SASKTODAY.ca staff reached out to the candidates in all of Saskatchewan's ridings with a universal questionnaire. We will be publishing these results in order they were received.
Name: Estelle Hjertaas
Running for: Liberal Party of Canada, Prince Albert
Currently residing in (city or neighbourhood): Midtown, Prince Albert
Previous political experience: 2019 Federal Liberal candidate
Who is your political hero?
I am a big fan of Stéphane Dion and the commitment that he showed to learning about environmental issues and taking action to address them.
What inspired you to enter the election race?
Helping people. Ultimately, that is what politics is about. There are many ways to give back (and I do as much as I can now!) but the most challenging issues that I have come across need the federal government's support to get at the core of the issue and actually make change. Without that, those of us working in areas like justice and social work are basically saving the proverbially drowning people in the river, but never able to stop them from falling into the river in the first place.
What topics are most important to you in this federal election?
The overarching issue is the COVID-19 pandemic and how we will get through it, together. In addition to that, I am focused on the environment and sustainability, fighting poverty, reconciliation, and creating jobs and economic growth.
Are you concerned about the short campaign timeline for this election?
A shorter campaign presents challenges, but ultimately I am not concerned about it. I think that voters recognize that there is a difference in what campaigns can do in a short versus long campaign.
What supports, if any, do you feel are needed to help businesses and residents with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic?
I think that the full suite of federal support programs was appropriate. What mattered most (and still matters most now) was keeping people safe, making sure they were protected against losing their homes or businesses, and setting up a path to a good recovery. Now, while we are in the midst of a fourth wave, we need to keep supporting people, communities and businesses until we are through this. In terms of specific programs, for individuals there was the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy, the Canada Recovery Benefit, Recovery Sickness Benefit, Caregiving Benefit, Canada Workers Benefit, and mortgage payment deferral among others. These are largely still available except CERB which has transitioned to EI.
For businesses, there was the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy; the Recovery Hiring Program; the Emergency Rent Subsidy; credit for highly affected sectors like tourism; business credit availability program for businesses facing economic challenges due to COVID-19, including the agri-food sector; and loan guarantees for small and medium businesses. We need to keep supporting businesses with these or similar programs until the pandemic is under control.
What, if any, agricultural federal programs and initiatives do you feel are necessary to help support farmers and ranchers in this year's conditions?
This is a very difficult year for farmers and ranchers. We need to do two things: first, support farmers through this crisis, and second, address climate change in order to try to stop the worst effects of climate change and prevent even worse outcomes in the future.
First part: The programs that are already announced are AgriRecovery, which is a federal-provincial-territorial disaster relief framework under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, and is intended to work together with the core business risk management programs of Crop Insurance, AgriStability and AgriInvest to help producers recover from natural disasters. The cost sharing is 60% federal and 40% provincial. In Saskatchewan, there will be two payments up to $200/head for cattle (adjusted on animal unit equivalent for other livestock).
The AgriStability program is also seeing an increase to the interim benefit payment from 50 to 75 percent so producers can access a larger portion of their benefit early.
Second part: Since 2015 the Liberals have been committed to fighting climate change and protecting Canadians from extreme weather, which includes supporting mitigation and rehabilitation projects, advancing the first-ever National Adaptation Strategy to reduce climate change risks to Canadians, and work with farmers to update business risk management agriculture programs to fully integrate climate risk management, environmental practices and climate readiness. In addition, we will increase support to farmers to develop and adopt practices to reduce emissions, store carbon in the soil, and enhance resiliency.
Is there an issue that people are focusing too much?
I think people are focusing too much on image and not enough on substance. Elections decide our future in a very real way. Policies affect our lives every day. Daycare is a perfect example – daycare cost in Prince Albert now is approximately $800 a month. If the Liberals win, it will be cut in half by next year, and $10/day within five years. And more spaces will be created. If there is a Conservative government, they will not uphold the agreement with Saskatchewan to make this happen and prices will stay the same. I think that voters should look at how the platforms affect their lives.
