The candidate for the Saskatchewan NDP in the upcoming provincial election will be a familiar face for local voters.
Stefan Rumpel, who represented the party in the 2018 by-election in the city, was unanimously acclaimed by local NDP members in a virtual nomination meeting, May 27.
He felt excited to be the party’s candidate and to have the opportunity to represent the campaign slogan Putting People First.
“I just cannot imagine a better campaign slogan to run on,” he said. “The idea of putting people first should be a basic concept, but it doesn't seem to be that, and I'm really glad to be behind Ryan Meili on his team to make it happen.”
For Rumpel the slogan represents the importance of connecting with people and listening to their concerns.
“This pandemic has thrown a spotlight on the same issue I feel the Sask. Party has had from the beginning,” he said. “Whenever a big decision is needed, they only listen to their big donors, their party insiders and disconnected bureaucrats. The people actually working in the affected field get left out of the equation completely.”
He referred to the closure of emergency rooms at 12 rural health care facilities as part of the provincial pandemic response plan as an example of not listening to people.
“You should be consulting with the people actually working in the field at the ground level on what to do, whether that's educators, whether that's people working in the hospital or senior care homes,” he said. “You need to talk to the people working there, because they're the people who are going to have to do adaptations to these changes or implement these programs. So they're the best people to talk to about how to make it happen.”
He referred to several issues during an interview with the Prairie Post that he believes will be important to voters in Swift Current. The first one is more support for the education system.
“We're a smaller city and we pride ourselves on the opportunities that we give our children here,” he said. “I want to see those improve. I want to see those get better within the education system with access to different things.”
He will also focus on seniors during the upcoming election, because it is another group of importance to voters. He referred to the need to address understaffing in long-term care facilities and the requirement to address health care needs in rural areas.
A third issue is support for small businesses and workers, which he felt will be necessary due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think a real simple change that we can look at coming out of this is to increase the minimum wage,” he said. “If more people in our communities have a little extra spending money, they can head out into the local economy and buy things. The NDP has been talking about raising the minimum wage, because we're the lowest in the country and that just frankly doesn't work for our local communities.”
According to Rumpel the 2018 by-election in Swift Current was a great learning experience, which he will continue to build on in the 2020 provincial election.
“You need help to run a campaign, and I got better at asking for help from people, saying do you want to volunteer, do you want to donate, do you want a sign,” he said. “That's something that you can't really learn unless you've been on a campaign.”
He received 24.2 per cent of the vote in the 2018 by-election in Swift Current, which was an increase of just over nine per cent in voter support for the Saskatchewan NDP compared to the 2016 provincial election.
Saskatchewan Party candidate Everett Hindley was elected as the city’s new elected representative in the provincial legislature with 73.5 per cent of the vote in the 2018 by-election. The 2020 provincial election will be unlike any previous election in the history of Saskatchewan, because it will take place during a pandemic. Rumpel felt the uncertainty of this situation might not necessarily favour the incumbent.
“It could, but at the same time I think people are more hungry right now for different views and ideas,” he said. “So I don't necessarily think it favours an incumbent. I think it changes the game and I hope to still be able to reach out to people and let them know that I'm willing to listen and I want to bring their concerns forward, because it's not about me. It's about all of us.”
Rumpel is the 37th nominated Saskatchewan NDP candidate for the 2020 provincial election. He was one of several candidates nominated through virtual meetings in recent weeks. He was born and raised in Swift Current, and he is working as a teacher at Swift Current Comprehensive High School.
Saskatchewan NDP leader Ryan Meili participated in the virtual nomination meeting. He told the Prairie Post afterwards the virtual format is working well to complete nominations for the upcoming election.
“I love the meetings where we get the members together and everybody is excited and we hear the speakers in person, but I have to say the memberships and the candidates have really responded well to Zoom,” he said. “We just had five contested nominations and an overall member turnout of 83 per cent. That's way higher than we usually see for in-person nominations. I guess this allows more people to vote, even if they're not available the day of the nomination.”
He felt it is an advantage to have a returning candidate for the upcoming election in Swift Current, and an added benefit is that Rumpel is well-known in the community for his work as a teacher and in various other roles.
While it will be a challenge to campaign during a pandemic, Meili said the party will be up to the task.
“There's no question that disrupts the way every party campaigns, and maybe New Democrats in particular,” he noted. “We're well known for really being a volunteer-led party with lots of work knocking doors and getting out the vote, but we're also really creative and innovative. I think the way we've approached this nomination shows there are ways we can reach people with technology. We're still going to be able to get our message out and just be adapting as things develop.”
He is convinced the party’s campaign slogan is even more relevant now within the context of a global pandemic.
“I think it speaks so clearly to the moment that we're in, as people recognize this is a time when government matters and where the choices that governments make have a huge impact on people's lives,” he said. “When those decisions are guided by principles of people first, they'll be better choices.”
Meili added that the Saskatchewan NDP’s election platform will certainly be focusing on big ideas to deal with the challenges of the time.
“That was already the direction we were going,” he said. “I think people have already been looking for bolder message, bigger ideas, but even more so now. With the pandemic, there's going to be a real appetite for some different thinking, recognizing we are in a different moment and that it's time for people to be coming forward with bold solutions to the challenges we're facing.”