The Saskatchewan leaders’ debate delved into everything from the cancelation of the film tax credit to health care to P3s and renewable resources with Cam Broten and Brad Wall often talking over each other.
In his opening statement, Broten said the Sask. Party had a booming economy but failed to put aside any money. He said the NDP can do better, highlighting the plan to cut waste and protect healthcare and education.
Wall said the question is “who has the best plan to keep the economy strong”. He said the booming economy has allowed the government to make historic investments and to hire more nurses and doctors.
Diversifying the economy
While jobs have been lost in the energy sector, Wall said Saskatchewan still has the lowest unemployment rate in the country. Wall highlighted record exports in agriculture, manufacturing, mining and touted the success of new international trade deals. As an example of innovation, he also pointed to the campaign promise of a patent box which provides a tax incentive for inventors and entrepreneurs in the province.
Broten said the Sask. Party has not taken enough steps to diversify the economy during the boom in resource revenue. He said the NDP will expand green jobs and renewable energy and promised to rebuild the film industry.
Shouting match over film tax credit
The debate delved into a shouting match when Broten slammed Wall for killing the film industry by cancelling the film tax credit.
Wall argued back that the grant program under Creative Saskatchewan has allowed movies like Corner Gas and WolfCop to be filmed in the province, and that it also invests in other creative industries.
Broten said Wall is kidding himself, saying what is in place is not adequate and repeatedly asked why he wouldn’t just admit that he was wrong. He accused Wall of funding Corner Gas through the back door to save face because he was embarrassed.
Broten highlighted the NDP’s commitment to hiring 300 more teachers and 300 more educational assistants along with a plan to find cost-effective ways to build schools that meet the needs of students.
Wall said he agreed with the need for those new schools, pointing back to the NDP’s past record of closing 176 schools and losing 400 teachers. He said the Sask. Party government has increased operating funding to school boards by 30 per cent.
In response to a followup question about concern over a lack of funding for an influx of English as an Additional Language (EAL) students, Wall noted that the federal government needs to step up to provide those supports.
Broten said schools need more EAs, and said we need investments in education instead of cuts. He referred to potential layoffs announced by Prairie Spirit School Division in response to cut backs.
Wall countered back that there have been no cuts and funding to that school division is up 31 per cent while enrolment is only up 20 per cent. He said the division needs to be accountable and noted that those potential layoffs did not include anything on the administration side.
Broten got fired up again calling it “rich” to call for cuts to administration when Wall’s government has a record of growing “bloated” administration in healthcare and education. At that point, he said Wall has not cut any wasteful spending, referring once again to “gravy planes”.
Wall said Broten needs to stop saying there have been cuts to health care and education, because it’s not true.
Public private partnerships
Wall said the government is taking a broader approach to resolve the infrastructure deficit by building through a combination of P3s and conventional funding. He said the government will save $100 million to build new joint use schools as P3s. He also defended the Regina Bypass saying it creates jobs in Saskatchewan, and many local companies are working on it.
Broten said Wall is addicted to P3s and is “kicking responsibility down the road” while choosing the more expensive approach and giving contracts to foreign corporations. He brought up the “sketchy land deals” around the Regina Bypass, and said that the only thing it does bypass are Saskatchewan jobs and workers.
Broten said every young person deserves the opportunity to live up to their potential, no matter where they are born. He called out Wall for cuts to the Aboriginal Employment Development Program, saying it moves the province in the wrong direction.
Wall agreed that the gap in employment for aboriginal people is a crucial issue for the province. He said the government doubled funding to the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technology and partnered with the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) to pilot education projects to increase graduation rates for aboriginal students.
Privatization of MRIs
Broten said privatizing MRIs has not brought down waiting lists in places like Alberta. He called out Wall for promising that he would never allow people with “bulging wallets” to “jump the queue” and get faster care, saying this program is doing exactly that.
Wall argued that for every person who pays for an MRI, the private clinic has to provide another one for free to someone on the public waiting list, which he described as an innovation.
Broten continued to interrupt Wall with accusations those they are jumping the queue.
The pair continued to speak at the same time, arguing over whether private clinics and options have brought down wait times or not.
Minimum wage and cost of living
Broten said the government is out of touch with the cost of living, saying life has become more expensive during boom times. He pointed to examples of higher utility rates, increasing tuition costs and ambulance fees. He said the NDP plan will cut waste like “gravy planes” and expensive consultants and redirect that money to make life more affordable.
Wall pointed out that the Sask. Party has reduced taxes and removed the PST on children’s clothing and used cars. He also referred to the increases to the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) program. He said it was not the NDP who indexed minimum wage for inflation, it was the Sask. Party.
The moderator made a polite attempt to bring the debate under control, saying it is tough but asking the leaders to try not to talk over each other.
Wall pointed out that the NDP has not provided a cost for 18 points on their platform.
Broten said the platform is fully costed and verified by third-party economists.
He argued the province used to have the most affordable utilities in the province, but that was before the government “drove Crowns into the ground”. He pointed to the waste of millions of dollars on smart metres that blew up on homes and cost over-runs on the carbon capture project.
Wall once again slammed the NDP for failing to provide a plan to pay for 18 promises, including the low cost utility budget. He said he didn’t blame candidates for making stuff up because there was no explanation for how they will pay for certain promises, he described it as “the Donald Trump section of your platform”.
Seniors long-term care
Wall said the government has recognized that there is a shortage of frontline staff in long-term care homes and responded by adding 800 health care workers to long-term care homes. He said the Sask. Party government has also replaced aging facilities and adding new spaces, but admitted that “it is still not enough and there is more work to be done”. He said there is also a need to use more innovations to provide better home care to keep seniors in their homes longer.
Broten called it heartbreaking to hear from families and workers about how long term care homes are still chronically understaffed. He said they need to look at how many Lean consultants and administrators are included in those shifts.
Wall gave some credit to the opposition for bringing the issues of long term care to the forefront. He added that the Sask. Party has committed to reducing administration costs in health care and redirecting that money towards front line care givers.
Broten accused Wall of keeping his head in the sand and not listening to families, while listing off names of people who have died in part due to chronic short staffing.
Environment and Renewable Energy
Broten promised a big expansion of renewable energy and green jobs to benefit the economy for the future. He said Wall has only ever made cuts to climate change and green programs in the budgets. He also said the environment minister couldn’t even say for whether man-made climate change is real.
Wall said yes, he believes climate change is real. He pointed to the promise to move toward 50 per cent renewable energy from SaskPower by the year 2030. He also pointed out that Saskatchewan is leading the world on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) research at Boundary Dam.
Broten countered that point by accusing the Sask. Party of not telling the truth about the Boundary Dam project.
Listeners complain the debate sounded like a shouting match
Several people listening to the debate on the radio texted in to News Talk Radio saying they could hardly understand a word of the debate because the leaders were shouting at each other.
Sean in Saskatoon described the debate as “an embarrassment”, adding, “both of these clowns should be ashamed”.
Shirley from Birch Hills said it was nothing but a shouting match.
Brian in Regina compared the leaders to a “couple of 4 year olds” who “only want to hear themselves talk.”