in the literature that cutting the budget deficit can spur growth in the short term.”

Moreover, the IMF demonstrates that adoption of austerity measures during an economic downturn is “likely to lower incomes—hitting wage-earners more than others—and raise unemployment, particularly long-term unemployment.” Such effects will have the consequence of exacerbating deficits as falling incomes diminish government tax receipts while growing unemployment puts fiscal pressure on social supports like employment insurance, social assistance, re-training allowances, etc.

Thus, attempts to cut spending to tame deficits may have the perverse effect of increasing existing deficits, as prolonged economic stagnation taxes both government revenues and social spending. In light of this, the IMF advises governments to consider delaying deficit-fighting measures until a more robust economic recovery is evident. Conversely, the IMF demonstrates that public investments – particularly in economies experiencing low economic growth – can significantly increase output, lower unemployment and actually bring about a reduction in the public-debt-to-GDP ratio because of the much bigger boost in output. In fact, the IMF concludes that government projects financed through debt issuance have stronger expansionary effects than budget-neutral projects that are financed by raising taxes or cutting other spending.

If we want a good example of how austerity can backfire and produce the very thing you are trying to avoid, we need only take a look at the United Kingdom over the past few years. In response to the deficit racked up bailing out banks during the financial crisis the Cameron government initiated an unprecedented series of austerity measures, cutting government spending across the board by ten percent, including the elimination of 300,000 public sector jobs.

What was the result, well the British economy contracted three times and debt levels went up – not down. When the Cameron government took power debt in the U.K was about 70% of GDP, today it stands at 85%. The cuts did not work – they did the exact opposite, they contracted the economy and increased the debt burden.

I know this seems counterintuitive to many, how can cutting spending increase debt?

The problem is that many governments want us to think about government finances the same way we think about our household finances.

So if I’m in debt, as long as my income stays constant, and I cut my spending, I can pay down my debt.

The problem is that the government is not a household. Cuts in one area – say public sector jobs – increases costs in other areas – say social assistance or re-training. Indeed we have already seen this here in Saskatchewan. The government just announced that because there are more people accessing social assistance programs than expected, the government needs to spend an extra $55 million.

Moreover, if people lose jobs or see their wages rolled-back, the government’s income doesn’t stay constant as tax revenue decreases as people are less likely to spend thereby reducing the government’s take on sales taxes, and if their incomes are reduced or eliminated they are obviously not going to be paying much in the way of income taxes.  Once again, the government has seen a decrease of $400 million in expected tax receipts during the downturn.

Same thing with other programs, so if you cut alternative sentencing programs, more people end up in prison. Low and behold, Saskatchewan has more people in correctional facilities than the government expected, creating the need for an extra $10.3 million.

This creates a vicious cycle where you are trying to make cuts on one side to try and outdo the increased expenses you experience on the other side.

So the government’s finances are not at all like a household. Cuts in one area can increase expenses in another, while draining revenues. We should be wary of anyone who want to simplistically equate the government’s finances with a household.

The fact is that austerity doesn’t just not work – it produces the exact opposite of what austerity is supposed to achieve. Instead of reducing deficits and restoring positive growth – it induces contraction and increases debt.

So the question must be asked, if austerity has proven to be so unsuccessful, why do governments pursue it?

As Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman observes, the “primary purpose” of austerity,“is to shrink the size of government spending – to make the state leaner … not just now, but permanently.”

And as I mentioned before with the Paul Martin austerity budget in 1995, those cuts were never fully restored. Even as the federal government posted surplus after surplus in the years following.

So I think we need to be wary about the whole exercise of austerity because its effects are not temporary, they may very well limit the size and scope of what government can accomplish in the future.

So as we talk today about possibilities for the future here in Saskatchewan, I would ask you all to consider whether pursuing austerity right now helps or hinders real transformational change.

Simon Enoch is Director of the Saskatchewan Office of the Canadian centre for Policy Alternatives. See here for more on the failure of austerity economics.

Transforming Migrant Work Conditions by Migrant Worker Justice for Saskatchewan


They are cooks, cleaners, wait staff. They are welders, electricians, and construction workers. They are nurses, physicians, and live-in caregivers. They are manual labourers in greenhouses and throughout the agricultural sector. Residents of Saskatchewan have direct and indirect encounters with them on a daily basis, whether it is each time they order a double-double, access health care, or purchase some locally grown produce.

They are migrant workers: thousands of foreign workers who are in this province on temporary work permits. They are legally allowed to work here, but there are no guarantees that they will be allowed to stay.

