Gord Wyant, one of the candidates running for leadership of the Saskatchewan Party and hoping to serve as the next premier, has been busy these days hitting the road on the campaign trail, but Wyant’s goal from day one has been to get out and meet with the people of the province and hear what they have to say.
It’s meant putting a lot of clicks on his truck, but for Wyant, it’s worth it to hear what residents have to say about their government.
“It’s going pretty good,” said Gord, sitting down with The Outlook and discussing the campaign trail so far. “We’ve spent a lot of time traveling around Saskatchewan with 25,000 km on the truck so far, so it’s been going good talking to people and talking issues. It was a key part in our campaign to go out and do a lot of listening.”
Wyant appeared in Outlook on Saturday, November 25 for a meet-and-greet afternoon event at the Legion Hall, welcoming members of the public and sharing his vision for the province while also discussing their concerns and answering questions.
One of the biggest reasons why Gord is out doing so much substantial touring – aside from looking for support – is that he wants to know about the issues that are important to Saskatchewan residents so that, if he is in fact elected in January, he can get the ball rolling on bringing forth policies and framework that address such concerns.
Wyant credits current premier Brad Wall with helping to set the province on the right course, but it’s a job that never ends and requires the input of residents to keep things headed in the right direction.
“The premier has given us a great opportunity for renewal in Saskatchewan; not just within our party and government, but really the province,” said Wyant. “That’s one of the reasons we’re traveling around and talking to people and getting ideas; when we go back to Regina and start thinking about policies and protocols and legislation that it’s responsive to the people that it’s meant to affect. We’re hearing from some people about our government and party needing to do a lot more listening, so we’re hearing a lot of things about education, health care, municipal government & infrastructure, mental health and addictions, so doing that listening is giving us the foundation to put forward a number of policies.”
Some of the things Gord is talking to people about include problems being faced by small town areas such as infrastructure, as well as education in the larger urban centers. For Wyant, it’s also about relaying the message about what the Saskatchewan Party is and always has been about.
“We’ve spent a lot of time talking to people about a lot of issues,” he said. “When we were at the SUMA regional meetings, and I attended all six of those, infrastructure in rural Saskatchewan comes up as very important, especially among the small municipalities. In the cities, we hear a lot about education and a lot about mental health/addictions and those kinds of things. So really, one of the messages that we’re taking out to people is reminding them what the founding principles of this party are; we’re all fiscal conservatives and believe in balanced budgets and smaller, less intrusive government. We can’t lose sight of the fact that the role of government is to serve people, so we’re talking to people about the economy being our currency; to be able to do what we need to do on the social side, and reminding people that social issues are really economic issues, and we need to be careful when we’re talking about what things cost and think about what the return on the investment is in terms of what we invest in those kinds of programming. We’re trying to refocus the party and bring it back to the center. If we continue to govern from the center, we’re going to continue to be electorally successful.”
Wyant says it’s important to show and demonstrate to the public what the Saskatchewan Party is about when it comes to their core values and how they operate, and believes that putting a renewed focus on that area will help them continue to be successful in the future.
“My message to the people of the province and to the members of this party is that we need to remember where we came from,” he said. “We were founded by Liberals and Conservatives as a common sense alternative to New Democrats. That’s the foundation of our party, and we need to refocus on those principles so that we’re successful in 2020 and beyond.”
Born and raised in Saskatoon, Wyant is a long-term attorney, having joined the law firm of McKercher LLP after university, where he eventually became partner. He was first elected to government in October 2010 by way of a by-election, winning in the riding of Saskatoon Northwest, and he was re-elected in the 2011 and 2016 provincial elections.
Wyant’s past experience includes serving as a trustee for the Saskatoon Public School Board, including two years as Chair, as well as serving on city council for seven years between 2003 and 2010. He also served as a member of the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners, and in the provincial political arena, Gord has served as Deputy House Leader, as well as Minister of Justice and Attorney General.
One of the biggest fights in the Canadian political climate in recent years has been Saskatchewan vs Ottawa on a number of issues, most notably the proposed carbon tax. Wyant shares the same views as his fellow Saskatchewan Party colleagues in that he’s against the proposal, and is willing to go into a court room to settle it if that’s where the road leads.
