About 100 loyal party supporters turned out for the fourth in a series of 14 provincial NDP candidate leadership debates on Nov. 29 at First United Church, with Erin Weir, Trent Wotherspoon, Ryan Meili and Cam Broten fielding a number of audience questions in addition to challenging one another regarding their individual platforms and their vision for the future of the party.
Cam Broten, MLA for Saskatoon-Massey Place and health critic, focused on his five-point plan for the party and his “shared futures” vision for the province.
“What I’ve articulated is a very clear plan of how we can revitalize the party, because that’s what we need to do in order to earn the trust of Saskatchewan people once again.”
“Central to that is making membership matter – having people involved in a way that’s meaningful, where they know that their views will be listened to and they influence the outcome of decisions.
“Closely tied to that … is a focus on how we can modernize our policy process. The notion of commissions that work throughout the year, engage with members as well as non-members, that would report to Convention and provide interim reports and educate members as well. Also hugely important is electing more women … and welcoming more people that aren’t represented enough currently.
“The final component – reaching out and engaging rural Saskatchewan. It’s a five-point plan to how we can revitalize the party.”
Ryan Meili, a family physician, based his platform on the substance of his book: A Healthy Society: How a Focus on Health Can Revive Canadian Democracy.
Meili believes “… health care actually isn't the biggest factor in determining our health. The social determinants of health — our income, education, social supports, housing, nutrition, the environment, and more — are what make the greatest difference in our health outcomes and life quality.”
He feels that looking at politics through the lens of health “… allows us to change the conversation, away from just dollars and cents to something that makes more sense to people; how we use our political decisions to improve health, and that means being smart.
“It means digging into the problems we have and using the best evidence available to understand how our current structure is either helping or hurting people; digging into what the available options are … and actually doing the evaluations around vaccination rates, infant mortality, the rates of certain illnesses.”
“In developing countries,” Meili recalled from his experiences in South America, Mozambique and the Philippines, “you see skinny people at the bottom [of the economic pyramid] and fat people at the top. We’ve got that triangle upside down. [In Canada] the wealthier you are, the more likely you are to be eating well, to be maintaining a healthy weight.”
By addressing the determinants of health, Meili believes the health of the people and the health of the political system can be advanced at the same time.
Erin Weir is an economist for the United Steel Workers. His leadership platform is funded in large part from provincial revenue that could be recovered by closing loopholes in resource royalties and tax structure. Weir would redirect that revenue in part to improve the quality of life for the people of Saskatchewan now, and additionally to a fund that would “convert volatile resource revenues into a steadier stream of investment income” to sustain future generations once non-renewable resources have been depleted.
“One example of that would be the Potash Production Tax allows companies to write off 120 per cent of what they invest in Saskatchewan. … That alone costs the Provincial Treasury $140 million per year. Another example would be that there is an exemption from the Potash Production Tax for all of the potash produced in excess of the average amount sold back in 2001/02. So there’s now two million tonnes of potash extracted from the province every year that aren’t subject to the profit portion of the Potash Production Tax.
“That loophole is only going to get bigger as mines expand and new mines potentially open, so I think it’s important to close that loophole now to support provincial revenues and a fair return for Saskatchewan people.”
Weir would also invest some of that revenue in developing renewable sources of power to get Saskatchewan’s economy on a more sustainable path.
“I also believe we need revenue to improve our health care system, education, housing, child care, infrastructure. All of these public services require money and I have a plan to pay for it.”
Trent Wotherspoon, MLA for Regina Rosemont and finance/education critic, placed education, childcare and poverty – particularly as it relates to housing - at the top of his priorities.
“Our current government is squeezing the classroom, and at a time when we’re prospering as a province … we need to be resourcing that classroom, enriching that classroom.
“In a broader scale and a grander vision, we have to expand the role of education in society and we have to be thinking of those very early years in childcare right through that pre-K to 12 system, but right into post-secondary and apprenticeship training, and making sure that’s accessible to all.”
Access to affordable housing is also fundamental to society, Wotherspoon contended.
“In many ways, this is the harsh reality, or the sharp edge of what’s going on in our province right now for far too many: I see individuals that were living on the margins that are being pushed to some of the ugliest, harshest circumstances you can imagine, and I’ve witnessed it with my own eyes.
“I also recognize the pressure for middle-class Saskatchewan – young families, new families trying to purchase that first home, or seniors on a fixed income that are trying to retain the apartment that they’re renting. Quite simply, families don’t have the peace of mind that they deserve on this front. We need to make sure that part of a prosperous Saskatchewan allows individuals that peace of mind.
Wotherspoon sees room for substantial improvement by the Sask Party in this area. “They’re tinkering around with market affordability when what we need to do is get back into the business of making sure we’re addressing true affordable housing: social housing; cooperative housing; bringing about an appropriate vacancy rate; putting some protections in place for renters.”
He believes that a failure to address the issue of affordable accommodation will have a detrimental affect on the health, education, income and even the hope of Saskatchewan people.