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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: Leah Arcand

My name is Leah Arcand and I’m from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation.

I would like to acknowledge Treaty 4 territory that we’re on today.

And I would like to thank the organizers for inviting me to speak and you all for being here and showing an interest in transformational change.

Before I begin, I would like to share with you a little bit about my background.

I’ve been a teacher for 3 years. I know that sounds like I’m a baby when it comes to education but I’ve been in this field professionally for 10 years. I started out as an Educational Assistant and now I lead an activist and nehiyaw land based program called Miyo Pimatsowin which means “good, healthy living.”

It took me awhile to get where I am today and I owe it all to the youth I’ve worked with and the experiences I have had since I started my career in Education..

By all means, I don’t feel like I’m an expert on education but my front line experience has shaped the way I view our education system.

I’m passionate about creating safer spaces in our schools. Creating safer spaces means changing the systems and ideas that play out these microaggressions that reinforce the power structure.

As I was prepping for what I wanted to say today, I was thinking a lot about a program initiative in Saskatchewan that borrows a New Zealand model called, Following Their Voices.  In Canada Following Their Voices focuses on improving First Nations and Métis student attendance. The goal of Following Their Voices is to improve teacher-student relationships, improve the learning environment and to encourage broad interactions between teacher and learner.

It sounds good right?

It’s primarily funded by the provincial government, which has invested $3.1 million since it began, including $1.55 million this year. The federal government has also backed the project with $250,000. That’s a lot of money to train teachers to know how to talk to Indigenous youth.

Maybe the program is working in certain schools – and I don’t want to take anything away from the students who are experiencing success – but I wonder if it’s truly qualitative. And I’m only speaking about the school I saw this program being implemented at.  It did not sit well with me. For example, seeing settler teachers who are FTV school based facilitators suddenly act like experts on indigenous issues is hard to navigate, especially when they don’t know what the Truth and Reconciliation commission is. Also, being the only First Nations staff member and sitting in on student based meetings, witnessing settler teachers have a free-for-all complaining circles about Indigenous youth, was hard to digest.

I feel like we could save a lot of time if we just used that money to hire staff that reflected the student body. If we implemented policy that made it ok for us to do that the youth would see more transformational change through meaningful mentorship from people who have similar lived experiences. I started out in my career as a mentor. I could relate to the youth and they could relate to me.  These youth need Miyo Pimatsowin. They need inclusion and a sense of self/identity.

Miyo Pimatsowin a big change from the more conventional approach to teaching and learning.

We aren’t experiencing parents who have a problem with their children learning about social and cultural subjects. It’s crazy to say, but I know there is at least one place in SK where that isn’t the case. We are able to introduce a decolonial education without any of the dis-ease and worry of having the students parents come to the school in outrage or concern.

The main challenges I faced before Miyo Pimatsowin were those little microaggressions that play out in the school/workplace. Being the right mentor that these FNMI youth need also means disrupting those microaggressions and having to deal with the backlash from the settler community that doesn’t see value in our social and cultural beliefs. I’ve experienced this firsthand and it destroyed my mental health. I was very close to quitting teaching.  Some of my fellow indigenous teacher friends have also experienced backlash when we teach the settler society the things we need to teach the minorities, in order for those minorities to thrive and have pride in their identity.

It’s hard. There’s little to no support for us.  It’s a major turn off and many quit the profession.

Structural/pedagogical changes like this are needed for students to be successful in all/FN schools because we can’t expect them to succeed if they don’t have a safe space to learn and focus on their personal development. It’s a no brainer for me. Building relationships, having fun, leaning into the land, and having meaning conversations are the most valuable when it comes to lifelong learning.

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Summit Panel: Hayley Carlson

Transformation in an Era of Climate Change

Across Canada people hear “Saskatchewan” and we are often dismissed as flat and boring. But Saskatchewan is so much more than this. We are home to the beautiful Athabasca Lake, surrounded by the most northerly active sand dune formation on earth and home to several species of plants that are found no where else in the world. Saskatchewan too, is home to the Cumberland Delta, the largest inland freshwater Delta in North America at 10,000 km and nationally significant wildlife area. And Saskatchewan is also home to many rare species, such as the Swift Fox, a species that thrives on our native prairie.

