Sask. NDP leader wants to hear from Prince Albert residents at Tuesday town hall

Michelle Berg/Saskatoon StarPhoenix NDP Leader Carla Beck holds a press conference at the Ramada Inn and conference centre. Photo taken in Saskatoon, Sask. on Tuesday, September 26, 2023.

Saskatchewan NDP leader Carla Beck will be at the Coronet Hotel in Prince Albert on Tuesday for party’s first town hall of 2024.

Beck said the party is gearing up for an election in the fall, and wants to make sure voters feel like their voice is heard.

“We are not entering this year with the goal of second place,” Beck said during a phone interview on Friday. “We are building and moving towards that goal of forming government in 2024. If we are going to do that, we need to win in communities like Prince Albert, and in order to do that, we need to listen to the people of Prince Albert.

“It’s something we have been doing, but this is just another way for us to give people a chance to not only meet myself as the leader and some of our other MLAs, but also meet the candidates.”

Beck said she expects cost of living, mental health, addictions, crime, the economy, and the NDP’s new gas tax petition to be the top issues raised at the meeting. However, she added there is no strict agenda. Residents are invited to raise any issues they are concerned about.

“This is not intended to be a strictly partisan event, nor an event where … we only want to talk about a few issues,” Beck explained. “We want to hear from people. We want to build out those solutions with them.”

Beck said NDP candidates Nicole Rancourt and Carolyn Brost Strom will also be in attendance. The NDP has plans for more outreach events planned in preparation for the next election.

Beck spent much of 2023 touring the province, and said one of her main takeaways is that many voters feel like their voice isn’t being heard. She said the NDP is committed to make sure that changes.

“We are interested in listening,” she said. “We are out there listening to frontline workers, people in communities. We’re very interested in building those solutions, and that’s what we’ll continue to do this year.”

The town hall runs from 7-9 p.m. at the Coronet Hotel ballroom on Tuesday, Jan. 23.

Beck urges Ministry of Education to get back to the bargaining table

The STF’s second one-day strike is one of the main topics Beck expects to hear about at Tuesday’s town hall.

Beck served as a Regina Public School Trustee before entering provincial politics, and said it’s frustrating to hear Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill says issues like classroom size are best dealt with by province’s school divisions.

In a press conference on Jan. 17, Cockrill told reporters there were challenges in classrooms across the province, but local schools boards were best equipped to address them. Beck said school divisions are too underfunded to make an impact.

““For the minister to suggest that school boards have the ability to address these issues on their own without support, without funding, without focus from the provincial government, from the ministry, is frankly disingenuous and if he does know better, he doesn’t know his file very well,” she said.

Beck was first elected as a trustee in 2009. She said school division trustees and teachers are still concerned about the same events the Regina Public School Division was talking about during her first term.

“These concerns are well documented,” she said. “They are present in every report and budget response that I’ve seen from not only teachers, but from school boards and from the concerns that parents and students themselves are bringing forward.

“I’m not alone in my frustration at the minister’s comments. This is something that he not only has the ability to address, frankly he has the responsibility to address it. We would like to see him get back to the table and get serious about finding a deal and starting those improvements to the education system because they are long overdue.”

In an email to the Herald on Thursday, the Ministry of Education wrote they had put forward a fair deal for teachers by offering a seven per cent raise over three years.

In a press conference on Jan. 16, Cockrill said negotiating over classroom complexity was a “line in the sand” the government would not cross.

“We think school divisions are best positioned to manage that, and again, we’re going to continue working with school divisions to support them,” Cockrill said.

“The union’s request is basically to take that away from locally elected school boards, which we don’t believe is in the best interest of education from a big picture, and certainly we think it’s important (to have a) local voice in education.”

–with files from Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald