The NDP’s Yens Pedersen won the by-election in Regina Northeast on Sept. 12, becoming the newest MLA in Saskatchewan. Quickly becoming the critic for Agriculture and the Environment, Pedersen has been going around the province to meet with people and listen to what their concerns. Part of that tour took Pedersen to Yorkton.
Getting out of Regina and meeting people through the province is something Pedersen believes is vital for the party, and something important in his new critic role.
“There’s no secret that the NDP has to do a better job of connecting with people in rural areas.”
He is that right at the beginning of his role in the government, which is why his focus right now is on meeting people and listening to their concerns.
“Coming from a farm background, of course I have heard some things from my family and my connections in rural Saskatchewan. There seems to be a sense that the Saskatchewan Party has taken rural support for granted and not really doing all that a responsive, attentive government should do. If you look at, for instance, the role of Saskatchewan Crown corporations in our economy, those have been extremely important for service delivery and affordable rates, primarily in rural Saskatchewan. This government has been quite clear that they don’t believe in Crown corporations. They’ve been selling off chunks, privatizing services and it shows.”
Pedersen points to SaskTel as a classic example of how a Crown can be an advantage for a rural community.
“Rural Saskatchewan is more sparsely populated than rural Ontario, rural Quebec, or rural BC in many cases, and yet SaskTel was way ahead of the private companies in getting services out to rural residents and rural businesses. That’s really important in developing our economies in rural areas.”
Developing rural economies is something that Pedersen believes needs to be a priority for government, and he believes there is a lot of potential in rural Saskatchewan. Pointing to his own home town of Cutknife, he said that there has been very little development in the town, and few new businesses over the past while, but there is a lot to offer for potential businesses.
“If we provide those services like high speed internet, cell phones, decent roads, I think there is a real attraction and advantages to being some place like Saskatchewan, and there might be real advantages for businesses or people looking for a home. I hope we can find some ways to revitalize rural Saskatchewan and grow it.”
Part of revitalizing rural Saskatchewan has to involve diversifying the economy, and Pedersen doesn’t believe that the sitting government has worked hard enough to make that happen.
“One of the issues with the Saskatchewan Party is that they’ve been too stuck in the traditional mindset of what business in rural Saskatchewan has to be. I think that has cost them. Whether you look at their agriculture party or their energy policy, it’s all very much eggs in one basket. It was great for the economy when resource prices were high and money was rolling in, but when that changed and money was not rolling in any more, having all of our eggs in that basket doesn’t seem to be such a good idea.”
Going from his own by-election, Pedersen believes there is growing dissatisfaction with the ruling government, especially since he won with a much larger margin than expected with an over 700 vote difference.
“My constituency is filled with guys who work at Evraz, at the steel mill, in construction and the associated trades. My guess is that makes up over 50 per cent of the constituency. All that the Sask. Party wanted to talk about was carbon tax and pipelines, and frankly they resorted to some deceptive, dishonest messaging on that. But if you can’t win or even make it close talking about those issues in Regina Northeast, I think if you’re Scott Moe you have to be sitting there thinking, maybe we need to come up with a better strategy. I am optimistic about what that by-election meant for the rest of the province.”
Still, the party has to rebuild their support in rural cities like Yorkton. Pedersen said their goal is to form government, and right now they need to listen and connect with people outside of the seats they currently hold. Pedersen admits that the challenge in ridings where the NDP has suffered in the past two elections is going to be rebuild the interest in the party.
“You need the right combination of hard work, enthusiasm, and excitement to win an election in any given area. It’s rare that you can win an election with just one of those things, you need all three of them working at the same time.”