Candidates contesting the Swift Current constituency in the provincial elections had an opportunity to make their pitch to voters during an online all-candidates forum.
The hour-long discussion was streamed live on YouTube on Monday evening, Oct. 19. The event was hosted by the Swift Current & District Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the City of Swift Current to assist voters to make an informed decision and to encourage voter participation.
Three political parties are fielding candidates in Swift Current, but only two participated in the all-candidates forum. George Watson from the Saskatchewan Green Party was unable to attend.
The forum therefore was a discussion between two candidates familiar to local voters, because both represented their parties in the provincial by-election in March 2018. Everett Hindley won that by-election and he is again representing the Saskatchewan Party. He is opposed by Stefan Rumpel, who represents the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party.
The forum did not have a debate format, but was structured to allow each candidate to respond within a given time limit to questions posed by a moderator.
The event started with a five-minute opening statement by each candidate. Thereafter forum moderator Steve Kritzer, a regional Crown prosecutor, posed question to the two forum participants. There was a prominent focus on economic issues, but the 18 questions posed to them covered six broad areas (economic development and recovery, government finance and debt, energy sector and transition to lower carbon economy, labour market policy and immigration, trade policy, and financial literacy education).
Hindley felt voters are facing a clear choice in this provincial election between the two main political parties with very different platforms and records.
“So the question is in this election, which of these two parties is best suited to lead Saskatchewan's economic recovery through this global pandemic,” he said during his opening remarks. “What you see from the Saskatchewan Party and our platform thus far is a fiscal plan to provides targeted supports to various sectors of the economy. … You contrast that with the NDP, which really don't have a plan. They say they have a plan to make a plan, and they forgot to include significant portions of costing in their platform.”
Rumpel felt the pandemic has simply exposed issues of governance by the Saskatchewan Party that were already problematic before the province was hit by COVID-19.
“The issues that we've seen in education, or long-term care, they existed before the pandemic,” he said. “All the pandemic did was put a magnifying glass on these issues. We're talking about overcrowded classrooms or a shortage of staff within our health care facilities and long-term care that existed pre-pandemic and it was made worse. What we need to realize is that when we cut from education, when we cut from health care, all we're asking is the future to pay that bill.”
Each candidate provided details about his party’s plan to assist the economic recovery of the province in the post-pandemic era.
Rumpel said the important focus areas in the NDP platform are reinvesting in education and health care, and their Saskatchewan First procurement policy to give priority to Saskatchewan businesses and workers.
“We need to support our resources, we need to support our farmers, but we also have health care and education that employ so many people in this community and then that employment as an offshoot leads to local businesses having people coming in to them and paying there,” he mentioned. “So what we're looking at doing is hiring health care professionals, hiring educators, and when those people are coming here and are working here, they are then spending money in local economies.”
Hindley spoke about the Saskatchewan Party’s growth plan with goals to increase the provincial population to 1.4 million by 2030, to create 100,000 jobs during the next decade, and to increase the export of commodities.
“We need to make sure that we're providing targeted supports in the right areas, and that's why we've announced several of these particular supports in this campaign, whether it's the reduction of the small business tax rate for a temporary period of time,” he said. “We feel something like that is a measure that will help and we're going to continue to support our industries in this province, whether it's the agriculture sector, the oil and gas sector, or the manufacturing sector.”
A key focus area during the discussion about government spending was each party’s goal with regard to balancing the budget. Hindley said the provincial government is currently dealing with a pandemic deficit due to COVID-19, but the intention of a Saskatchewan Party government will be to balance the budget in 2024. He criticized the NDP for its lack of a clear goal to balance the budget.
“There's no intention to do that, and somebody has to pay for that at the end of the day,” he said. “And it might not be me or you, it might not be our kids, or it will be our kids or our grand kids that will have to pay for this. You have to have a fiscally responsible plan.”
According to Rumpel the NDP’s goal will be to eventually balance the budget, but the party’s immediate priority is to support the recovery of the economy. He felt the Saskatchewan Party’s target to balance the budget will result in austerity.
“Their idea of getting back to balance was austerity, to cut from classrooms, to cut from health care, which before a pandemic was a bad idea,” he said. “Through a pandemic it's just downright dangerous. … That's not the way to do it. The way to do it is to invest in people. It's going to happen coming out of this, we need to invest, and the other piece is, instead of doing things that benefit the wealthy and rich, we'll put a wealth tax there. We want to make sure that those people are paying their fair share, if they have $15 million free and clear.”
