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A person holds a sign while walking at a demonstration site during a province-wide, one-day strike organized by the members of Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation in Saskatoon, on Jan. 22.Heywood Yu/The Canadian Press

Saskatchewan’s escalating labour dispute with teachers has left a provincial basketball tournament hanging in the balance, with some students saying it’s frustrating the adults can’t play well together.

The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation is planning a one-day provincewide walkout Wednesday – the same day the government is to introduce its 2024 budget.

Teachers are also planning not to volunteer for extracurricular activities on Thursday and Friday, putting the popular high school basketball tournament known as Hoopla in jeopardy.

The annual Optimist Band Festival for music students is also scheduled this week in Regina, and it may get cancelled.

“We feel caught in the middle,” Kira Dureault, a Grade 12 student and basketball player in Regina, told reporters Monday.

“I don’t want to be just a pawn being moved around in this chess game.”

Dureault is the captain of her team and is hoping to play at the annual tournament. She and dozens of other players went to the legislature to raise their concerns.

“We are begging our government to reasonably negotiate with the teachers’ union. It is severely impacting our lives as students, and we’ve worked years building up to this (tournament),” Dureault said.

The job action is the latest in a series of moves the union says is necessary to get the province to come to the table and negotiate on smaller classroom sizes and additional supports.

The government has refused to negotiate those items into the collective agreement.

Last week, the province rejected the union’s offer to have the issues decided by an arbitrator.

In the legislature Monday, Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill took aim at the union over the basketball tournament.

“What’s unfortunate is now the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation leadership have decided to target the hard work of those coaches and athletes around the province by threatening to cancel Hoopla,” he told the assembly during question period.

Teachers say the province’s unwillingness to go into binding arbitration forced the job action.

“We are fighting to improve the learning conditions for all students across Saskatchewan,” federation president Samantha Becotte said in a news release.

“Extracurricular activities are an incredibly valuable part of the school experience for both students and teachers, but the education of children and youth is always our first priority.”

Opposition NDP Education Critic Matt Love demanded the Saskatchewan Party government get a deal done.

“Hoopla being cancelled, Mr. Speaker, that’s on them,” Love said of the government.

“It’s time for that minister to get out of the way for an independent arbitrator to come up with a solution that works for both sides. Does the minister realize that he is the problem?”

More than 4,000 teachers are set to demonstrate outside the legislature on budget day, while hundreds more are expected to protest elsewhere.

On the budget, the Opposition said Premier Scott Moe’s government has ratcheted up debt to $31 billion through its mismanaged spending.

The NDP said the government has balanced one budget over the last nine years.

Moe defended the financial situation, saying Saskatchewan has one of the lowest debt-to-GDP ratios in Canada.

He said the NDP wants the province to spend more on services and remove taxes while not explaining how it would balance the budget.

“Day to day, we see this alternate reality before us in the Opposition members,” he said.

Moe said the budget is to include investments in classrooms, health care and communities.

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