The number of Temporary Foreign Workers in Saskatchewan has increased by 310 percent since 2005, yet there is little systematic understanding of their actual experience of work and residency in Saskatchewan. In 2014, there was an estimated 11,000 TFWs in the province (Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2014). If we include permanent residents and workers employed in the province through company transfers or the International Labour Mobility program, the number of newcomers and foreign workers is at least double.

Why are workers from all corners of the globe coming here to Saskatchewan to work jobs that are often low-wage and lack security?

These workers are just part of an estimated 232 million migrants worldwide crossing international borders in order to find work pushed by the rapid pace of economic globalization that has resulted in high unemployment and increasing poverty in their home countries (International Labour Organization, 2016).  These conditions have resulted in a demand for foreign workers in low and high-skilled occupations here in developed economies, like Saskatchewan. The end result as Choudry and Smith (2016) describe it: “with Economic restructuring, labour market deregulation and the erosion of union power, increasing numbers of workers – and especially immigrant and temporary migrant workers – have suffered disproportionality from low-wage employment and welfare state retrenchment.”

Our two, linked research teams are attempting to better understand this population’s health needs, employment conditions, and housing situations. We are studying the issues migrant workers encounter on the job, whether it is about workplace safety or the complex relationship they have with unions. It is critical that researchers, service providers, policy makers and, most importantly, the general public learn more about migrant workers who are making positive contributions to our communities and our workplaces.

Throughout North America, migrant workers are recognized as especially vulnerable to factors affecting health such as poor housing conditions, workplace safety, and access to health services (Preibisch & Hennebry, 2011; Preibisch & Otero, 2014) – all which can be considered modifiable determinants of health, and all of which are affected by various forms of legislation and regulation. It’s also been well-documented that the legal status of migrant workers makes them particularly vulnerable to workplace exploitation and abuse (Faraday 2014; Faraday 2012; Auditor General of Canada 2009). We are comparing the migrant worker realities in Saskatchewan to experiences in other provinces.

This research also seeks to understand the relationship between migrant workers and their respective unions. Although a substantial number of TFWs are employed in industries, like food services and accommodations, with low union density rates, many work in occupations like healthcare and construction where labour organizations have a significant presence (Stevens 2014a). This component of the project also investigates the interaction between migrant workers and employment standards, and how they navigate the existing complaints-based system governing hours of work, minimum wages, and other basic workplace rights.



In order to get a clearer picture of migrant worker life and health-affecting circumstances in Saskatchewan, the first phase of our study reached out to a variety of community partners who work directly with migrant workers. Our Community Advisory Panel (CAP) draws on a wealth of experience and knowledge amongst professionals and community leaders who interact with migrant workers and migrant worker issues. The purpose of the CAP is to help identify stakeholders we could interview and recruit participants for our study. In total 15 key informants were identified and interviewed in 2016. Collectively our interviewees represent a broad spectrum consisting of faith groups, settlement agencies, employers, government regulators, and workplace safety organizations.



Our preliminary findings shed light on the various ways provincial legislation and regulations affect the well-being of migrant workers. Through the interviews we identified gaps in the established systems (provincial and federal) that are designed to protect the health of these foreign workers. Drawing on and reflecting on our research, questions surface about the design and effectiveness of the provincial mechanisms, particularly related to enforcement provisions, that are supposed to protect migrant workers in Saskatchewan in the areas of employment standards, housing, occupational safety, and accessing health care services.

 Accessing Health Care

Our interviews reveal that even if migrant workers are entitled to health care, they have difficulty accessing healthcare services due to language barriers or because they might lack the knowledge of how to navigate the provincial health care system.  What is also apparent is that migrant workers are hesitant to report illness and or seek medical attention because they are fearful doing so may compromise their employment and result, ultimately, in deportation. Unfortunately, this fear is not unfounded. The service providers and migrant worker advocates we spoke to provided accounts of this actually occurring:

I know one guy who had his appendix removed, after he was released from the hospital shortly he was sent back home because his recuperation would take longer. So the employer don’t want to risk it because the reality is it’s money that they are investing and they need to get some return so they don’t want to have workers that aren’t healthy or they don’t work. (migrant worker advocate)

These health care realities have even changed the human resource practices in companies that came to rely on the Temporary Foreign Work Program.

We actually partnered with a doctor’s office. And in the doctor’s office there’s like a doctor, a chiropractor, a massage therapist – you know there’s whole bunch of different practices all practicing in one practice. And so for a lot of our people they don’t have a doctor, right? Like they don’t have somebody that they’ve seen ever since they were born. Like a lot of them, when you’re new to the country, you haven’t had that exposure to somebody that may not have just been a walk-in clinic. You know like if you weren’t feeling good. So we never force anybody to go to our doctor, it is always up to them. And the doctors that we work with are very familiar with our processes and that – we want to accommodate. (human resource manager)


Housing surfaced as an issue among migrant workers according to settlement workers and migrant worker advocates in the community. This includes migrant workers who are free to secure their own housing as well as those who live in accommodation provided by their employers. Access to affordable and safe housing in close proximity to services and sources of employment is limited, especially in Saskatchewan’s two main urban centres. Many interview participants mentioned that affordable housing was often restricted to what they perceive as unsafe neighbourhoods or in poorly maintained properties. It is important to recognize that this is a problem facing many low-income residents in Saskatchewan, and sheds light on the limitations of existing municipal and provincial housing strategies.

