Saskatchewan New Democrats will elect a new leader March 9.
There are four candidates seeking the leadership, Cam Broten and Ryan Meili from Saskatoon, and Erin Weir and Trent Wotherspoon from Regina.
All four were in Yorkton at the Royal Canadian Legion Hall for a candidates forum which attracted about 75 people, who listened to the hopefuls statements as well as having a chance to field questions from the floor.
One overriding theme for all four candidates was a need to rejuvenate the party to attract voters back to the fold.
“We need to give the people of Saskatchewan a choice, not an echo,” offered Weir.
Meili said the leadership race is a chance for the party to re-shape itself.
“This is our moment,” he said, adding it is “an incredible opportunity … a real crossroads for our party. We can show there’s a better way.”
Broten said the leadership race is not about personal victory.
“I want a better future for you,” he said, adding it was important to create a future that not only helped those in the room, but set the stage for a vibrant Saskatchewan for future generations. “… I believe we have a shared future.”
Broten said the party has a proud tradition to follow.
“We know we’ve accomplished great things in this province,” he said, adding the NDP can again become “a dynamic political force that appeals to a broad cross section of Saskatchewan people.”
Part of that will be to become relevant for rural voters again, said Broten.
“We need to reconnect with rural Saskatchewan,” he said.
Broten said the party can reclaim a place with voters, “if we take the right steps as a party.”
Wotherspoon said the leadership race is beginning the right steps bringing together past and new members, adding that allows the party to look at fresh ideas.
Wotherspoon said regardless of the outcome, the leadership process affords the party to emerge “unified with purpose.”
The new purpose is needed “so we can be the progressive force we need to be,” he added.
That said Wotherspoon noted the party has roots it must stay true too as well, adding the NDP “is rooted in social-democratic values.”
Then Wotherspoon agreed the party needs “to be strong and united coming out of this important process,” so it can help build a province where all citizens share in prosperity; “so everybody can be in and nobody is left out.”
It was a theme of renewal Broten continued.
“We need to turn the page … and write the next chapter,” he said, adding that will require work given the current state of the party, left with only nine MLAs in the current Legislature.
“I realize there’s a lot of work to done,” he said. “It’s not enough to plant the seed. We must nurture its growth.”
Weir suggested the party is already moving in the right direction.
“There’s no shortage of progressive policy on our party’s books,” he said, adding the key is in balancing fiscal policy and social needs with economic goals.
The four were also, not surprisingly, united in their contention things under the Saskatchewan Party are not as good as Premier Brad Wall would suggest.
Weir said health care is actually in worse condition, more people are struggling to afford housing, and in general the people of the province face “a lower quality of living” under the current government.
“As New Democrats we believe in a more equal distribution … of wealth,” he said, noting while some see the economy humming along, too many are being left behind.
Meili said the public may be told there is “endless growth” but that is at a time where there is growing poverty, and reliance on food banks and support.
Meili said it is a case of needing a better plan to channel the strength of the economy in ways it funds social services so that all feel the benefits.
The more focus there is on health, housing, education and other foundation aspects of the province the healthier the overall society becomes, said Meili, adding with a healthier society “wiser decisions” are able to be made.
In that respect he called on members to join him “in changing the conversation” about how health is distributed to help all.
Wotherspoon said Saskatchewan people want more than they are now getting.
“They want something more than growth for the sake of growth alone,” he offered. “We need to build our province’s economy with purpose.”
Weir said for the party to regain its past support, and for all to participate in the current economy, everyone needs to be involved.
“We accomplish many things by working together,” he said.
Weir said in terms of much of the current economic strength, it is being driven by the resource sector of oil, gas and potash, which he suggested “belong equally to all people.”
As it stands Weir said the people of Saskatchewan “are not collecting a fair return for our non-renewable resources.”
The leadership vote will be held in conjunction with the party’s regular Provincial Convention at TCU Place in Saskatoon.