Saskatchewan kicked off its fall legislative session Wednesday with a tough-on-crime throne speech presented while a former cabinet minister turned notorious convicted killer sat in the chamber.
Colin Thatcher, 84, said he was happy to accept an invitation from his good friend, Saskatchewan Party legislature member Lyle Stewart.
Wearing a blazer and bolo tie, Thatcher sat next to a provincial police chief as Lt.-Gov. Russell Mirasty delivered the speech laying out the agenda for the session.
Mirasty said the government is set in the coming days to introduce legislation akin to Alberta’s proposed sovereignty act, the Saskatchewan First Act, which would define that Saskatchewan has exclusive jurisdiction over its natural resources and economic future.
But it was the focus to crack down on crime, with Thatcher’s attendance, that drew the most reaction.
“Many Saskatchewan residents see the federal government as too lenient on violent offenders who commit gun crimes and too focused on punishing law-abiding gun owners,” Mirasty said.
“This session, my government will take significant action to crack down on the illegal and violent use of firearms in the commission of crimes to ensure families feel safe in their communities.”
Thatcher’s ex-wife JoAnn Wilson was found beaten and shot to death in the garage of her Regina home in 1983. The killing followed a tense breakup between the couple and a bitter custody dispute over their three children.
Thatcher, an energy minister under former Conservative premier Grant Devine, was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. He served 22 years behind bars before he was granted full parole in 2006.
He has always maintained his innocence.
When asked by a reporter in the rotunda if he thinks the province needs tougher crime measures, Thatcher laughed and said “enough” before walking away. He then joined Stewart for tea at a social gathering.
“Colin was a longtime MLA, and he’s a constituent of mine and a friend of mine and that’s why I (invited him) and I’m happy that I did,” Stewart told The Canadian Press, adding it was the first time he’d invited Thatcher to a throne speech.
“If anybody has a right to be here, it’s Colin Thatcher.”
He added that Thatcher, “a fine individual,” has had a tough life because of his time in prison.
Both Stewart and Minister of Corrections and Policing Christine Tell said they weren’t concerned about the optics of having Thatcher at the speech.
Premier Scott Moe was unavailable for comment.
Thatcher has previously visited the legislature as a convicted killer. In 2006, he attended a ceremony honouring dead premiers that included his father, former Liberal premier Ross Thatcher.
Opposition NDP Leader Carla Beck called the invitation for Thatcher to attend Wednesday’s event “stunning.”
“It’s a government that’s increasingly showing us they’re out of touch, making sloppy mistakes,” Beck said.
The province’s rate of domestic violence is one of the highest in the country, she said.
“I would say that the decisions made and the stunning lack of self-awareness by this government today won’t go unnoticed by Saskatchewan people. I’m sure.”