The two candidates presented different views with regard to the transition to a lower carbon economy. Rumpel referred to the importance of developing Saskatchewan’s solar and wind resources and the potential offered by geothermal and biomass developments.
“Geothermal is ready to go, and the best part is, if we have a resource sector out of the work, they have the expertise, they have the skills, to jump right into geothermal energy,” he said. “Let's get people back to work tomorrow. That's how quickly it can be done. All we need to have happen is our government needs to work with businesses to make the investments in these areas that are going to get people back to work in a new carbon lowered economy.”
He emphasized the NDP’s support for pipelines as the safest way to transport oil, and the party wants these pipelines to be made from Saskatchewan steel to provide employment to workers in the province. He felt nuclear power can certainly be part of a diversified energy sector in the province, but the renewable energy sector provides far great potential for immediate development and job creation.
Hindley spoke about the Saskatchewan Party’s climate change plan, which is focused on resilience and reducing emissions without a carbon tax. The plan includes output-based performance standards and there will be a technology fund to invest in new innovations to reduce emissions. Solar and wind projects are part of this plan, but he also emphasized the opportunity presented by nuclear power through the development of small modular reactors.
“If we're going to be serious about climate change and green energy, we better talk about small modular reactors and nuclear power,” he said.
The candidates spoke about their party positions on a federal carbon tax. Hindley said it is fundamentally wrong for the federal government to impose a carbon tax on Saskatchewan, and the Saskatchewan Party will continue to oppose it.
Rumpel said a one size fits all, made in Ottawa carbon tax is wrong, but the NDP disagrees with the approach that has been followed so far by the Saskatchewan Party government. The NDP believes the provincial government has been trying to score political points with an expensive court case.
“We do have an opportunity to make a made in Saskatchewan plan,” he said. “What we need is a government that doesn't point fingers, a government that sits down with experts and doesn't leave that table until Trudeau accepts our made in Saskatchewan plan.”
Immigration was a key focus area during the discussion about labour market issues. Hindley said there is a need to connect immigrants with communities and businesses that have a need for workers.
“There's more work to be done on that file and we'll take advice from our Newcomer Welcome Centre on how we can make improvements in all of these areas,” he added.
Rumpel emphasized the need for improvements to the process to recognize foreign credentials, which will allow newcomers to fully use their credentials and skills. He felt supports can be provided through institutions such as the regional colleges, which can be great partners to get credentials recognized and to assist with mentorship. He also mentioned that retention of newcomers will be easier if they have the opportunity to bring their families here.
“When you have your family, that's your roots, that's your core,” he said. “That's what let you feel like you belong in a community.”
Both candidates felt post-secondary institutions are key to have trained workers with the appropriate skills for the job market. Hindley said regional colleges such as Great Plains College in Swift Current are very flexible to respond to local labour market needs.
The two candidates agreed on the importance of trade diversification to find markets for Saskatchewan products around the world, but they suggested different approaches. Hindley referred to the importance of trade missions and the need to establish new trade offices for Saskatchewan.
“It's about making sure we expand into other markets so that when there are trade disruptions we're not as reliant on any particular market for our revenues here in this province,” he said. “It's why we've focused on investing in new trade offices for Saskatchewan, selling our products on the ground, giving us a presence in these countries year-round, because it's important to do that. … We can't always rely on the federal government to carry the Saskatchewan flag for us.”
Rumpel felt it will be better for the provincial government to talk to agricultural and business leaders to find out how to facilitate connections, instead of spending money on trips by politicians and to spend money on housing Saskatchewan’s own trade offices when the federal government already has trade offices in other countries.
The final question at the all-candidates forum asked for their views on the importance of teaching financial literacy in the K-12 curriculum. Hindley said it is important for young people to have access to financial literacy courses and he felt there is an opportunity to expand on that.
Rumpel felt the availability of financial literacy teaching will only be useful within the broader context of proper educational supports for students.
“We need to understand that for business to thrive, it's not a separate entity, it's a holistic model,” he said. “If we don't invest in our kids to begin with, if we don't give them the skills set to get there, they can take a financial literacy course, but they're not going to know what they're looking at, because the critical thinking skills weren't supported. … We can say let's build business, but if people aren't being taken care of, then the business has no customers, no workers and that is also a deficit that we need to address.”
Advance voting in the Saskatchewan election started on Oct. 20 and will continue until Oct. 24. Voters will go to the poll in the provincial election on Oct. 26. For more details about polling locations and for details about candidates in the different constituencies, visit the Elections Saskatchewan website at: www.elections.sk.ca