However, Saskatchewan’s historical approach to the environment has threatened all of these things. The abandoned Gunnar uranium mine on the north shore of Lake Athabasca has been leaching toxic chemicals into the lake for the past 50 years. Dams along the Saskatchewan River and other human impacts are causing the Cumberland Delta to dry up and wildlife populations to decline. Land conversion and habitat fragmentation has made native prairie the most endangered ecosystem in the world. Less than 21 per cent of Saskatchewan’s original native prairie remains.

Environmental issues like these don’t exist in isolation, they are closely linked to those of health, of economy, of indigenous-settler relations and of social justice.

In Saskatchewan, our economy has been traditionally dependent on extractive resource industries that are now struggling and taking us from boom to bust. We’re currently experiencing wide-spread concern about loss of government revenue, cuts to public services, about jobs, and we are feeling a sense of fear and despair.

Unfortunately, environmental health is widely viewed as incompatible with economic security. The latter is seen as the priority, leading to an assumption that environmental risks must be accepted. There is a reluctance to regulate, and a failure to take the concept of “sustainable development” seriously.

Our economy is also very emissions-intensive. In many ways, climate change is an issue that dwarfs all others, and certainly exacerbates them. It really is an existential threat that has the power to fundamentally change our way of life. To me, it seems impossible to truly transform our province without considering transformation in the context of climate change, especially considering the next few decades are critical windows of opportunity for climate action. We are the highest greenhouse gas emitter per capita, and per unit of GDP in Canada, and we have no effective plan in place that either will reduce our emissions or prepare our province for an era of climate change.

We’re also very vulnerable to climate change. Although, in the short term Saskatchewan might experience benefits such as a longer growing season, our province is facing increasing risks from severe weather, crop failure, floods and drought, invasive species, forest fires, and threats to human health and to our infrastructure. These changes will affect the most vulnerable among us the most, those who are on the front lines directly depending on the land for a way of life, and the land itself.

We are all a part of this picture; our personal lives are very dependent on fossil fuels. It is hard to do anything in Saskatchewan without relying on them – turning on a light, heating our homes or even driving to the SaskFoward Policy Summit. We also have families who depend on fossil fuels and resource extraction for their livelihoods, and we all rely on resource revenues to fund important public services. These are real concerns we need to address in any sort of transformation.

Overall, Saskatchewan seems to be experiencing a sense of paralysis when it comes to this challenge, and a lack of inspiring and innovative leadership in government, commerce, education. But how can we transform this picture? I don’t have all the answers, but I hope to suggest a few.

A robust climate change strategy is the most important and the most urgent of the many environmental issues facing Saskatchewan – and because of what we need to do to address it, a proper climate strategy will have implications for all of the other issues we are talking about today. First we need to reduce emissions from our largest emitting sectors of Oil and Gas Mining, Electricity, Transportation and Agriculture, which collectively produce 92% of our provincial GHG emissions. From a policy perspective, it is easier to tackle emissions in some of these sectors relative to others.

Until now, carbon capture and storage technology has been the preferred strategy to address climate change in our province. However, our investment into this technology fundamentally reinforces the status quo, and is proving increasingly risky. It cannot be the way forward if we want to truly transform our province.

Instead it would be wise to target the electricity sector as an opportunity for major emission reductions. This would include planning for a complete coal phase-out by 2030 at the latest, and aggressively pursuing low carbon energy production paired with energy efficiency.

Saskatchewan has world-class solar and wind potential that many independent businesses and entrepreneurs are waiting for additional opportunities to develop. SaskPower should plan to significantly increase planned capacity for renewables by 2030 rather than relying on natural gas for additional energy capacity.