Is there an issue that doesn’t get enough attention?
Two issues: First, climate change is not getting enough attention, despite being the defining issue of our era. Our Liberal plan has been independently reviewed as the best option among all the platforms, and the most likely to meet our greenhouse gas reduction goals. Voters concerned about climate change should read it, read the independent reviews and vote accordingly.
Second, reconciliation. This is a complex issue and hard to address in sound bites, but it is critically important, especially in a riding like Prince Albert with a large indigenous population.
Why did you choose to run for your particular party?
The Liberal Party puts people and communities first. That's why I am running for the Liberal Party. Liberals are not afraid to address the big issues of our time, like climate change, inequality, racism, reconciliation - and focus on building a better, more equal Canada where everyone has the opportunity for a brighter future.
What is the biggest issue facing your party’s chance at success?
In spite of the many environmental disasters around the world and right here in Saskatchewan this year, not everyone has recognised that climate change is the largest threat to our society. If people recognized this as the most important issue, they would vote Liberal because independent experts, including people like former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, praise the Liberal plan as the best and most effective. Instead, there is a lot of misinformation about climate change and the Liberal plan that influences voters.
How will you engage and encourage young voters to participate in this election?
Unfortunately due to COVID-19 candidates are not visiting schools this time, so that makes it more challenging, but I have young volunteers who are sharing with their friends and am using social media channels to reach them. I am also participating in the First Nations University Candidates Forum.
What is your party’s leader’s biggest flaw?
I have met Justin Trudeau on a number of occasions and found him to be an intelligent, hard working and compassionate man who is dedicated to improving the well being of Canadians. If anything, his flaw is being underestimated and painted by others as less than he is. He showed how he surpassed expectations years ago in the boxing match against Senator Brazeau when he won despite being outweighed by his opponent, and consistently during the pandemic – especially when his wife Sophie had COVID and was isolating in another part of the house and he took care of his three young children alone while doing his job and delivering daily updates about the pandemic.
Once elected, your job is to represent your entire riding. How do you plan on representing individuals who didn’t vote for you?
My job as a courtroom lawyer has given me a lot of experience in managing difficult situations and acrimonious relationships. I believe that sitting down and chatting with someone can bring down most barriers. For example, a couple years ago a man had made a negative post about me on social media. I saw that we had mutual friends, so I reached out, we had coffee, and talked about our mutual interests in nature and hunting and had a very nice time. This is what building bridges looks like. I am happy to sit down with people with different views, hear them out, and see where we can find common ground.
If elected, I commit to regularly meeting with groups like First Nations and municipal leadership, Chambers of Commerce, farmers, and individuals in the community.
What informs your political stance? What books, publications, relationships or experiences?
I studied political science and Canadian history in university, so I have read a lot about politics! It is hard to pin down one in particular. I particularly love reading books about history, food, and politics. In the last few years, I have committed to reading more books by Indigenous authors and other people of colour, which has helped broaden my perspectives. I also subscribe to a number of news publications (local, Canadian, American and international) and read those.
In terms of experiences, I got involved with the Liberal Party in university and have always felt support and positivity within the Party, and made some of my closest friends through my political experiences.
What local project or service would you advocate for more federal spending?
There are many deserving projects, including significant infrastructure spending that has already taken place like PA’s new recreational complex, water or wastewater in PA, Nipawin, Arborfield, Tisdale, Tobin Lake and Carrot River, landfills in Nipawin and Tisdale and Kinistino’s community center. All of Canada, including Saskatchewan, faces an infrastructure deficit and so we need to continue to focus on projects like there. Otherwise, we need a lot more affordable housing spaces and Housing First programs to assist people suffering from addictions and homelessness, which ultimately benefits all of us by reducing strain on health care and social services as well as crime.
What is something people don’t know about you?
I am a firearm owner and a hunter, and look forward to my annual November mule deer hunting trip to Zone 3 with my dad and my spouse, and then to eating delicious deer meat all year.