The two Saskatchewan NDP leadership hopefuls debated for the first time at the party’s annual convention Saturday afternoon.
In front of hundreds of party members at Regina’s Queensbury Convention Centre, Ryan Meili and Trent Wotherspoon were asked about a number of topics, ranging from reconciliation to climate change.
Moderator Steve Patterson opened the debate with a few joke multiple choice questions before the candidates presented their opening statements.
Wotherspoon started by touching on universal health services for people with mental health and addictions issues, $15 per day childcare and protecting Saskatchewan’s Crown corporations.
Meili began by talking about his “new way” of thinking, teasing his platform based on universal pharmacare, a $15 minimum wage, reconciliation and climate change.
When asked about Saskatchewan’s recent unemployment rates following the last budget, both were on the same page, saying they’d start by fixing the procurement model.
Wotherspoon said investing in Saskatchewan workers is key, rather than outsourcing local work to foreign companies. Those views were echoed by Meili, who added that investing in the renewable energy sector and looking for jobs in retrofitting would remedy job numbers. Meili also mentioned that Indigenous employment rates need a boost, saying First Nations and Métis people deserve “the first shot at the best jobs.”
As for the ever-controversial carbon tax, the candidates both agreed that having the federal government impose a levy is not an option, but rather that a Saskatchewan-made model would be the best bet.
Meili suggested the plan would reduce emissions, create green jobs and protect low-income families. However, he said consultation would be crucial.
“We also need to look at industries, like agriculture and other trade-exposed industries, make sure we’re protecting them and making sure we’re offering incentives to help advance their opportunity to help decrease their carbon emissions,” said Meili, adding he’d look to Alberta’s current model.
Wotherspoon agreed, calling it “a tremendous opportunity and a tremendous challenge — both economically and, certainly, environmentally.” He added that a cap and trade system could also be an option.
In his question to his competitor, Meili asked Wotherspoon: “Will you join me in leading by example and helping to reestablish trust in our politics by not taking corporate and union donations in your campaign?”
“Now is not the time,” responded Wotherspoon. “We have labour members that are here, right now, that care deeply about winning that next election.”
Meili rebutted by saying the party would “do the right thing for workers whether there’s money attached to it or not.”
Wotherspoon confirmed that he has not taken any money from any corporation throughout the internal leadership race.
Reviving STC was also discussed; both candidates agreed that it was a life-line for many people across Saskatchewan.
Meili suggested scrapping the old model to create something new, after consulting with people on which routes are needed most. Wotherspoon welcomed the idea of consultation, but said it’s vital to reach out for federal funding first before starting straight from scratch.
The two competitors joined forces when talking about the province’s Crown corporations. Wotherspoon called them “critical” and said he has a plan to lock them down by abolishing Bill 40, which would allow for the partial sale of a crown. Meili said he’d help move that forward, adding that he’d also look at expanding SaskPower and SaskTel.
Reconciliation was the final item on the debate agenda.
Meili said closing the economic, education and health care gaps for Indigenous people in Saskatchewan is his top priority. Wotherspoon said universal childcare and more consistent education on treaties and residential schools is a big step towards reconciliation.
A new Saskatchewan NDP leader will be elected March 3, 2018.
Additional candidates have until Jan. 12, 2018 to join the leadership race.