Saskatchewan should also look to other sources of energy production, such as co-generation in potash mines, installing micro-turbines at productive wellheads to capture natural gas or importing additional hydro-power from Manitoba. In fact, the federal government has recently indicated federal funding would be available for green energy projects such as inter-provincial transmission lines.

We should not forget demand-side management. Energy efficiency has been shown to be a great job creator – for tradespeople, for technologists, for energy auditors, for suppliers of materials, and for transit system workers. Low-cost programs that provide incentives for energy efficiency could include building code changes, investing into the education or retraining of building tradespeople and architects, and the upfronting of costs of energy retrofits by utilities, costs that would be gradually repaid by building owners on their monthly power bills.

It is within our reach to transform our electricity grid if we choose to do so, and there are a variety of policy mechanisms our government can employ to encourage this transformation. One such policy is a feed-in-tariff under which customers who install renewable power generators receive a price for the electricity they produce that reflects that actual installation costs plus a modest profit. Alternatively, Saskatchewan could also incentivize this electricity transformation through carbon pricing and revenue recycling, or a flexible regulations such as requiring Saskpower to generate 90% of electricity from near-zero or zero-emission sources by 2030.

In our oil and gas sector, a great opportunity for emission-reduction is the adoption of venting and flaring regulations in the oilfield, such as the proposed federal regulations that would target a 45 per cent reduction in methane emissions by 2025. Fugitive methane emissions from the oil and gas sector alone contribute 17 per cent (13 Million tonnes) to Saskatchewan’s annual greenhouse gas emissions – regulations like these could lower our emission by nearly 6 million tonnes annually (5 million tonnes more than the $1.5 billion unit equipped with carbon capture and storage at Boundary Dam).

Transportation and agriculture are two sectors where it is more difficult to design public policies but we could employ a variety of strategies to reduce emissions from Saskatchewan’s transportation sector, including things like encouraging a shift to rail transport, working with municipalities to develop convenient and reliable public transit services, and providing incentives for the purchase and use of highly energy efficient vehicles. Additional efforts need to be directed into working with our rural residents to identify how they can be a part of climate strategy while strengthening our rural and urban communities against climate change impacts. In the event of a carbon price, some revenue could be recycled into these efforts.

At the same time, we must enact policies that will build the resilience of our ecosystems against the challenges posed by climate change. Our loss of biodiversity needs to be addressed at two levels. First, it requires that we increase the number and size of ecologically significant landscapes that have protected status. It also requires that in those areas where development is allowed, we strengthen our environmental assessment and regulatory processes so that damage to nature is minimized. Environmental assessment needs to be undertaken both at a regional, cumulative level that looks at all of the impacts on a geographical region and on a project-specific level that considers the impacts associated with a particular development proposal. While the long term vision is to transition to a post-fossil fuel society, in the short-term Saskatchewan will need stronger regulations around pipeline construction and operation in order to avoid more episodes like the recent pipeline spills in the North Saskatchewan River, or on Ocean Man First Nation lands. Among other things, pipelines should be monitored by the Ministry of Environment and subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment, constructed with heavier walls and with the latest spill-detection technology, and monitored regularly with improved emergency response and transparency in spill reporting.

The health of Saskatchewan’s water resources is also closely tied to climate change. Our water is currently adequate, but vulnerable. Most of the province’s residents rely on the South Saskatchewan River in the semi-arid south to meet their personal and economics needs. Climate change will alter the processes of precipitation accumulation and melt, change the timing of flow and lead to a general decrease in water availability. Saskatchewan has attempted to address some of these challenges with creation of Water Security Agency, but more needs to be done including a development of a drought contingency plan and planning for water allocations during times of drought. Water infrastructure such as dams should also be upgraded to higher safety standards in anticipation of climate variability.

Doing all of these things is not just about reducing emissions or our impact on the environment, it is about preparing our province to succeed in a post-fossil fuel world, where I imagine we might live with less, but live better. If I am lucky enough to live to be 100 years old, it will be 2091, so I would be very much alive to see the consequences of our choices in the next few years. Fortunately, I think we have both the way and the will to make the changes we need to make.