Many critical questions surface when examining the effectiveness of the regulatory bodies that are tasked with conducting housing inspections for employers who hire and house migrant workers.  Interview participants frequently summoned examples of over-crowding, housing supplied with insufficient number of appliances, and infrastructure that is in poor to inoperable condition. Employers often approached Regional Health Authorities for housing inspection documentation, which they can later submit as part of their application to hire foreign temporary workers:

We would report only on the conditions that we would see the time and the day of the inspection. Which means if they ask for the inspection in the middle of December, and everything is frozen and boarded up because they aren’t going to have [the workers] until summer, all we would say is, this is the time we were here and this is what we saw.

Often time the inspection is before the migrant worker actually shows up because it is part of the approval process to actually get them on site. So often times they are not even there when I am inspecting. (housing inspector)

This reflection is problematic because it does not assure the housing adequately meet the needs of the migrant workers, and sheds light on the limitations of the inspection regime as applied to housing for TFWs. It is also not an accurate assessment of the actual living conditions of the migrant workers once they actually arrive, and fails to prevent the examples of over-crowding summoned during interviews.


Occupational Health

                Occupational health encompasses the physical and psychological well-being of workers.  Saskatchewan has one of the highest work-related injury rates and the highest workplace injury-related fatality rate among Canadian provinces (AWCBC, 2016). Common occupational health issues cited by our interviewees include migrant workers being over-worked, not being trained properly in workplace safety, lack of proper safety equipment, and/or unsafe working conditions. As one interviewee noted:

Vulnerable workers will often overlook safety, just to keep their job. They’ll often overlook any safety concerns, and that’s the same with migrant workers, or with new Canadians is [that] safety isn’t important. They’ll do whatever they have to do or are told to do and that’ll be it.  (union representative)

The consensus among interviewees was that there are significant obstacles to migrant workers reporting workplace injuries, and materials related to OHS rights and responsibilities and OHS training need to be translated into different languages. A key informant had this to say:

Their own situation isn’t stable yet in Canada. They worry that if they complain, there’ll be retribution. And in some cases they come from a country where there was retribution if they were injured at work. Not in all cases but in some cases. So that is the number one thing; the tendency is to not report at all; they’re too scared to report.  (member of provincial safety association)

These gaps result in unreported injuries, and migrant workers not getting the support they are entitled to from the Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board. Furthermore, because of injury under reporting, safety associations, the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety, and other injury prevention partners, may not have an accurate picture of the types and frequency of injuries experienced by migrant workers.

Labour Rights

                Employment standards and labour relations legislation in Saskatchewan has always been a politically charged issue. In the last decade, major legislative overhauls resulted in the introduction of the Saskatchewan Employment Act, which, by some accounts, has tilted the balance of power in the favour of employers and businesses in the province (Stevens 2014b). However, some improvements to the basic floor of employment rights have been established, not least of which is legislation focused on protecting migrant and immigrant worker rights. Some of these legislative changes surfaced in response to hundreds of reported cases of abuse and exploitation.

Interviewees discussed at length the ways in which the precariousness of status makes migrant workers more vulnerable than their Canadian counterparts. The combination of possible workplace exploitation, mistreatment and abuse combined with a lack of understanding about rights in general is identified as a major issue:

The stories I’ve heard from my clients they’re – they were treated very, very badly. They were called even slaves. You came to Canada because I give you these option. I wanted you to come to – and you have to do whatever I tell you otherwise I just kick you as from this place.  (settlement worker)

                Proclaimed in 2013, Saskatchewan’s Foreign Worker Immigration Rights and Services Act (FWRISA) is designed to police recruiters, immigration consultants and employers, and offer migrant workers legal avenues through which to address instances of harassment and exploitation in the workplace. The province describes this legislation as the most comprehensive of its kind in Canada. In fact, our province’s legislated protections for migrant workers have been given a B+ by the Canadian Council for Refugees in that organization’s 2015 national Report Card (CCR 2015). However, there is room for improvement. Our findings suggest that the legislation does not go far enough in auditing employers, or providing migrant workers with adequate assurances that they will not lose employment or be deported should they choose to file a complaint.

