Premier Scott Moe suggested that some advocates of COVID-19 lockdowns speak from a place of privilege, as they make use of work-from-home options that aren’t available to everyone.
Moe used a virtual speech at the 2021 Municipalities of Saskatchewan convention Monday to defend his government’s record on fighting the pandemic and paint a rosy picture of the future. He promised to “move heaven and earth” to bring back thousands of jobs lost in Saskatchewan, while criticizing those who support measures that, in his view, would leave even more people out of work.
“It’s easy for someone to stand up and say ‘we need to lock everything down’ when they have the opportunity to work from home,” he said. “The fact of the matter is thousands of people in Saskatchewan do not have that opportunity. Many of them, for example, are essential workers.”
Tracy Zambory, president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN), represents more than 10,000 of those essential workers. In reacting to Moe’s comment, she said “strong leadership works to unite, not divide.” She noted that Saskatchewan is lagging other provinces and may need to make strong moves to push down numbers more quickly.
“If we’ve got the highest cases per capita in the country, perhaps our public health orders need a re-evaluation to ask, why are things progressing so slowly?” she said in an interview after Moe spoke. “Perhaps we should be looking at some stronger measures.”
In his speech, the premier again framed his pandemic strategy as a delicate balance between protecting public health and preserving jobs. He boasted about comparatively low unemployment, strong wholesale trade figures and stimulus money reaching municipalities. He also mourned the hundreds of deaths COVID-19 has caused in Saskatchewan.
“Our government will never discount and we will never diminish the danger of the COVID-19 virus,” said Moe.
He argued that most COVID-19 indicators are heading in the right direction. The seven-day average for new daily cases has dropped from roughly 320 to 220 in three weeks. Though some other provinces have pushed their numbers down more quickly with stay-at-home orders lockdowns or curfews, Moe denied that’s any reason to tighten restrictions in Saskatchewan.
“We’re all moving in the same direction. We’re all reducing our infection rates by a large part across the nation,” he said. “If we’re moving in the right direction, that doesn’t precipitate stronger measures, and what that does speak to is that the measures we have are working.”
Moe said the vaccines remains the way out of the pandemic, and again blamed the federal government for falling short of heady expectations for vaccine deliveries.
“This is where things now are a little bit shaky,” he said. “Even with Pfizer’s production issues, it’s clear that the federal government has over promised and has under delivered. When it comes to supplying the vaccine in a timely fashion.”
Zambory later countered that Saskatchewan shouldn’t be banking everything on the vaccine, which she views as only one tool in the toolbox for containing the disease.
The federal government has so far delivered just 38,575 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Saskatchewan. That’s just 10 per cent of what’s needed to vaccinate all priority populations in Phase 1 of Saskatchewan’s vaccine plan.
When that work is complete, Moe foresees “a comeback in the making.” He said Saskatchewan is well-positioned for a rebound as the global economy grows.
As of January, employment in Saskatchewan was down 25,200 year-on-year. Moe said he’s willing to do just about anything to put those people back to work.
“We have lost a lot of jobs in Saskatchewan over the course of the last 11 months. Too many jobs. And that hurts,” he said. “I’m here today to tell you this: We want those jobs back. We are going to move heaven and earth to get those jobs back.”