Agriculture, infrastructure funding, healthcare priorities and education were just some of the topics up for debate as Saskatchewan Party leadership candidates gathered in Melfort on Thursday.
Tina Beaudy-Mellor, Ken Cheveldayoff, Alanna Koch, Scott Moe and Gord Wyant all took the stage for the second of six leadership debates scheduled to occur before party members votes in a new leader in January.
Thursday’s debate was a respectful one, with most candidates arguing for a continuation of current policies that helped the party win three straight elections.
With only one minute to respond, candidates had their hands full presenting their policies, with little time to punch holes in their opponents’ views.
All five candidates remained united on most major issues, like opposition to the cancellation of the Energy East pipeline. Although none of the 10 topics specifically focused on the pipeline, that didn’t stop candidates from taking aim at the federal government’s decision.
“Obviously we are struggling against a federal government that doesn’t appreciate the value of pipelines for the province of Saskatchewan, and frankly for Western Canada,” Beaudry-Mellor said. “It is a significant concern.”
Several candidates even suggested the province play hardball with equalization payments to help get more pipeline projects approved.
Scott Moe called the Energy East decision “problematic,” and suggested that if the rules to approve pipeline projects changed, then perhaps equalization payments should change too.
“We are not able to export our commodities to other areas of the world (and) it’s limiting and impacting the careers in our communities and our ability to grow our communities,” he said. “Most importantly, it’s impacting the ability of our children to chose a career in the community where they grew up, or another community in our province.”
Saskatoon MLA Gord Wyant also suggested the province revisit what he called an “unfair” equalization formula. The formula is due for renegotiation in 2019.
“I think people need to be reminded that Saskatchewan and Alberta are net contributors to equalization, and the rest of the provinces benefit from the equalization that comes from this province,” he said.
Another Saskatoon MLA, Ken Cheveldayoff, took a more conciliatory approach to the issue. While disagreeing with the decision, he said western premiers needed to use a united voice to help the rest of the country better understand their concerns.
“I think we have to educate the Canadian government and the Canadian public about our needs, and (let them know) that a win for Saskatchewan is a win for Canada,” he said.
Only one of the five debaters is not a current sitting MLA, but that didn’t stop Alanna Koch defending the party’s past work. As with the first debate in Swift Current, Koch emphasized the need for the Saskatchewan Party to continue building on what was developed under Brad Wall.
“The NDP left us with an infrastructure deficit, so it’s been pretty amazing to see what the Saskatchewan Party has done for the last 10 years with record investment,” Koch said during a question on infrastructure investment.”
“Quality of life” was a phrase that constantly popped up before and after Thursday’s debate, especially when it came to infrastructure. Most candidates saw infrastructure spending as a key to growth in the province, and a way to help keep future generations from leaving.