Why wouldn’t Saskatchewan Party Leader Scott Moe, as premier, personally meet with Tristen Durocher to discuss his efforts to highlight suicide in the north? That was a question that New Democratic Party Leader Ryan Meili has been asking for months now, and he got a chance to put the issue to Moe during the leaders debate on Oct. 14 in Regina.
Meili challenged Moe on why he and his party did not support a suicide prevention bill brought forward by Cumberland MLA Doyle Vermette, whom Meili pointed out is Metis, and why he didn’t speak to Durocher personally instead of sending ministers.
Meili said, “Tristen walked all the way from La Ronge to Regina, nearly 700 kilometres, and then fasted just over there, outside of the Legislature, for 44 days; one day, for each of the Sask. Party MLAs who voted against a suicide prevention strategy. And instead of engaging in conversation, instead of meeting him, Mr. Moe, you sent two of your ministers, across the road to basically say, ‘Get off my lawn.’
“What kind of a message do you think that sends, not just to Tristen, not just to Doyle, but to every family who's lost someone, to every young person who is struggling right now with whether or not they feel their life can continue?”
Moe responded, “There are two ministers in the Government of Saskatchewan that did meet with Mr. Durocher. And I think it's important for us all to realize that everyone agrees with what Mr. Durocher is advocating for. He's advocating for the investment and the recognition of something that we all need to do and we all need to work collaboratively on, in reducing Indigenous suicides and reducing suicides in northern Saskatchewan.”
Moe spoke of the Saskatchewan Party’s “Pillars for Life” strategy for dealing with suicide prevention. He said, “The Pillars for Life strategy, you say it is not endorsed by experts, but it's endorsed by the Canadian Mental Health Association. It does lay out the strategy, the efforts, the action that needs to take place in the months and in the years ahead. One of those actions I mentioned already was a letter of commitment with the FSIN (Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations) and the federal government, to work specifically on indigenous and northern suicides in this province. This is a plan. This is a strategy for the provinces, a strategy that needs to be invested in in the years ahead.”
The moderator asked if Moe regretted not meeting with Durocher and taking him to court.
Moe responded, “Our ministers met with Mr. Durocher. They had a fulsome conversation with Mr. Durocher, and this is a government that takes suicides, it takes mental health, takes addictions, very, very seriously.”
Moe pointed to a $30 million increase in the most recent budget for mental health, building on a $30 million increase the year before. “We're making sure that that investment is coming with real outcomes for our communities and for our family members,” but added, “It is going to take some time.”
Moe said the ministers “gleaned some good advice from Mr. Durocher.”
Meili said Pillars for Life was “described by experts as so vague as to be meaningless.”
The NDP leader noted that Vermette spoke about “what he's seen in his community about the number of funerals he's had to attend, the number of families he's had to console, or counsel folks who were talking about taking their lives, at a time when we are leading the country in the number of people who are dying by suicide. He gave an amazing speech, an amazing speech in the Legislature to support his bill for suicide prevention about those experiences. And I watched the premier watch that speech and his colleagues on the other side as well, with our hearts in their eyes. And I hoped, for a moment, that maybe, just for once they would actually vote with us for something like that. But instead they voted, 44 of them, every single one, voted against a legislated suicide prevention strategy.”
He asked why Moe voted against the bill, “brought forward by a Metis MLA.”
Moe responded, “Legislation is not required to work on something as important as suicide. So you know very well, Mr. Meili, that we have our Pillars for Life strategy in place. That Pillars for Life strategy is working, is guiding us through the conversation around how we are engaging with our partners across the province on a very important conversation, one around suicides and, in particular, yes, northern suicides.”
He said, “On the question of engagement, engagement within our party and engagement with community leaders across the province, Indigenous community leaders at all levels, that engagement is not a new piece, is not a new engagement. That engagement has been going on and it needs to continue into the future. I look back to the conversation we had, and not only at the at the Big River First Nation, but the conversations that we've had at the tribal council level on our 18 partnerships when it comes to Child and Family Services, and now working on the implementation of Bill C-92, making sure that our children are taking care of in their communities.”