Saskatchewan politics

PART 1 – Sask Party Leadership Race Candidates: What You Need to Know Before You Vote (Or Just Because)

Check out Part 2 here on the candidate’s positions on the Global Transportation Hub (GTH).

Six candidates are vying to fill Wall’s shoes after his January 28, 2018 departure: former Saskatoon city councillor and justice minister Gord Wyant; former Grant Devine staffer and controversially, the current head of Saskatchewan’s civil service, Alanna Koch; rural MLA Scott Moe, Regina MLA Tina Beaudry-Mellor, and Saskatoon MLA Ken Cheveldayoff, also all once cabinet ministers, and former Conservative MP Rob Clarke.

If you want to read more of my thoughts on the overall implications of this race, you can check out a recent piece I wrote for Maclean’s magazine here.

Otherwise, here’s what you need to know about the candidates:

Ken Cheveldayoff

Predictably, Saskatoon Willowgrove MLA Ken Cheveldayoff has worked incredibly hard since announcing his candidacy in August. Just reading his Facebook page, with it’s marathon lists of campaign stops is exhausting, though reading it a lot easier now that HE’S STOPPED YELLING AT US IN ALL CAPS on social media. At the halfway point in his campaign Chevy, an active, card-carrying member of the federal Conservative party, cleaned out his communications team and brought in the staff Jason Kenney used for his successful bid for the leadership of Alberta’s United Conservative Party.

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Chevy’s campaign policy announcements have kind of been all over the map, predominantly low-hanging fruit for his target voting groups. The promise of high speed rural internet, for example – anyone in rural Saskatchewan still enjoying dial-up, or whatever it is you’re still using? Problem is that SaskTel is already starting to roll this out, albeit slowly, announcing their plan earlier this year as part of a $1.2 billion capital expansion plan set to run through 2021. Installing fibre optics corner to corner in this province is a monolithic task, and I feel like SaskTel probably know what they’re doing by not rushing it.

Railing against legalizing marijuana has also been on Chevy’s list; won’t somebody think of the children? I’m curious, though, as to whether Cheveldayoff will put his money where his mouth is. According to his MLA disclosure form, he’s invested in Saskatchewan’s Golden Opportunities Fund and SaskWorks Venture Fund. Together those two funds own 25% of Cannibis Therapeutics, a Saskatchewan medical marijuana grow-op which is currently poised, one way or another, to become a multi-kajillion dollar company after ganja goes legit in summer of 2018.

Given your opposition to legalized marijuana, have you divested from these two funds Ken, and if not, will you?

Chevy has been campaigning for this job since the day he was elected… possibly since the day he was born. Nakedly ambitious, Cheveldayoff has been locked into a longstanding rivalry with Brad Wall for the greater part of the last two decades. Rumours abound about his ethics and personal life, but it’s difficult to know how much is driven by hard feelings and caucus/party infighting over the years. He wouldn’t be my first choice, but he’ll probably be my second, and he will fight for this win til the bitter end, and his chances are good.

[Note – since I posted this a few hours ago, some of you have pointed out that I failed to include Chevy’s comments to the CBC regarding racism, or what he claimed to be the lack thereof, in Saskatchewan. Totally my bad, there’s a lot to cover and I missed it completely. It doesn’t change how I’d vote, but it is still troubling and I hope he not only addresses it, but demonstrates that he has moved on from that position and is ready to tackle the issues vital to Saskatchewan’s indigenous residents.]

Gord Wyant

The other candidates are growing increasingly worried about Wyant, whose no-drama-Obama-style campaign – low-key but cohesive, disciplined and highly organized – seems to have slowly but surely gained the momentum that it needs to land him in at least in the top three on the first ballot, which is where any candidate with needs to be to win.

He appears to have the majority support of Saskatchewan teachers. The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation’s Pick A Premier campaign unleashed the power of one of the biggest and well-organized unions in Saskatchewan, with rumours of thousands of teachers having signed up for memberships – more than enough to decide this race. Wyant was one of the only two candidates who bothered to show up at the Saskatoon Teachers’ Association convention, a strategic win for him, and a mistake that I think is going to haunt the other absentee candidates.

Wyant is also one of only two candidates for Saskatchewan Premier to have released a policy regarding our kids’ education (think about that for a minute). With a commitment to reviewing education funding and using phrases like “integrated solutions” and “individual needs of students”, his is sure to appeal to teachers in this province, a group which has been increasingly disrespected, underfunded and unappreciated.

Wyant’s doffing of his federal Liberal membership at the beginning of the race was a bold and risky move, but it’s paid off in that it was a) the right thing to do for Saskatchewan, whose current interests don’t align with the Canadian government’s, and b) it reinforced the fact that he is not a social conservative.

Finally, Wyant has been the only candidate to actually acknowledge – not just once, but over and over – what everyone else (except diehard tribe members, of course) already knows: something is really wrong with the Saskatchewan Party. He’s been the only candidate to broadly address the deterioration of today’s Sask Party and its relationship with its members and the province as a whole, particularly around trust and social responsibility – taking care of all people, not just political donors. That’s huge, for me anyway.

I would like to see Wyant address the issue of the bullshit chaos that has become political donations in this province, as well as release policies directly addressing the best interests of indigenous residents of Saskatchewan, with particular emphasis on reconciliation and the TRC’s recommendations. Regardless, as of today he would be number one on my ballot.

Scott Moe

Moe’s leadership campaign is so uninspiring that I don’t know where to sta-zzzzzz… oops sorry, I just nodded off even thinking about it.