Although FWRISA can conduct investigations regarding abuse or mistreatment of workers, there are only three Integrity Officers plus an Executive Director who are responsible for the entire province of Saskatchewan. This shortfall is reflected in the federal management and enforcement of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. With over a thousand organizations accessing the TFWP, the sheer number of employers who hire migrant workers makes it difficult if not impossible for even a quarter of employers in Saskatchewan to be audited. The question raised here is whether this creates a scenario whereby abuses may routinely occur, go unreported or are underreported.  Since FWRISA also operates as a complaint-based system, it means migrant workers themselves who have a workplace issue, or their allies in the community, must contact the FWRISA hotline. Problems with this complaint-based system have long been documented in Saskatchewan and across Canada (Faraday 2014; Leo 2014). As our evidence shows, it is apparent that the fear of dismissal or deportation is a very real one for many of these workers, and therefore, there is great reluctance to report to authorities and instead continue to tolerate a situation with no reprieve or resolution.

There have also been unintended consequences stemming from FWRISA, which have hindered the capacity of public servants to offer assistants to migrant workers. This also ties into the lack of English language competencies amongst some of these newcomers and the lack of multi-lingual information about services.


One of the big limitations is …you know, there’s so many forms. And everybody says “can you help me do this form? Can you help me do this form?” and actually with the provincial legislation, we cannot help them do the form. We can give them the same information that there would be on the website about the form, and about the categories but we can’t say “if I was you I would put this here. Or I would put it like this”. We cannot interpret their information for them. According to the new provincial legislation that came in February of 2014, where you cannot act as if you are an Immigration Consultant. (settlement worker)

Future Directions for Research and Policy

While this paper represents a short summary of our preliminary research findings, and while there are still many unknowns about the experiences of migrant workers in Saskatchewan, our data raises the questions about the self-regulatory and complaints-driven regulatory model of migrant worker rights. The evidence suggests there is a need for greater resources for migrant workers than what already exists, and that there are not sufficient supports exclusively tailored to the unique needs of migrant workers. It also suggests the protective mechanisms in place ought to be strengthened. Going forward, our research team has highlighted the following issues:

  • In recognizing that many migrant workers originate in non-English speaking countries, all three levels of government need to consider the translation of documents related to accessing public service, employment rights, and occupational health and safety into languages commonly spoken by these newcomers (e.g., Spanish, Hindi, Tagalog, Arabic).


  • Consideration needs to be given to making publicly accessible the number of cases investigated by the Ministry of the Economy’s Program Integrity Unit, which oversees the FWRISA, as well as the outcome of these investigations and parties involved. Immigration recruiters and agencies that have been banned from practicing in Saskatchewan need to be included on a government-maintained list.


  • With legislation already in place for housing, employments standards and occupational health/safety, but gaps in enforcement revealed in this research, Saskatchewan needs implementation of a more robust inspection mandate in these areas. Relatedly, this requires an examination of the existing self-regulation and complaints-based models in these respective areas. Proactive approaches (e.g., random audits and inspections) may help identify those employers that regularly flaunt OHS and employment law. Here, cooperation will be required between Ministries and with municipal levels of government.


  • Recognizing that issues surrounding access to safe affordable housing are similarly faced by thousands of migrant and non-migrants, local municipalities need to be empowered with a provincial affordable housing strategy. The principal focus should be on the two major urban centres, Saskatoon and Regina, where about half of all TFWs are located. Challenges faced by migrant workers in rural areas and smaller municipalities also need to be considered.


By “Health Wanted: Social Determinants of Health Among Migrant Workers, and “Saskatchewan in the Global Division of Migrant Labor” research teams at the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Regina.

Farha Akhtar, Dr. Michael Schwandt, Dr. Lori Hanson, Dr. Sean Tucker, Dr. Andrew Stevens



AWCBC (Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada). (2016) http://awcbc.org/?page_id=14


Auditor General of Canada. 2009. Report of the Auditor General of Canada to the House of Commons. Chapter 2: Selecting foreign workers under the Immigration Program. Fall.


CCR. 2015. Report card: Migrant workers in Saskatchewan. http://ccrweb.ca/sites/ccrweb.ca/files/sk_report_card.pdf


Choudry, Aziz & Smith, Adrian. 2016. Unfree Labour? Struggles of Migrant and Immigrant Workers in Canada. April. Oakland: PM Press.


Faraday, Fay. 2014. Profiting from the precarious: How recruitment practices exploit migrant workers. April. Toronto: Metcalf Foundation.


Faraday, Fay. 2012. Made in Canada: How the law constructs migrant workers’ insecurity. Toronto: Metcalf Foundation.


International Labour Organization. 2016.  International Labour Standards on Migrant Workers.



