The federal Liberals have confirmed Buckley Belanger as their candidate for the northern Saskatchewan riding of Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River. Belanger stepped down as NDP MLA for Athabasca, announcing his intent to seek the federal Liberal nomination last week.
“I’m pleased to share that Buckley Belanger has been acclaimed as the Liberal Candidate for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River in the next federal election and will continue building on our hard work to keep Canada moving forward,” Liberal Party of Canada National Campaign Co-Chair Navdeep Bains said in a written statement.
“As we look forward to the important work ahead of us, the hope and hard work of Liberals across Canada will ensure our candidates and teams are ready to run competitive campaigns and earn another mandate from Canadians – including right here in Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River.”
Belanger said he’s already hit the campaign trail, having so far visited Buffalo Narrows, Beauval, Ahtahkakoop and Big River. His team was finishing off the nomination process on Friday.
“By Tuesday we should have our signs out and up,” Belanger said.
“I think our Prime Minister is on the right track. We have a lot of work ahead of us and we’re never overconfident, but our ambition is to be the Government of Canada once again.”
Belanger had represented the northwest Saskatchewan riding of Athabasca since 1995. Having switched from Liberal to NDP in 1998, Belanger has never lost an election. After 26 years in provincial politics, he said more can be done for northerners at the federal level.
“Those accomplishments mean nothing when your people are hurting. That’s why I left (provincial politics). My people are hurting, and we need to do something different,” Belanger said.
“When you look at some of these achievements as a provincial politician… Well, what good is that if the leading cause of death amongst a certain age group in your riding is suicide?”
Belanger hopes to follow in the footsteps of Ralph Goodale, who was Liberal MP for Regina—Wascana for 26 years, by working “within the governing party” to bring more benefits to Saskatchewan. He said there’s a Conservative “blue wall” that’s holding Saskatchewan back in terms of development. He said that’s because the Conservatives don’t want to share credit.
“Often we hear folks talking about this blue Saskatchewan wall… What the Conservative are doing is they’re stopping support and programs from coming to the prairie provinces. What they do is they turn down proposals from Ottawa, they stop programs from coming into the communities,” Belanger said.
“What happens is, as the federal Liberals try to come in and do these joint ventures and look at options to fund many initiatives throughout the Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River riding, you have this blue wall that is there to stop any federal support from coming forward.
“The Liberals don’t follow that logic. They support Saskatchewan as much as they can. 25 per cent of this year’s provincial budget is a result of federal transfers. So, despite what the ‘blue wall’ may be telling the people of Saskatchewan, the federal Liberal government has been helping Saskatchewan. But are the conservatives going to admit that? Absolutely not.”
Belanger said that if elected he will work to bring down that metaphorical blue wall and focus on infrastructure, access to healthcare and development programs for northerners.
Incumbent MP Gary Vidal is based in Meadow Lake while Belanger lives in Île-à-la-Crosse, both of which are situated in the northwest. Belanger said he’d like to open more federal offices around the riding so that the needs of residents can be better addressed — especially in the northeast and La Ronge area where homelessness and crime rates are a growing concern.
“That’s the first thing that you have to do is you’ve got to be able to understand what the issues are. Once you understand what the problem is, then you can start looking at the solutions,” Belanger said.
“If elected as the MP for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River I have committed that we would have an office within the tri-communities area between the Lac La Ronge Indian Band, Air Ronge and La Ronge. To navigate through the federal programs and bureaucracy is a daunting task. We would make sure we use our office effectively and properly.”
Belanger said there’s “significant opportunity” to bring prosperity to the north by working within the federal Liberal government instead of against it.
“There are significant challenges not only for the safety of our families, but for the economy and with the condition and shape of our highways. Whether it’s COVID-19 or the challenges around illegal drug use, the list goes on as to how the northern people have fended for themselves,” Belanger said.
“We have been sitting with an opposition MP who has not been effective at all. Where has that gotten us? Our communities are in crisis.”