Leadership candidate Alanna Koch meets mayor and media in P.A. visit

Saskatchewan Party leadership candidate Alanna Koch on Central Avenue Thursday. Arthur White-Crummey and Peter Lozkinski/Daily Herald

Alanna Koch calls herself an “insider-outsider” candidate. In a leadership race dominated by former ministers, she’s the only one from outside cabinet vying to replace Premier Brad Wall.

But she’s also the candidate most closely tying her campaign to the Wall legacy.

“I think we’ve been on the right path for the last 10 years,” she told the Daily Herald on Thursday. “I’m a new person and I’ll bring new energy, but absolutely I think we need to stay on that path and build on it.”

During a trip to Prince Albert to meet with Saskatchewan Party members, she brought that message of continuity to an interview at the Daily Herald offices.

Koch was willing to weigh in on a few hot-button issues, including the controversy over the Global Transportation Hub. She said the inland port has an important role to play in getting Saskatchewan’s exports to market. She said she isn’t yet willing to support leadership rival Gord Wyant’s call for a public inquiry over the land deals at the centre of the scandal.

“We need to wait and see what the results of the RCMP investigation are,” she said. “Then we’ll go from there. If there’s questions left unanswered after the RCMP investigation then I would need to take the appropriate action.

“I’m not sure a public inquiry is the right approach, because it takes quite a long time for that work to be completed and it’s a fairly expensive process. So I’d want to make sure that was absolutely necessary, and I’m not sure it is.”

As leader and premier, she said she would make her expectations clear to caucus, especially on conflict of interest. She claimed Saskatchewan already has some of the strongest integrity rules in the country. But she said she wants to survey other jurisdictions to ensure the province has the best ethics standards possible. That’s quite similar to the position Scott Moe has taken.

Koch has not yet unveiled any major policy points. She said she “wouldn’t want to make promises” that she can’t keep. But she did pledge to review at least one unpopular part of the last budget: the sales tax on insurance. She said it’s the issue she hears about the most on the campaign trail. She admitted it may have had some “unintended consequences” for Saskatchewan people.

But even there, she was hesitant.

“I want to fully understand the issue,” she said. “For example, how much revenue is being generated by the insurance tax? Would I be able to ensure we can find that revenue in other places or further restrict expenditures, because I think it’s really important that we stick to a balanced budget plan.”

After her interview with the Herald, Koch went across the street to meet with Mayor Greg Dionne at City Hall. The mayor said he raised the same points with Koch that he laid before her rivals.

“I talked about, first, the new hospital. I talked about the 1-in-500 floodplain and about crime. I talked about partnerships,” he said.

He remembered Koch saying that she was “well aware” of the premier’s positions on those issues and had no plans to change them.

“One thing she would be doing is she would keep the open lines and the conversations going so that’s one thing I’m pleased with,” he said. “We’re going to have discussions.”

Dionne said he was glad to meet Koch, even if she didn’t make any new commitments on his pet issues.

Koch told the Herald that she’s not campaigning to make promises, but to engage supporters and lay out the principles she’s running on. They’re largely economic: open markets, free trade, equitably shared growth, science-based decision making and a limited role for government.

“That’s what is part of that competitive and positive business climate: people want to stay here, they want to build businesses here, they want to have jobs here, they want to have their futures here,” she said. “That’s government’s job. The rest of our role is to get out of the way of business so business can get done.”

That means focussing on infrastructure, and building a province where people want to live and invest. Often, that calls for stepping back. Too much regulation, she argued, could become “an overstep of government.”

“We need to have a role in regulation,” she stressed, “but where we don’t then we need to ensure we don’t overburden businesses and citizens with regulations that aren’t appropriate.”

So far, Koch has played on her background in agriculture. She has stressed the importance of Saskatchewan’s resource industries. But she said that the province benefits from diversification – especially in technology and innovation.

“We will always have the natural strengths of our resource based economy whether that’s mining, oil and gas, forestry or agriculture – those will always be what saskatchewan is about. But I absolutely believe it’s important to see diversification in the economy as well,” she said.

Koch said the rest of her time in Prince Albert would be filled with a coffee meeting with the membership, “mainstreeting” and checking in with local businesses. She said she wants to understand why there’s an employment “lag” in the Prince Albert area. As the rest of the province inches toward recovery, Prince Albert’s unemployment rate is still stuck around 10 per cent.

“Some of that might be related to some of the tough stuff that’s going on in the forestry sector,” she said. “We have maybe not seen the forestry sector recover as quickly. Beyond that, I would have to hear from people as to why things are lagging a little bit behind here in Prince Albert and I’d like to learn more to understand that before I comment further.”

She said her next campaign stops will take her to Meadow Lake, Lloydminister and a number of smaller communities along the way. She said that she’s preparing to roll out endorsements in the coming weeks, especially from notable figures in the private sector.

Koch knows that she’s far behind Scott Moe in the endorsement game, at least inside caucus. So far, she has two MLAs, while he began his campaign with 21. But that’s what comes from being an “insider-outsider,” she said.

“I am not part of caucus,” she said. “I am a different candidate who is getting out there, engaging with members. It’s one member, one vote, so I’m getting out and getting to every constituency in the province during this campaign.”

She said she brings a “new perspective” to the race. To win in 2020, she said, the Saskatchewan Party will need to “communicate the vision for the future, and that we are on the right path.” She thinks she has what it takes to do that.

“What our members need to think about is who’s going to win the next election,” she said. “That’s the candidate that they need to select. What I’ve been told by many is they think I bring the set of skills and to the the table that really is going to make all the difference.”