Leo, Geoff. 2014. Complaint-based systems failing abused foreign workers. CBC News, May 27. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/complaint-based-systems-failing-abused-foreign-workers-expert-1.2651413


Preibisch, Kerry and J. Hennebry J. 2011. Temporary migration, chronic effects: the health of international migrant workers in Canada. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 183(9), 1033–1038.


Preibisch, Kerry, and G. Otero. 2014. Does citizenship status matter in Canadian agriculture? Workplace health and safety for migrant and immigrant laborers. Rural sociology, 79(2), 174-199.


Stevens, Andrew. 2014a. Temporary foreign workers in Saskatchewan’s “booming” economy. Regina: CCPA-Saskatchewan.


Stevens, Andrew. 2014b. Is the Saskatchewan Employment Act ready of modern realities? Rankandfile.ca, May 13. http://rankandfile.ca/2014/05/13/is-the-saskatchewan-employment-act-ready-for-modern-realities/

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.

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.

Don Moran on an Aboriginal Employment Strategy


My idea for making Saskatchewan a better place to live is for the government to re-establish the successful employment strategy for Indigenous Peoples in this province. For 12 years, there was a program in place that improved employment for Aboriginal Peoples but the Wall government cancelled it and 98 partnership agreements in March 2010.

In the spirit of the call for action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, our government needs to address economic and social inequalities among the Indigenous Peoples in the province. The Wall government brings to mind a famous quote when you look at their actions on Aboriginal employment “If anyone thinks he is doing something when he is doing nothing, he deceives himself.” This government believes they are sound on the Aboriginal file. They think they are doing something, even though the statistics show worsening conditions, so they are only deceiving themselves – and the people of Saskatchewan.

The former Aboriginal Employment Strategy Program had tremendous success. Fortunately, unions like CUPE, negotiated language in collective agreements that commits employers to improve training and hiring of Aboriginal Peoples. This paper will provide an overview of the representative workforce strategy in health care and argue for the expansion of this strategy throughout the province.

Aboriginal Employment Strategy

Saskatchewan’s population is changing. We have more people who live in cities than on farms, we have become more diverse, and we have an aging non-Aboriginal population and an increasingly younger Aboriginal population.
The changing demographics will have an impact on our workplaces as baby-boomers begin to retire. The labour market will increasingly depend on a younger Aboriginal population and new immigrants to fill jobs. CUPE has been in the forefront of finding ways to bring more Aboriginal Peoples into the workforce through the signing of Partnership Agreements, developing culturally-specific collective agreement language, forming a CUPE Aboriginal Council to represent Aboriginal workers, and promoting the training and upgrading of Aboriginal workers. [1]

There have been significant strategies tried over the last decade to change the labour market statistics for First peoples in Canada. despite these efforts, concerns remain as First Peoples still experience significant labour market disadvantages compared to other Canadians.
In general, First Peoples have a lower labour force participation rate, a higher rate of unemployment, less representation in higher paying occupations and lower average wage rates. One area in which a significant effort has been made to address this issue is in the health care sector in Saskatchewan. The representative workforce strategy and the partnership agreement were designed as a focused approach in response to RCAP (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples), which recommended that, when working with Aboriginal people, a different approach to employment equity is needed. The partnership agreements were the different approach.

From 2000 to 2009 in the Saskatchewan health industry, this new approach resulted in an increase in the Aboriginal participation rate from 1% to 6%, with approximately 2,400 Aboriginal Peoples hired.

There were big gains in areas with traditionally low participation rates and a large Aboriginal population. In Prince Albert, the Aboriginal participation rate increased from 9% of all workers to 20%. In Regina, it increased from 1% to 4.1%. More than 500 Aboriginal people took a health care work preparation program. This was a 16-week program that included a half-day CUPE presentation that discusses the union’s structure, the collective agreement and addressed the concerns that Aboriginal people have about unions. 21,000 staff from health care workplaces participated in Aboriginal awareness training, including 10,500 CUPE members.

CUPE argues that organized labour has a responsibility to reduce the social barriers in the workplace to better accommodate the growing Aboriginal working classes. Reducing the social barriers also means being inclusive of Aboriginal cultural values and ideas and providing a place for Aboriginal leadership.

