‘Stop the Split’: Buckley Belanger makes the case for a Liberal north

"Right now we have no voice. Nobody represents us. Nobody is fighting for us," Buckley Belanger

Buckley Belanger put in his bid to represent northern Saskatchewan on the Liberal ticket Tuesday. Now he’s asking residents to rally behind him to get “better representation in Ottawa.” 

Having served as MLA for the northwest riding of Athabasca since 1995 Belanger switched from the provincial New Democrats to the federal Liberals because he said he’s lost faith that the governing Saskatchewan Party will ever do good by the north. 

“You sit there as an MLA and you watch all these communities struggle with all these challenges, and nobody seems to care. At the end of the day, when we had conversations with federal ministers, they cared,” Belanger said. 

“So, from my perspective, when we are going to Ottawa, we’re trying to find solutions that will strengthen northern Saskatchewan. So that we can finally have a voice. Right now we have no voice. Nobody represents us. Nobody is fighting for us.” 

He said now is an opportunity to “stop the split” between Liberal and NDP in the north and send a representative to Parliament Hill that can work within the governing party. He’s convinced the Liberals will win an election expected to be announced on Sunday.

“We have to stop splitting our vote between the New Democrats and the Liberals. Consistently we have split our votes. Now I  think it’s time that we join forces, and send a voice to Ottawa to make a difference in our community. Let’s stop the split. Let’s send someone to Ottawa that’s part of the governing party that is willing to make changes and do things for our communities.”

He said northerners could have improved things on their own but the Conservatives have made that impossible by cutting back on services that are needed to make progress over the years. 

“Families across northern Saskatchewan are fatigued. Of course COVID-19 exacerbated all the challenges that we face… But what happened is the provincial government, the Conservatives, ended up canceling things like the NORTEP program, they shut down the Buffalo Narrows Correctional Center, they canceled the bus service, and they took the forestry rights away from the north. So, they deliberately hurt northern Saskatchewan,” Belanger said. 

“Everybody I know. Right from Fond-du-Lac, to Pelican narrows, to Meadow Lake, to Big River… Every family wants a job. Every family wants a decent home. Every family wants a safe community and every family wants decent education. We want to exist in peace.

“We are just sick and tired of bad highways, we’re sick and tired of the challenge around drugs in our communities, we are sick and tired of having these forest fires burn down valuable property. We’re sick and tired of a lot of things that are affecting our young people and nobody seems to care what happens.”

Belanger said when Ralph Goodale was elected to represent Regina—Wascana he brought in benefits to Saskatchewan by working with the Liberal party and Belanger would like to see that happen for the riding of Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River.

“Goodale delivered a lot of benefits and he worked hard for Saskatchewan. Well if I can take a page from Ralph Goodale that will translate into a lot of benefits for northern Saskatchewan,” Belanger said. 

“It’s time that Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, and Western Canada as a whole, send more and more Liberal MPs to Ottawa to make a change for us.”

He believes that message will also resonate with some Conservative voters. 

“We know there’s a lot of Conservatives that are also concerned about Conservative Leader Erin O’Tool’s eastern style of leadership. We know that there’s some issues there as well. We’ll represent everyone,” Belanger said. 

“We often see that Conservatives vilify New Democrats or vilify Liberals or vilify Green Party candidates. Well, I don’t subscribe to that notion that we should vilify folks and that’s something that has to be addressed. So here’s an opportunity, let’s stop splitting the vote, let’s rally behind a candidate that will certainly work very hard for your interests, and will represent everyone.”

He said there’s a “consistent theme” among northerners who all basically want the same thing.

“There are people that have their philosophical positions within one party or another. But a lot more people want to see good governance, with good practices and good benefits so we can become more and more independent and stronger as time goes on. That’s what our vision is.” 

“There are some exciting plans and some exciting times ahead of us. We need to work hard. So lend us your vote and we will make a significant difference for all of us, because we will concentrate on our riding to make sure it’s well represented and that there are good benefits for all. Working hard is something that I’ve learned to do over the years.”

He said the Conservatives “really don’t care about northern Saskatchewan” and it’s “time for a change.” He said he’s had the “hard conversations” about what it will take for a Liberal win to happen in the north and that it will take hard work but he’s up for it.

“I’m looking at the opportunity that the Federal Liberal government is affording northern Saskatchewan,” Belanger said. “In our darkest hour of COVID-19, the only government that rose to the occasion was the federal government — and you don’t forget that.” 

As the longest serving current MLA in Saskatchewan, Belanger has won every election he’s been a part of since 1995. He started out as liberal and switched to NDP in 1998. He now wants to give the federal Liberals a fighting chance in the north. Belanger said he’s expecting to be confirmed as Liberal candidate in the coming days.

“I owe it to the people to at least give the opportunity for Liberals to show what they can do federally for the northern seat. That’s one of the things that we really stress in all our conversations with various ministers of the current Liberal cabinet,” Belanger said. 

“This is an opportunity. We can be part of an exciting, dynamic, federal government that can recognize our needs and address them. We can also contribute to the renaissance of northern Canada as a whole by bringing forward some solid ideas and being a solid representative from Western Canada.”

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