For the second election in a row, Lyle Whitefish will represent the NDP in Saskatchewan Rivers.
The former FSIN vice-chief and current high school principal defeated political newcomer Chander Thaman to win the nomination in Spruce Home on Thursday.
Whitefish pulled no punches during his speech to party supporters, telling those in attendance the Saskatchewan Party’s mismanagement made him angry enough to throw shoes at his TV when their commercials came on. However, he declined to turn those feelings on his opponent, choosing instead to focus on his own candidacy.
“I don’t want to say too much about the Sask. Party candidate,” Whitefish said when asked about running against Wilson for the second time. “I think a lot of people know and have heard about some of the negative news, but for me, I think a lot of people have gotten to know who I am. I think there will be more people switching their vote to support a new person—a person that’s going to speak up and a person that’s going to create results within the constituency.”
Whitefish will face incumbent Saskatchewan Party MLA Nadine Wilson for the second straight election. Wilson won in 2016 with roughly 67 per cent of the vote. She resigned as provincial secretary after being charged with assault last July, however, those charges were withdrawn in November and the matter was settled out of court.
Despite losing in 2016, Whitefish remains optimistic that the experience will help him win in 2020. He said layoffs from companies like Mosaic, which recently shut down its mine in Colonsay, have residents worried and looking for new ideas and leadership.
Reconciliation, healthcare and environmental sustainability are also priorities, he said, especially for families in the north. He said job losses and high poverty rates have created communities with no hope, and he argued the next provincial government needs to work with First Nation and Métis communities to address the issue.
“I think that’s very important, that we keep our young people in our province, that we generate wealth and generate prosperity any which way we can,” he said. “I think that’s very important. That’s what keeps families together and brings hope to our community.”
NDP leader Ryan Meili, who was also in attendance, echoed those sentiments, saying voters were tired of the Saskatchewan Party, and were looking for new ideas and new leaders like Whitefish.
“I think it’s good to have him coming back again,” Meili said after the nomination meeting. “He’s got a reputation that was built during the last campaign, and then there’s some fatigue going on. People are tired of the Sask. Party because the Sask. Party is tired. They’ve been in power for 13 years. They’re out of ideas and there’s a real understanding that it’s time for something new. Now, our project as New Democrats is to say, ‘that’s what we are.’”
Whitefish received strong support during Thursday’s meeting, even from his opponent. Chandar Tharman was seeking the NDP nomination for the first time, but said it would be easy to support Whitefish, who he called an intelligent and hardworking candidate.
Whitefish said he views Tharman as a friend, and was ready to return the favour if he’d lost the nomination.
“I want to thank Chandar, my good friend, who stepped up to get his feet wet in terms of the work that needs to be done within this constituency,” he said.
The next provincial election is set for Oct. 26, 2020.
NDP leader pleased to see high number of contested nominations
With Whitefish’s nomination, the NDP has candidates in more than half of Saskatchewan’s riders, with more scheduled more confirmation in the coming weeks.
Meili said they’ve had a high number of contested nominations, meaning more than one person seeks to represent the party in a particular riding, something he views as a positive.
“We’ve had more contests than we did the entire last election and the entire election before,” he said during a stop in Prince Albert prior to Thursday’s nomination meeting. “We maybe had one rural contest last time, and this (Saskatchewan Rivers) is one of several rural contest nominations. The number of people that are coming out and saying, ‘hey, it’s time for a change and I’m excited to work with the NDP,’ is really exciting to see.”
With files from Peter Lozinski.