CUPE also believes that unions need to prepare for an influx of Aboriginal workers in the workplace and examine union structures for barriers to participation.
Cultural barriers consistently uphold status quo hiring policies, they reinforce stereotypical workplace norms, and they degrade labour-power value. The role of organized labour must be that of a leader and not a laggard in confronting workplace bigotry. The various unions must actively remove internal barriers and create space for Aboriginal workers. Confronting bigoted attitudes is a necessary component in achieving a ‘representative workforce.’ Organized labour can play a positive role in restructuring workplace politics by assisting in recruiting Aboriginal workers and growing their skillsets; but they can also play a detrimental role if they are hesitant in expanding beyond their traditional bases. [2]

Through a signed Partnership Agreement with the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations (SAHO) and First Nations and Métis Relations (provincial government) in 2000, CUPE agreed to work toward building a representative workforce. Many other unions in the province then signed Partnership Agreements.
The overall strategy of the representative workforce approach was to hire Aboriginal Peoples in all classifications and at all levels in proportion to their representation in the working age population within the community or the provincial population. The representative workforce strategy strives to build a workforce where Aboriginal people compete for jobs based on their skills and qualifications, and to increase their participation in all areas of the workplace. Creating an equal playing field and removing barriers to Aboriginal employment were crucial to recruiting and retaining qualified Aboriginal talent.
Efforts at better coordinating policies for First Peoples were neither unique to the health sector nor to Canada. Numerous Saskatchewan health regions undertook efforts since the late 1990’s to improve coordination in policy-making through signed partnerships between only the employer and the government and then further with non-governmental organizations. These partnerships were realizing minimum effects until the unions became involved. When CUPE was first approached, CUPE’s consideration included many important factors. A few of the major factors included ensuring its membership were onboard in designing a program focussed solely on Aboriginal participation in the workforce and seeking a way to attain a respectful workforce.

Before creating an Aboriginal employment strategy for the union, it was important to understand the diverse backgrounds of First Peoples. The more informed about the communities CUPE decisions may impact, the better decisions CUPE could make. Through discussions with CUPE First Peoples, CUPE realized a First Peoples policy must consider a holistic approach to achieving success. A holistic approach requires involving First Peoples in the process of developing an Aboriginal policy or strategy for the union.

In September of 2000, CUPE held Tripartite meetings with Saskatchewan Association of Hospital Organizations (SAHO) and the First Nations and Métis Relations (provincial government) which resulted in the parties mutually agreeing in principle that initiatives were needed to modify the collective agreement, to design language to encourage potential Aboriginal workers to participate in and be integrated into the health sector labour force in proportion to their labour force numbers.

CUPE Health Care Executive supported the initiative through signing the partnership and meeting to strategize how to accomplish the effort. The health care CUPE membership was then asked to support these efforts. A central part of the mandate is improving the knowledge and understanding of First Peoples. The membership did in resounding fashion when they ratified a collective agreement containing language to improve the employment statistics for First Peoples. (see appendix A)

Specific to the health sector, the parties had undertaken a holistic five-pronged approach which included a needs assessment, developing collective agreement language, preparing the workplace, creating an outside supportive education system and managing new hires and current members with succession planning. This five-pronged approach wasn’t necessarily accomplished as separate goals as many components were being worked on as a whole.
The first phase was a needs assessment for the health sector, a snapshot of the workplace, upcoming needs such as vacancies, retirements and hard to fill positions. Through the work of SAHO and CUPE this was accomplished over many meetings.

The second component was developing language and ratifying the language into the collective agreement. All parties to the partnership, including the provincial government, met and developed language that needed to be ratified by the membership of CUPE and SAHO.

The third prong, preparing the workplace, focussed on awareness training needed to ensure a representative workforce was accepted in the workplace. CUPE and SAHO developed an Aboriginal awareness course to address recruitment and retention problems of Aboriginal workers in health care. The course tackled the miscommunication, misunderstandings, and frustrations that occur between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal workers in the workplace, because of the aboriginal myths prevalent in Saskatchewan society. These obstacles can be overcome by making all parties realizing the myths are not real and ensuring participants become culturally sensitive.

CUPE/SAHO’s Aboriginal Cultural Awareness course is designed to provide non-Aboriginal participants with a greater understanding of the issues and challenges facing Aboriginal people in Canada. The Aboriginal Cultural Awareness course was mandatory for the CUPE membership. The mandatory attendance was voted on by the CUPE membership who agreed that all members must take the course. The program covers the groups that make up Canada’s Aboriginal population, examines history from a First Peoples perspective and explores the ways in which historical injustices have impacted Aboriginal culture.

The fourth piece was creating a supportive external educational environment for the positions which were defined by the needs assessment. Once a needs assessment is completed, and known vacancies and qualifications are identified, the First Peoples educational institutions must be informed of the needed qualifications and design their training around these needs. With regards to the fourth element of a CUPE driven representative workforce strategy a network needed to be involved where all partners could meet to discuss upcoming needs and qualifications and ensuring the educational institutions were ready to train their members. The provincial government introduced CUPE to the Provincial Aboriginal Representative Workforce Council (PARWC) in February 2000 with a mandate to develop strategies for delivering training linked to partnership employer job opportunities. At this table, many of the organizations involved with government on partnerships also came together to discuss best ideas. On February 5, 2003, CUPE was honoured at the Provincial Aboriginal Representative Workforce Council’s (PAWC) Recognition Banquet for CUPE’s commitment to the partnership.

