Trent Wotherspoon brought his leadership campaign for the New Democratic Party to the Battlefords on Friday.
Wotherspoon was in the community for a number of meetings, including ones with public officials such as Chief Lori Whitecalf from Sweetgrass First Nation, as well as Mayor Ryan Bater. He also planned meetings with residents and with community health leaders.
Later that evening he held a meet-and-greet campaign event at the home of Rob Feist, NDP candidate in the Battlefords in 2016. Wotherspoon also announced that day that he had the endorsements of both Feist and Whitecalf in the leadership contest.
“This is simply a time where I’m reaching out, where I’m listening and I’m working to build,” said Wotherspoon. “Ultimately I’m working to build a province that works for everyone. One that’s filled with hope, opportunity and reconciliation.”
This is the second go-around for Wotherspoon as a leadership candidate, having run and lost before in 2013 to Cam Broten.
After Broten’s defeat, Wotherspoon was named interim leader, with no plans to run for the permanent job.
But Wotherspoon had a change of heart. He resigned as interim leader to join the leadership contest.
Wotherspoon explained some of the rationale behind that decision.
“Most importantly, it was right for our family, so that’s critical any time you’re making these decisions,” said Wotherspoon. He also pointed to support he had received from caucus and rank-and-file members of the party, and he made it clear he believed the issues facing the province were too important for him to stay on the sidelines.
“The stakes just couldn’t be higher for the people of this province. And I’m not willing to simply sit back and watch our province and the things that give us strength be dismantled: our crowns, our classrooms, support for the most vulnerable. I’m fighting for our people and this province and laying forward a vision of a better way forward.”
A couple of issues stood out for Wotherspoon in his meeting with the News-Optimist. One was mental health.
Wotherspoon is proposing a universal system of mental health and addictions services, as well as “urgent and immediate supports” from the moment someone indicates they need help.
“The reality for far too many is so many are suffering in silence throughout our province when it comes to mental health,” said Wotherspoon.
“And when it comes to addictions, for far too many when they indicate they need help services are delayed, or inadequate.”
He pointed to universal mental health and addictions services as something to help deal with the crime issue in the province. He pointed to the “epidemic of crystal meth” as one issue that needs addressed.
Wotherspoon has also outlined his support for Crown corporations and for greater protections. He also condemned the closure of STC.
“My commitment is to fight tooth and nail to hang on to as many assets as we can at this point in time,” said Wotherspoon, and to “build back a public provincial transportation system.”
Another important issue for Wotherspoon is education. The former teacher had a lot to say about the state of education, accusing classrooms and school boards are under attack from the Sask Party government.
“My aim is not just to fight back against that attack but my aim is to build the most engaging and enriched classrooms possible,” said Wotherspoon. Those proposals include classrooms that are safe and inclusive, have modern supports, and give local control back to the school boards.
Not surprisingly, Wotherspoon was highly critical of the comments of education minister Bronwyn Eyre about treaty education made in the legislature.
Wotherspoon said he had released his policies on the issue long before Eyre’s comments, which he says calling for greater support for treaty education and education of residential schools, and making sure it is resourced so it is taught with the full intent of the treaties.
“It angers me and bothers me to no end to see a government attacking treaty education and Indigenous education,” said Wotherspoon. “In doing so they’re fanning the flames of division and ignorance in this province in a dangerous way.”
He called it a “kick in the guts” to the teachers and Indigenous people across the province, and called for Eyre’s removal.
“The minister should no longer be the minister of anything let alone the Minister of Education,” said Wotherspoon.
As for the NDP going forward, Wotherspoon believes the future is looking promising for the party.
“We’ve been building some serious momentum in this past number of months,” said Wotherspoon.
“We’ve won two very important by-elections, we’ve moved the yardsticks and built relationships in communities all across the province and that’s the approach that I’m aiming to continue if I’m granted the opportunity to serve as the next leader.”
But he adds it’s not just about defeating the Sask Party; it’s about “delivering a better deal for the people of Saskatchewan.”
Wotherspoon plans to keep up his campaign through to the March 3 leadership vote; a candidates debate was scheduled for Weyburn which he planned to take part in, and his campaign plans to be in every corner of the province.
As well, his opponent Ryan Meili is also actively campaigning for the leadership. Meili has an event lined up for the Gog in North Battleford on Nov. 25.