“We stand squarely against the federal government when it comes to the carbon tax, and I was the Attorney General who was responsible for starting to put together the legal challenge on the carbon tax and working with the Ministry of Environment,” he said. “Environment is a shared responsibility between the federal and provincial governments of the constitution, and so our plan is really to try to take up as much constitutional space as we can with what we’re doing in this province and kind of a ‘Made in Saskatchewan’ solution to carbon, and use that as the foundation of our defense if the federal government chooses to impose a carbon tax. We’re squarely against the federal government on it, and I think it’s nothing more than a redistribution of wealth. When you look at the record of the province when it comes to environment, we’re doing pretty well. We’ve made commitments at SaskPower to 50% renewables and 40% reduction in carbon from our generation plants by 2030, so these are significant commitments. I think continuing to develop our plan will put us in a pretty good place, and I feel pretty good about a legal challenge if the federal government chooses to impose it.”
Gord is also opposed to any taxation changes imposed on small business owners, saying it could hurt the province on an economic level, but he also says that outside of their differences and views, the provincial government needs to work toward strengthening its relationship with Ottawa in order to work together in the future to help the province and the country in general to continue to prosper.
“We stand strongly against the federal government on those as well because they’ll have a detrimental effect on Saskatchewan businesses and really hurt our competitive advantage, as the carbon tax would,” he said, on the proposed taxation changes to the small business sector. “But there are some things where I think we could rebuild a relationship with the federal government. We’re all proud Canadians and we all believe in this country, and there’s a sense that our relationship could be improved so we make sure that we get what we deserve out of Confederation. With the relationship the way it is, I think that damages our ability to have a meaningful dialogue with the federal government on things that we think we should have a dialogue on. It’s about standing up for those things which are important for Saskatchewan, but at the same time, remembering that we’re a partner in a great country.”
If he were elected as party leader and Premier, Wyant says there are a few issues and initiatives he would quickly tackle, including one growing concern in society that perhaps doesn’t get addressed enough, as well as working to strengthen relationships that at times appear to be strained.
“I’ve made two significant proposals through my platform,” he said. “I think we need to spend a significant amount of time thinking about how we’re going to deal with mental health and addictions in Saskatchewan. We currently dedicated 5% of our health budget to mental health and addictions, which is well below the national average. Mental health and addictions affects everything we do in the human services ministries. Not to forget about the fact that there are people involved, but it’s really an economic issue in terms of how it affects productivity in our economy. At least moving to the national average in terms of what we dedicate to mental health and addictions will help, and not only help people, but certainly have some impact on productivity within the economy. Sixty percent of the people in our correctional institutes have mental health and addiction problems and we have very little programming for them, so it should be no surprise that when we release them, they recommit, and so looking to make sure that we dedicate more resources in that area is key. I also think that we need to rethink how we deal with the classroom. We’re pretty good at building schools, but I think that we have some challenges when it comes to resourcing classrooms, and I’ve heard that from teachers and administrators. That starts with a respectful conversation. Another thing that I want to touch briefly on is our relationship with First Nations. They’re a key part of this community, and we want to make sure we continue to build relationships so they can become more integrated into the economy. I’d like to bring a Responsibility for First Nations and Metis Engagement right into the Premier’s office and take personal responsibility for that relationship, as I think that’s the first step in starting a renewed and respectful conversation with First Nations.”
As a colleague of outgoing premier Brad Wall’s for years, Wyant credits Wall with inspiring him to enter politics and says a high bar has been set for whoever the next leader of Saskatchewan is, but it’s a bar Gord intends to reach and push to new heights.
“Brad Wall’s the reason I got into provincial politics, and I think if Brad hadn’t have been the premier at the time that I chose to run, I’m not sure I would’ve run,” he said. “I’ve got huge respect for him and he’s taught me a lot about politics. He’s the reason that this province, under his leadership, is where we’re at after ten years. People say there are big shoes to fill; I bring my own shoes to this job, but I’m going to do my best if I’m fortunate enough to win. He’s set an example for the next premier of this province, and it’s a tremendous example. I can’t be any prouder to be a colleague of Brad’s and a good friend.”