Through involvement with PARWC, it was established that networking is the most effective method to recruit First Peoples. Much of the Aboriginal population, whether living in urban, rural, or remote locations, stays connected through what the mainstream businessperson might refer to as networking. From a mainstream perspective, networking often focuses on a specific goal, such as finding an employee for a job. From an Aboriginal perspective, networking is about developing relationships. The key here is that establishing relationships takes time. Rather than rushing into a new relationship, Aboriginal people take the time to get to know the other person. They spend some time together until eventually a trust relationship is established. In the context of recruiting, an organization will know that a trust relationship is established when the Aboriginal community extends invitations to community events or meetings. [8]
The fifth element, managing the workforce with succession planning, is built around the notion of “career laddering.” CUPE and SAHO devised a career pathing process throughout the health sector in Saskatchewan in support of building a representative workforce in the sector and continue awareness training for newly hired and existing CUPE members.

In recognition of the importance of the partnership strategy, on December 19, 2002, the International Labour Organization (ILO) released “Social dialogue in health services” which focussed on this Saskatchewan model. [9]
From 1992 to 2010 the Saskatchewan government’s message was to meet provincial labour market needs through workplace preparation. By building linkages to the First Nations and Métis workforce, the program aimed to ensure representation at all occupational levels. This participation at the time was considered by the government as an integral component to Saskatchewan’s future success with indigenous statistics. The problems unions have seen with the strategy before we signed on was that it focussed only on one designated group, it did not include unions and seemed to be providing lip service. By assessing the program from the sidelines since health care providers began to sign the partnership, the program seemed to be going nowhere fast. At this time CUPE realized the program had potential.

The government was instrumental to the partnership between SAHO and CUPE. This is reflected when you review the numbers of partnerships the government were part of. As of March 31, 2009, there were 98 total partnerships, 4,465 Aboriginal hires, 36,676 employees received awareness training and 1,996 received work-based skills training. PARWC linked the Aboriginal community to the demand side by providing information of First Nation and Metis communities on skill requirements for employer demand. Aboriginal communities are then responsible to prepare themselves through formal learning and education. They are responsible to encourage youth to achieve the maximum knowledge and skills to participate in the identified employment and economic opportunities. All training institutes are responsible for the results of education and training provided to youth by ensuring they are receiving the education and achieving the standards that will make them competitive.

On March 24, 2010, the Saskatchewan Party government notified CUPE and other unions that they were closing the Aboriginal Employment Development Unit (AEDP) and would no longer support Aboriginal employment directly. The AEDP agreements were cut in the 2010/11 budget. At that time CUPE lost its Saskatchewan Aboriginal coordinator and trainer in which the government had partially funded.
Without government funding, CUPE and SAHO continued with a committee structure that provided for the ongoing management of components of the partnership agreement in health care. Both sides were committed to achieving a representative workforce. CUPE and SAHO agreed to utilize EI rebate money for funding the Provincial Employment Strategy Committee (PESC). The rebate gets deposited into the PESC account in the amount of approximately $1,186,499.08 per year.

In 2015-2016 alone, 1,220 applications have gone through the program for education funding and have been approved for funding by the Provincial Employment Strategy Committee (PESC). The approvals have totaled over $1.4 million this year in education funding to help CUPE employees and CUPE health regions.

PESC has currently recruited and continues to train new Aboriginal Awareness Training (AAT) Facilitators. Updated material is now being used in the AAT program, this program which was initiated for CUPE members, now provides education to all employees within the CUPE health regions.
PESC strives to continue to provide funding opportunities to those CUPE employees and CUPE health regions that require assistance to expand or upgrade their education.

The Committee has completed the process of updating the Aboriginal Awareness Training. Currently, the committee continues to provide a four (4) hour Aboriginal educational to CUPE members and managers. The education assists in the preparation of the work place, in dispelling myths and dealing with misconceptions regarding Aboriginal people. SAHO continues to employ a Representative Workforce Coordinator in each region.
The mandate remains to train all CUPE employees and managers. Funding for this training is supported by Saskatchewan Health and the PESC. Saskatchewan Health provides funding for three (3) hours and the PESC provides funding for one (1) hour of the Aboriginal Awareness Training. [10]

Meeting Saskatchewan’s Labour Needs
A labour force report prepared for the government of Saskatchewan indicates that 171,500 Saskatchewan workers will be retiring in the next two decades. Because there are not enough workers coming behind the retiring baby boomers, Saskatchewan’s labour force will need an additional 120,000 workers by the year 2020. [5]