I also firmly believe that if we want different public policies, we have to change the way we create them. Top-down, expert-driven and specialized approaches are characteristic of traditional methods of governance, but are not engaging people in the way they need to be. When we create policy this way, we are making choices that are consistent with only one way of seeing the world and not truly serving our diverse population. Moving beyond traditional ways of making decisions will not mean determining the most likely future for Saskatchewan, but rather involves deciding what kind of future we collectively desire. We need to ask where our province is ultimately heading, who is gaining and losing from our choices, what mechanisms of power are behind our decisions, and is growth desirable. This will involve frank discussion around values and power, but we cannot shy away from having the hard conversations we undoubtedly need to have to transform this province.

I believe this process is a good step in the right direction.


Hayley Carlson, Policy Coordinator and Ann Coxworth, Researcher | Saskatchewan Environmental Society

Kisiskatchewan Water Alliance Network on pipeline safety and protection of water


The last seven months – July 2016 – January 2017 – has seen two major oil spills in Saskatchewan. This has prompted important reactions about the safety of pipelines both existing and in development. It has galvanized communities to take action against the pipeline dependence that is destroying environments and clean water sources for many communities.

Shortly after the disastrous Husky spill on the North Saskatchewan River, Canoe Lake Indigenous Environmental activist leader Emil Bell went on a hunger strike demanding accountability from Husky and the Saskatchewan government, and a true record of what happened with the Husky spill.

Emil Bell’s hunger strike lead to various actions against Husky. The Kisiskatchewan Water Alliance Network was formed linking Indigenous and non Indigenous communities in opposition to the damage to critical water sources in Saskatchewan.

Tyrone Tootoosis, spokesperson for the Kisiskatchewan Water Alliance Network said, “water is life, people and communities want to know how to avoid these disastrous spills and who is accountable and responsible for what has happened.

We need to understand that this Husky catastrophe could happen to any body of water and we need citizen oversight on what the oil companies and the governments are doing. Water, the environment, and communities are too precious to have their interests subordinated to the interests of oil companies”, said Tyrone Tootoosis.

Indigenous communities along the Saskatchewan River System which falls within Treaty 6 territory took action.

“Due to the slow response by Husky and lack of transparency during the containment and cleanup process, the James Smith Cree Nation has decided to take its own mitigation measures and conduct its own sampling. They have expressed that their way of life has been impacted by the spill and that contaminants have been found in lake sturgeon spawning grounds. As a Sovereign Nation, we have taken it upon ourselves to take action and clean our river.” -James Smith Cree Nation (www.jamessmithcreenation.com).

Because of the lack of information or analysis coming from Husky and the Wall government an Independent Water Study was carried out in August by E Tech International Hydrologist Richardo Segovia. The study was supported by Idle No More, Public Service Alliance of Canada (Prairie Region) and the Council of Canadians.

Richardo Segovia’s team spent four days travelling the length of the spill along the North Saskatchewan River, speaking with residents, and collecting some sediment samples at strategic locations.

The study questioned the delayed response which resulted in the spilled oil going 500 kilometers downstream to Cumberland Lake contaminating drinking water for communities from North Battleford, Prince Albert, James Smith First Nation, Nipawin. (Months later Husky has given no adequate explanation for a 14 hour delay dealing with the oil spill.)

Richardo Segovia’s work pointed out, “Husky has not been open with technical information during the spill response. Despite the fact that they have taken thousands of water samples, the public still has not had access to any of the lab results. Instead, residents have had to trust Husky’s own summaries of exceedances of allowable contaminant limits and cleanup efforts. They have not taken any samples beyond Prince Albert, about 375 km downstream, even though contamination has been reported more than 500 km downstream.”

