05/16/2013 02:42 EDT | Updated 07/16/2013 05:12 EDT

New labour, liquor laws passed as Saskatchewan legislature ends spring sitting

REGINA - The spring sitting of the Saskatchewan legislature has wrapped up after debate on labour laws, private liquor stores, the sale of a Crown corporation and seniors care.

Fifty-three pieces of legislation were passed, including one private member's bill to make reporting of asbestos in public buildings mandatory.

Premier Brad Wall says he thinks the most important part of the sitting was tabling a balanced budget.

"We made some difficult choices to get there," Wall said Thursday.

"We'll continue to make those choices because we think that's essential to the Saskatchewan advantage. And it's what the people voted for in the last election, so from that standpoint, I'm happy with how the session unfolded."

The premier acknowledged that choices made by governments can become baggage over the years.

"I think every single session you're going to get rocks in your backpack because when you make decisions on the budget, you're not going to make everybody happy ... especially when you work hard to make sure it's balanced," he said.

"Maybe, actually, those aren't so-called rocks in the backpack in the long term, especially if people understand why those decisions are being made."

Wall said it was also important to pass new labour legislation that he believes will modernize employment rules.

The new Saskatchewan Employment Act melds 12 pieces of legislation into one omnibus law. It allows for people to work either five eight-hour days a week or four 10-hour days a week, lowers the qualifying period for maternity, parental and adoption leave to 13 weeks from 20 weeks and bans a lower minimum wage for people with disabilities.

The new law also has regulations to adjust the minimum wage to the cost of living.

The Saskatchewan Federation of Labour has said the legislation is rife with loose ends, waters down current labour standards and undermines bargaining rights.

Wall believes working on the act, which was introduced as a bill a year ago, was a good exercise in law-making.

"We made a number of friendly amendments to try to respond to those concerns and it took a year. It was a deliberative process and one that was responsive to input we received not just from the Opposition, but from people."

The government also passed legislation to allow it to sell 60 per cent of Information Services Corp., the Crown corporation that handles land and personal property registries.

The government said a sale is the best way for the company to grow beyond Saskatchewan. The shares are expected to raise between $90 million and $120 million, which the government has said will be used to build infrastructure.

The Opposition NDP has called it the sale of a golden goose because the corporation posted a $21.2-million profit — most of which goes into provincial coffers as a dividend.

The governing Saskatchewan Party also changed the law to add private liquor stores to its retail mix in Regina and Saskatoon.

Another new law creates the first new provincial park in nearly 20 years. Great Blue Heron Provincial Park, adjacent to Prince Albert National Park, covers just over 11,000 hectares.

Saskatchewan also became the first province to make reporting of asbestos in public buildings mandatory.

The legislation, named Howard's Law, was introduced by New Democrat Cam Broten last fall in honour of Howard Willems, a former building inspector who died from mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that comes from inhaling asbestos fibres.

For Broten, the spring sitting was his first as NDP leader. He took the helm of the party in March.

"Each week I felt more and more comfortable in my own skin and comfortable in the role," Broten said Thursday.

Broten said the highlight of the session for him was raising concerns brought forward by people, especially on seniors care.

One case the NDP focused on was that of a Regina woman who said the level of care at a seniors home where her mom lives is dangerously inadequate. The woman said there had been cases of residents falling or being left on toilets for hours.

"These stories from Saskatchewan people stick out in my mind and what we wanted to do as an Opposition was to help these individuals and to show that there is a better way that things can be done as well," said Broten.