The key factor in the projections is that there must be a higher participation rate of Aboriginal Peoples in the labour force. In other words, the percentage of working age Aboriginal people in the labour force must increase. [4] The cost of underutilizing an Aboriginal workforce is being borne by everyone. There will be an enormous savings if we can take every opportunity to ensure that Aboriginal Peoples have access to jobs and economic activity. One study produced in Ontario estimates that health care, crime and social assistance costs $2,900 per household. [6]

Closing Saskatchewan’s education gap is also fundamental to reducing Aboriginal unemployment, and could provide a $90 billion economic boost during the lifespans of everyone in the province, according to a University of Saskatchewan economist Eric Howe. “That’s 20 per cent more, for example, than the total value of all potash that’s ever been produced in Saskatchewan, (just by ensuring) Aboriginal people are employed at the same rate as non-Aboriginal people,” First Nations and Metis people living in Saskatchewan have historically had much higher unemployment rates and much lower labour market participation rates than non-Aboriginal people. The three-month moving average Aboriginal unemployment rate climbed to 16.4 per cent last month, 9.8 percentage points higher than the overall average rate of 6.6 per cent, per Statistics Canada. That means there was an average of 8,600 aboriginal people — 5,200 First Nations and 3,400 Metis – looking for work but unable to find it.” [7]

On January 10, 2015 Premier Wall pointed to a number of initiatives his government has launched in connection with education and employment and Aboriginal Peoples. “We have a labour shortage and the very first place we should look for new workers is not the temporary foreign worker program, it’s not even the immigrant nominee program, it’s Saskatchewan people,” Wall said. “If you have under-employment amongst a large population of Saskatchewan people, as we still do with First Nations or Aboriginals, then we need to make that a priority.” [3] Let’s HOLD HIM TO THIS!


The language was ratified as per the following in the Collective Agreement:

23.05 Representative Workforce
a) Preamble: The parties will address proactive processes that support a representational workforce which shall include but not be limited to identifying employment opportunities, education and training and preparing workplaces.
b) Workforce Representation: The parties agree to the principle of a representative workforce for Aboriginal workers. The parties agree to charge the Employment Strategy Committee with the responsibility to develop, implement, monitor and evaluate pro-active initiatives designed to ensure Aboriginal people are present in all occupations in their proportion to the provincial working population. Therefore, when hiring new employees, the Aboriginal representative principle shall be applied, providing there are qualified Aboriginal applicants for the vacancy.

c) Workplace Preparation – The parties agree to implement educational opportunities for all employees to deal with misconceptions and dispel myths about Aboriginal people. This will include enhanced orientation sessions for new employees to ensure a better understanding of respectful work practices to achieve a harassment free environment.

d) In-Service Training – The parties agree to facilitate educational opportunities which may include literacy training and career path counseling/planning.

e) Elders – At the request of the employee, an Elder will be present when dealing with issues affecting Aboriginal employees.

f) Accommodation of Spiritual or Cultural Observances – The parties agree to make every reasonable effort to accommodate an Employee to attend or participate in spiritual or cultural observances required by faith or culture.



1. Cheryl Stadnichuk. (April 2011). Creating a Representative Workforce.
2. John Bird Regina. (July 2013). Aboriginal Dispossession and Proletarianization in Canadian Industrial Capitalism: Creating the Right Profile for the Labour Market (128-129)
3. Aboriginal education, employment high priorities, Sask. politicians say, January 10, 2015, by Stefani Langenegger from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/aboriginal-education-employment-high-priorities-sask-politicians-say-1.2895772
4. Cheryl Stadnichuk. (April 2011). Creating a Representative Workforce.
5. SaskTrends Monitor, December 2010
6. Everyone pays the province’s $38 billion cost, November 20, 2008, by Laurie Monsebraaten from https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2008/11/20/everyone_pays_the_provinces_38_billion_cost.html
7. Reducing aboriginal unemployment could bring $90 billion in economic benefits to Saskatchewan, June 15, 2015, by Alex MacPherson from http://thestarphoenix.com/business/local-business/reducing-aboriginal-unemployment-could-bring-90-billion-in-economic-benefits-to-saskatchewan
8. Aboriginal Recruitment Guide, Environment Careers Organization, 2015
9. Case study of social dialogue, December 19, 2002, Jane Lethbridge, Senior Research Fellow, Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU), Park Row, Greenwich, London from http://www.ilo.org/public/english/dialogue/sector/papers/health/wp189.pdf
10. Provincial Employment Strategy Committee Annual Report 2015-2016, Laurie Appel, Office Coordinator