The Independent Water Study also states, “one major flaw in Husky’s sampling program is that they are only analyzing water. The separation of diluted crude into its lighter and heavier components causes some of the contaminants to end up attached to suspended river sediments and deposited on the river bottom, especially as time goes on. Husky is missing a major part of the contamination in not sampling sediments and could be leaving behind a toxic legacy for years to come.”

In a public statement E-Tech hydrogeologist Ricardo Segovia, warned that the hydrocarbons detected in sediment along the river are “very, very nasty” and could persist for years. He says, “You can’t go back to the way things were before … because there’s that chance that (contaminants) can be stirred up from the sediments, you have to be constantly monitoring those water intakes for the next several years at least.”

Although this study was conducted last summer it leaves some disturbing questions such as the long term effect of the oil in the sediment, how far the oil has travelled down the Saskatchewan River, and the release of hydro carbons from the spill affecting wild life and human communities.

On September 18th the Kisiskatchewan Water Alliance Network organized a Rally for Water in Saskatoon that had hundreds in attendance. Guest speakers included David Suzuki, Water for Life leader Christi Belcourt, Derek Nepinak, Grand Chief of the Manitoba Assembly of Chiefs, Ricardo Segovia.

Demands made at the Rally for Water included:

  1. Respect and adhere to rights and obligations of water use and flow on Indigenous lands and territories.
  2. Conduct a public Independent Inquiry into the Husky oil disaster.
  3. Do an Independent Audit on the real costs of the Husky Disaster – now and future costs.
  4. Establish an arms length independent watch dog to monitor and report on the safety to the public of oil pipe lines, oil wells and fracking in Saskatchewan.
  5. Demand that the government of Saskatchewan introduce the strongest environmental safety regulations and regulatory power over the extraction and movement of resources such as oil.
  6. Support and encourage the abilities and resources of communities to do their own assessments of water quality and preserving clean water sources.
  7. Build alliances for safe, clean water and water preservation community to community.
  8. Turn Saskatchewan from a petro-state to one of renewable energy use.

Subsequent to these calls for action the Saskatchewan Environmental Society (SES) in December 2016 called for an independent third party investigation that would take the form of a public inquiry. It would look at the actions of Husky and the provincial government as well as the broad environmental implications of the spill and its effects on local communities and First Nations. SES also called on the provincial government for more stringent safeguards, including environmental oversight, better inspection and emergency protocols, and more modern spill detection equipment.

In this same month the Wall government refused the request of the Privacy Commissioner for information on five years of pipeline inspections.

In January 2017 the next great oil spill took place of 200,000 litres on the Ocean Man First Nation Land. Undetected for days from a 49 year old pipe line that had never been inspected, and only discovered by a smell. The government was extremely slow in making it public – a three day delay.

With the planned announcement of moving the Enbridge Line 3 across southern Saskatchewan these spills and cover ups by oil companies and the provincial government show how threatening the pipelines will be to communities and the environment.

Kisiskatchewan Water Alliance Network has called for intervention from outside this province for a probe on the oil spills and most importantly how communities can be defended. An alliance – inside and outside of Saskatchewan – demanding to know what has happened and will happen in Saskatchewan will be critical in withstanding the heavy pressure for pipelines across Canada. Such an alliance would have its base water for life and link Indigenous and non Indigenous communities and would be a strong potent for resistance and change to a non fossil fuel based economy and society.

Don Kossick, member, Kisiskatchewan Water Alliance Network

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/

Tanya Andrusieczko on gender equality in policy-making


Women disproportionately fare worse than men under conditions of austerity.

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

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

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

We cannot accept gender inequality in this province.

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

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

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

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

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

Poverty Free Saskatchewan on a Transformative Approach to Poverty Elimination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saskatchewan Disability Strategy

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

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

Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan

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

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

Child Welfare Transformation Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E-mail: povertyfreesask@gmail.com

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


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

Carding and Street Checks

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

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


The “Unwanted Guest” Initiative

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

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

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

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

Oversight and Accountability

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Funding and Budgets

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

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

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

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


A Future without Police

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

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

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



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