Northern and youth suicides was a hotly discussed topic Wednesday night as the leaders of the Saskatchewan Party and New Democrats squared off in the only debate of the election.

Sask. Party leader Scott Moe was pressed on why he did not meet with Tristen Durocher, who walked more than 600 kilometers from Air Ronge to the Legislative Assembly in July to raise awareness to suicide prevention.

The government at the time sent Minister of Government Relations, Minister Responsible for First Nations, Métis and Northern Affairs Lori Carr and Rural and Remote Health Minister Warren Kaeding to meet with Durocher.

“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, 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 is something they can continue?” NDP leader Ryan Meili asked.

Moe said that Durocher met with the highest levels of his government and that everyone agrees with what Durocher was trying to accomplish. “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 in 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 explained.

Both Durocher and the NDP were not pleased that 44 Sask. Party MLA’s in June voted down an opposition Bill legislating suicide prevention.

In May, the government released its own suicide prevention plan called “Pillars For Life,” which does identify action to be taken on northern youth suicide.

“Legislation is not required to work on something as important as suicides. 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 is northern suicides,” Moe said.

Meili questioned whether Moe was taking suicides seriously, pressing for more action.

Yet Moe stated that it will take time to for the suicide prevention strategy to see positive results.

The Provincial Capital Commission took Durocher to court in September claiming that he was breaking several Wascana Park bylaws, including having a fire and overnight camping.

However, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Graeme Mitchell ruled the bylaws governing Wascana Park were unconstitutional and allowed Durocher to finish his 44-day fast on September 13. The government declined to appeal that ruling and now what six months to re-write the bylaws.

(Photo: Tristen Durocher (front) arriving at the Legislature in July, having completed his 650 KM walk. By Dan Jones)