Let’s be straight about why Moe, who was elected as the MLA Rosthern-Spiritwood in 2011, is in this race and why he’s backed by almost half of his fellow Sask Party MLAs, all of whom have worked closely with Alanna Koch, who was Deputy Minister to the premier, and who don’t like her. Knowing she’s a strong candidate, especially in rural Saskatchewan, Rosetown MLA Jim Reiter was perceived as the original choice to stop Koch. Moe became Plan B when Reiter dropped out.

80% of the way through the campaign, Moe’s big claim to fame remains those 23 MLAs who have endorsed his candidacy. Thing is, in a political climate that is rallying against the Sask Party’s status quo, who cares?

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Moe has released a grand total of three policy pieces. Maybe four, if you’re generous.

One is a “Ministry of International Trade and Exports, which would replace the Ministry of Economy”. That sounds to me a lot like the well-established Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership (STEP) authority, so not sure what a new ministry proves beyond more government interference. It’s also a terrible replacement for the Ministry of Economy, which is a huge umbrella covering everything from labour market development and immigration, energy and resource management, to economic development including First Nations, Métis and northern economic development.

He says he’d also hold a review of rural landfill management, a hot mess that Moe probably should have reviewed when he was, oh I don’t know, Minister of the Environment?

Moe would reinstate the PST exemption on crop, life, and health insurance, dated retroactively to August 1, 2017 (he says he will also stick with Wall’s promise to balance the provincial budget by 2019, so…).

And finally, Moe has made a “commitment” to growing the province’s population to 1.5 million by 2030, which I’m pretty sure we’re on track for already, by lobbying the feds to increase the number of immigrants allowed into Saskatchewan, creating that Ministry of International Trade and continuing to do stuff that’s being done already.

The most significant thing about Moe’s campaign was the revelation that in addition to his drunk driving conviction, he killed someone in a different car accident perfectly sober (he only got a ticket for driving with undue care and attention).

The most entertaining thing, by far, about Moe’s campaign has been watching Ted Merriman, a former Sask Party MLA and dad to current Sask Party MLA Paul Merriman, jump on Facebook during the Sask Party’s livestreams of leadership debates and absolutely smear the shit out of Ken Cheveldayoff in real time.

Unity!

Moe’s campaign is unbelievably thin gruel from a man who wants to lead Saskatchewan, and personally I find it even more unbelievable that 23 MLAs – or Moe’s “Team”, as he describes them – stand behind this pablum, nevermind endorse it as what’s best for Saskatchewan people.

A Moe win is not what’s best for us – it’s what’s best for them.

Alanna Koch

Like Chevy, Koch has ground out a gruelling schedule, traversing Saskatchewan’s rural countryside non stop for months. She knows where her vote lives and she’s gone after it, however she hasn’t made demonstrable inroads in the cities.

Missteps in her campaign have made it clear that Koch is a rookie; she’s never been elected to anything – a problem for some people, who consider the Premier’s role the last job that should be backdoored by an unelected candidate. An ill-concieved, self-indulgent news event in early October to announce her nonsensical “mandate letter” – that she wrote to herself on our behalf (I don’t even know) – went over like a lead balloon and damaged her relationship with reporters, who don’t have time for that. She also released a bizarre statement claiming their internal poll results showed her in first place, but refused to release the actual poll – aka proof – publicly or to media (again, who don’t have time for those games).

On policy, Koch claimed on Facebook that she “was the first, and only, candidate to release a full policy platform”, referring to her four and a half page, double-spaced Vision for 2030 which lays out profound gems like “Keep the STEP model” and “A health system that revolves around citizens’ needs to provide them with the best care possible”.

In fact, the only unique idea that jumped out at me was her proposed “Premier’s Council”, which she would populate with her selection of “entrepreneurs, labour leaders, scientific experts, community leaders, academia and industry and professional organizations”.

We elect people to be the Premier’s “council” – they’re called “Cabinet Ministers”. The last thing this province needs is another handpicked layer of political friends at the top of the food chain. Pronunciations like that feel a flicker of empathy for those 23 MLAs backing a real life Homer Simpson to keep her out.

In response to a budding (as of publishing this) scandal involving cheating allegations levelled against her campaign, Koch adamantly denies the accusations, suggesting the other candidates are just jealous because she was so well-prepared, stating, “I have been more engaged in this process than any other candidate.” I don’t think this one is going to end well, but we’ll see.

Koch is the perceived Chosen One of both the Sask Party executive, Brad Wall, executive council, and the conservative white male establishment led by their own lord and saviour, radio host John Gormley, whose dog whistles, pathetic pantomime of neutrality and painfully transparent on-air ambush of Scott Moe regarding that fatal collision pretty much sums up why I really did want, but can’t support Alanna Koch.

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9 of 12 of Koch’s recent endorsements are middle-aged white men. Is that a problem? It will be for the Sask Party in 2020 if she wins, because the balance of power is shifting away from this demographic..

I want a female premier. Unfortunately, I don’t want this one. Sorry, I tried.

Tina Beaudry-Mellor

She had only been a MLA for a year and a half when Beaudry-Mellor jumped into this race, and she’s never garnered the support or momentum she needs to have a chance. She has, however, had a nicely-timed mid-term opportunity to campaign for her seat in Regina, which will likely be in jeopardy in 2020, as well as the opportunity to earn some priceless campaign experience in some of the dirtiest trenches (the internal ones) in politics. I give her a standing ovation for effort, and should she choose to run again whenever this circus comes back to town, I hope she runs, because by then she’ll be a formidable opponent.

In Memory:

Jeremy Harrison

Rob Clarke

Check out Part 2 here on the candidate’s positions on the Global Transportation Hub (GTH).

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For those of you who care, I’m Tammy Robert. I’m a writer, but pay the bills consulting in media and public relations. Feel free to email me anytime about either at tammyrobert@live.ca.

 

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