SaskParty leadership hopeful Rob Clarke has demanded the party add a northern debate to the calendar, in order to ensure northern and Indigenous issues are not overlooked.
The SaskParty candidates have already debated four times, meeting in Swift Current, Melfort, Saskatoon and most recently North Battleford. Two more official debates are scheduled to be in Weyburn and Regina Nov. 30 and Dec. 7. Clarke, who officially entered the race late last week, sent a letter to the party’s administration requesting a new, northern debate be added to the calendar in order to ensure the leadership race includes all parts of the province.
“As a leadership candidate you’ve got to hear from all people, from all walks of life, from all corners of the province,” Clarke told paNOW. “They drew a line from Melfort to Saskatoon to North Battleford and neglected the North.”
Northern economic development should be treated as a key issue during the leadership race, Clarke said, noting the other candidates appear to be overlooking the North entirely. The former MP and RCMP officer described the province’s First Nations and Métis communities as a massive untapped resource, and said the province could see huge benefits from a closer and stronger relationship with its Indigenous and Métis peoples.
In his letter, which was provided to paNOW, Clarke recommended La Ronge, Buffalo Narrows and Prince Albert as potential locations for a northern debate, but said he would be open to other suggestions as well. The SaskParty needs to focus on winning support across the entire province, he said, rather than confining the race to the urban centres.
“We’ve lost sight of the grassroots, and I’m trying to bring that back into the party,” he said.
Clarke said a technicality prevented him from participating in the North Battleford debate last week, but his membership list has now been processed and he does not anticipate any problems participating in the Weyburn and Regina events even if a northern debate does not materialize.
“There should be no further issues, and I’m looking forward to debating the other candidates,” Clarke said.
The Saskatchewan Party’s administration released a statement in response to Clarke’s request saying they understand his concerns but have no plans to alter the debate schedule. All of the debates have been live-streamed, party spokesperson Dale Richardson noted, and members were invited to submit questions. The previous four debates have included questions relevant to northern Saskatchewan, he said, and the debate locations were chosen to maximize participation by party members.
“The Saskatchewan Party is satisfied that the six debate locations have accommodated the largest amount of Saskatchewan Party members as possible, based on where the majority of those members live in the province,” Richardson said.
“We look forward to the participation of all six officially nominated leadership candidates at the next debate in Weyburn on Nov. 30.”
Leadership candidate and Rosthern-Shellbrook MLA Scott Moe said he feels the public is more focused on the issues at the debates than their geographic location, as all of the events are available online and the questions come from members across the province.
“It is six debates,” he said. “It’s a large and vast province, and the leadership committee did make an effort to get one of the debates in each of the regions.”
Moe said the official debates have given the candidates ample opportunity to present their vision to the people of Saskatchewan, and it is up to the candidates to connect with individual communities as he is attempting to do on his own campaign.
--With files from Brandon Graziano
On Twitter: @TMacPhersonNews
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