The five candidates vying to replace outgoing Premier Brad Wall pleaded their cases on a variety of issues in front of Saskatchewan Party faithful in Melfort for the second time.
As has become common in the race, each largely agreed on the ten topics discussed and reflected heavily on current legislation at the party’s leadership debate Thursday night. All were cautious to pitch bold policy ideas.
Mixed between plenty of talks championing what the party has done in the past decade was a clear need to wrangle in urban voters in the next election. Each attempted to pitch themselves as the one to tie up those votes.
Throughout the night a number of candidates took direct aim at the cancellation of TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline and stressed the need to move Saskatchewan’s products to market.
“Some of the products can move in other fashion,” Rosthern - Shellbrook MLA Scott Moe said. “We need those pipelines to be approved so we can free up our rail service and our rail capacity for the potash and the grain and agricultural products we want to put on that rail.”
This debate sprung from a question around how each would tackle agriculture concerns. Value-added solutions and higher quality products moving out of the province was a focus for many.
The province's former top civil servant, Alanna Koch, was a strong proponent of these policies, saying, “it is less reliance on the export of a bulk product…we do need to see more value added happening here in the province.”
“It is about strong infrastructure and the right regulatory climate and about making sure that we have the right rules in place,” she added.
Municipal revenue sharing and grants-in-lieu also topped talks. The Sask. Party faced heavy scrutiny this spring from cities who were forced to revisit their budgets after funding avenues from government coffers were pared down in the 2017 budget.
Road construction and how the government has made infrastructure investment a priority in the past decade were common answers from all on the stage. Finding innovative ways to fund projects, such as the often called upon P3 model was additionally front of mind.
“I reaffirm my support for one per cent of PST,” Saskatoon - Northwest MLA Gord Wyant said. “I am committed to having a new dialogue with municipalities…I think we need to have a new dialogue especially on some of the funding envelops we have with the municipalities.”
The high rates of domestic violence plaguing the province were also under the spotlight. Many heralded the province's new legislation on the residential tendencies act and reinforced a need to change attitudes in society while strengthening education and supports in place for its victims.
As the former minister of social services, Regina - University MLA Tina Beaudry-Mellor said, “I would like to see us change the channel on this…we need to start talking about financial security and stability, perhaps they could leave the situation they are in."
How each would approach education budgets and school board autonomy after both come under heavy scrutiny following this years budget was also addressed. Funding for children with intellectual disabilities was also discussed. Ensuring families have the opportunity to choose what programs and funding are best for children with disabilities and a need to "listen very closely" to what families have to say were top priorities in this area.
The question of soon-to-come amalgamation of health regions in the province and what opportunities may present themselves was also posed to the candidates. Each felt the move was positive and would remove many boundaries. They also were okay with contracting out some aspects of health care for a mix of public and private services.
How the candidates would approach growth to the economy also drew very parallel answers. Building the work of Wall, creating business-friendly environments, employment frameworks and remaining competitive for the “next generation economy” was key.
Saskatoon - Willowgrove MLA Ken Cheveldayoff was adamant a balanced budget and getting the province's finances under control was where the party needed to start.
"Government sets the stage for growth, that is why balanced budgets" are key. “ We have to get our financial house in order and that will enable us to have another ten years of growth.”
The five met previously in Swift Current last week and will see each other next weekend in Saskatoon at the party's convention. There are four more debates scheduled before party faithful hit the poles in Saskatoon this January to select a new party leader. Wall announced his retirement from politics in August after ten-years at the helm.
On Twitter: @JournoMarr
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