Battleground Prince Albert — Provincial NDP takes aim at region’s ridings

The NDP may be eyeing Joe Hargrave's riding as a target, but the Prince Albert Carlton MLA says he's up for the challenge

Saskatchewan NDP leader Ryan Meili speaks at the party's annual convention on Nov. 2, 2019 in Prince Albert. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Prince Albert will be seeing a lot more of the NDP ahead of next October’s provincial election.

Any ambiguity about whether the region was a target of the provincial new democrats was put to rest Saturday when leader Ryan Meili confirmed the party will be spending a lot of resources in the region trying to convince voters to turn away from the Saskatchewan Party.

“Prince Albert is absolutely a target region for us,” Meili told reporters following his keynote address at day two of the party convention.

“We’re going to be around Prince Albert a lot.”

Holding the provincial convention in Prince Albert was a part of that strategy, Meili said. Hundreds of new democrats met for three days at Plaza 88 over the weekend to debate policy and position the party ahead of the 2020 election.

With the passing of a resolution cancelling the 2020 convention so the party can focus on electing as many MLAs as possible, the weekend’s event serves as the party’s last hurrah until after whatever happens next fall.

The NDP’s campaign director, Trevor McKenzie-Smith, called next year a “growth” election.

 “We’re shooting for government, and we believe there is a path to winning,” Meili said.

“No matter what, I’m confident we’re going to be picking up seats.”

Meili, McKenzie-Smith and local MLA Nicole Rancourt spoke of the importance of four regional seats — Prince Albert Carlton and Northcote, Saskatchewan Rivers and Batoche. So far, the NDP has nominated candidates in three out of those four ridings. Nicole Rancourt will be out to defend her seat, teacher Troy Parenteau will take on Saskatchewan Party minister Joe Hargrave in Prince Albert Carlton and former MLA Lon Borgerson will face off against Batoche incumbent Delbert Kirsch, who is looking for his fifth consecutive term.

Meili said the party has “great people looking” at running in Saskatchewan Rivers against incumbent Nadine Wilson.

Meili highlighted that the convention was his third time in the area in the past week. He expects to be back.

Ryan Meili delivers a speech to NDP supporters during the Saskatchewan NDP annual convention on Nov. 2, 2019 in Prince Albert (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

“We’ve got a great team around here, but we’re also going to see the provincial party putting in a significant focus to make sure that there are resources here, that I’m here regularly so that Prince Albert knows that we’re here and we’re working for them.”

That focus on Prince Albert was also seen on the convention floor, as delegates unanimously passed a resolution that said the NDP would “immediately” begin the process of building a second bridge at or near Prince Albert.

The event also saw the party vow to hold the Sask. Party to its promise of building a new hospital for Prince Albert.

“(The party) showed that they’re concerned about the issues concerning Prince Albert and the north,” Rancourt said following the convention’s adjournment Sunday.

“We voted on resolutions that will help promote Prince Albert in the coming election, so I think it went pretty well. We’re all working as a team for this next election. We know that if we want to form government we need to have the support of Prince Albert and area, so we will be working closely together.

“We can’t take Prince Albert Northcote for granted, and never will, so we’re going to make sure we put all of the resources we can into Prince Albert Northcote, Carlton, Sask. Rivers and Batoche and make sure we can get their support in forming government in 2020.”

Rancourt said the party will focus on needs of the area, including the hospital, a second bridge and increased access to social services for the region’s most vulnerable.

The NDP made little mention of the other riding in the region, Rosthern-Shellbrook. That’s the riding held by Premier Scott Moe. Meili mentioned it in his comments, but it’s unlikely it’s a target of the party for the 2020 campaign.

Nicole Rancourt is introduced at the 2019 Saskatchewan NDP convention in Prince Albert on Nov. 2, 2019 (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

The riding, though, does feature fairly prominently in the opening shots of an NDP ad currently playing on the party’s Facebook page. As it opens to shots of farms and fields of gold, it cuts to a grain elevator reading “Rosthern” on the side.

Sask. Party ready for the challenge

While the NDP is already being vocal about its plans for the Prince Albert area, the Sask. Party isn’t backing down.

Less than two hours after Meili took the stage in Prince Albert to share his vision, Premier Scott Moe’s Twitter account sent out its own message to residents.

The short video clip, taken from question period, shows Moe responding to a question from Rancourt about the future of the Victoria Hospital.

While Moe promised during his leadership campaign that the fully-funded hospital would be a new hospital, the NDP took issue with the wording of the Sask. Party in recent speeches and documents referring to the project as a “redevelopment.”

Moe’s response to Rancourt’s question could be seen as an effort to reassure residents that their promised hospital is on its way.

“Here’s what we can tell all of the people in the City of Prince Albert,” Moe said, “we’re going to build them a new hospital .. that has more capacity, more services, and the province is going to pay for that hospital.”

The NDP has been accusing the Sask. Party of backing down on that promise since a request for proposals was sent out to look at both brownfield (redevelopment) and greenfield (new) options.

At the time of that tender document, though, city officials told the Daily Herald they weren’t worried as the current building doesn’t meet the needs of a new facility, with hallways that are too narrow for some equipment and other systems not up to par with what would be required in a modern facility.

While a media request sent to Moe’s office was not answered as of press time, Prince Albert Carlton MLA Joe Hargrave did speak to the Herald and said he welcomed the NDP’s challenge.

“They’re coming after every seat … that they think is out there, but I welcome the challenge. I think I represent Prince Albert pretty well … at the cabinet table and we’ve made a lot of progress since my representing the constituency that I’m very, very proud of.”

Hargrave cited the recent joint agreements to fund a recreation centre with a pool and a few arenas. He also mentioned the Habitat for Humanity, Prince Albert Community Housing and River Bank Development Corporation grand openings he’s been to.

“Don’t forget, that hospital announcement, I don’t think that’s too far down the road,” Hargrave said.

He pointed out that the Sask. Party’s summer retreat, which has been held up at Elk Ridge in years past, was hosted in Prince Albert this year instead. He said his team knocks on about 1,000 doors each summer, and that he “knows what’s important to the people of Prince Albert.”

MLA Joe Hargrave and Premier Scott Moe (right) speak to reporters during the Sask. Party’s annual retreat in Prince Albert on August 8, 2019. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Hargrave also took the opportunity to remind residents that he represents the city at the highest levels of government, where decisions are made.

“I’ve worked hard to represent the city at the cabinet table, so I get the chance to speak to a lot of different things that happen in the City of Prince Albert right at the cabinet table,” he said.

“That’s a big difference.”

Mayor welcomes attention

Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne, who takes any opportunity to meet with politicians of all stripes when they come to the city, said the renewed focus on the needs of the city will be a good thing in the long run.

“Anytime you bring light to the city, it’s good for the city,” he said.

“I’m pleased that they think, strategically, Prince Albert is an important part. If they’re going to be out there fighting for them, they’re going to be in the house fighting for us.”

Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne welcomes New Democrats to the city during the Saskatchewan NDP’s 2019 convention, held at Plaza 88. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Dionne added that if the NDP is spending more time focusing on Prince Albert ahead of October’s election, it’s likely that the ruling Saskatchewan Party will as well.

“The Sask. Party is going to respond accordingly,” he said.

“To me, it’s going to be a win because everyone is going to be talking about Prince Albert.”