REGINA — The provincial NDP leadership race hit the home stretch Monday as candidates faced off at the latest leadership forum at Conexus Arts Centre in Regina.
Both Carla Beck and Kaitlyn Harvey faced off at the event, which marked one of the last opportunities to impress party members who are voting for the next leader. This was the last of the official forums organized by the provincial NDP prior to the June 26 vote announcement, though there are other forums planned by Saskatoon Metro NDP for this Wednesday and a regional forum in Swift Current June 20.
There were few surprises at the Regina event, as both Beck and Harvey stuck to their familiar themes.
Beck continued with a unifying message of building the party and bringing an end to divisive politics, while Harvey continued to push a principled stance on issues including climate change and the environment.
The first question posed was on affordability and what concrete steps could be taken. Harvey responded there needed to be an “honest conversation on how the province operates.”
“We need to do things differently. My approach is calling for effectively a green new deal for Saskatchewan people. The way that we work and operate as communities needs to be holistic — we can’t look at things in silos … Things can be much more efficient, we can connect the dots in a way that makes sense and actually puts the interest of Saskatchewan people first and not out of province, out of country interests.”
“People need relief in the immediate term,” said Beck, who voiced support for the windfall levy and rebating of the provincial gas tax — two items the NDP caucus had called for during the legislative session.
Those were short-term measures, said Beck. “In the long term, we need to rebalance our labour legislation so the workers in this province can actually realize the benefit of their constitutionally protected right to collective bargaining. We need to increase the minimum wage, we need to ensure the Saskatchewan economy is a benefit to all people in this province.”
On the environment, Beck called for a plan she said makes sense and delivers results. She also took on Premier Scott Moe.
“We have a premier who doesn’t care. He has said so specifically and emphatically. This is the urgency, folks. This is a government who is not going to change their mind on this issue. We need to get in, build with people, find solutions that make sense to their life.”
Harvey took issue with the idea the NDP’s message on the environment was alienating a large group of Saskatchewan voters. “I beg to differ. And that message is so important that we need to be solid and strong and clear in what we’re doing. What we’re doing is not alienating people, it’s actually in their best interest."
There were few moments of fireworks, though Beck did get applause for pledging to “reverse the American-style privatization” on health care.
As was the case during their previous forum in Moose Jaw, the two also seemed reluctant to directly call out one another on policy differences.
When asked what position they were campaigning on that was the most different from her opponent’s, Beck responded “my opponent and our opponent is not in this room. And our opponent is not the people of Saskatchewan. What we need to do is get them curious and very serious about what we are able to do and get serious about finding solutions.”
“We are on the same team,” Harvey said. “We are all here because we care about our families, care about our communities in this province and we want to see things change for the better.”
When the two were further pressed on how to build policy, Beck proposed “inviting people in, instead of starting with the policy and expecting people to come to us.”
Harvey said the party had passed resolutions and “they don’t get implemented … So one of the things I would say is that let’s just start with policies that members have already passed.”
When the two were asked to list their top three priorities, Harvey pointed to “honesty, accountability and transparency.” On the Sask. Party government, Harvey said “enough is enough and holding them accountable will go a long way.”
As for putting forward a message of a sustainable Saskatchewan, Harvey suggested bringing people in and saying to them “look, this is the facts.”
"We have a big problem on our hands with climate change. We have a problem we need to solve together. Let's cut the crap, sit down and get to work. And we haven't had a government that has been willing to do that … we need to make sure the Saskatchewan people know the truth and that we are advocating as fiercely as we need to be because we are running out of time, people."
Beck pledged to build the party and do “relentless” outreach, and to improve communication inside and outside the party. "Too often what people know about the Saskatchewan NDP is what the Sask. Party told them. We should not be hanging our heads, we need to hold our heads high, we need to tell our own story."
As the forum ended, the two candidates made their final pitch to be leader. Harvey was visibly emotional as she took an uncompromising position on what direction she thought the party should take.
“People in this province really have to take a hard look at what it is we are doing and stand for something … We need to make a choice. This has been my choice to run, to say no more standing up in the warehouses of fracking companies and going to oil and gas shows and pretending everything is hunky dory and this is how we're supposed to run a province. No. Enough is enough. So, I stepped forward to say that, win or lose, come hell or high water, that is the message and we are not compromising the platform that we've put together.”
Beck’s final remarks focused on bringing people in to the party.
“Connecting with people, bringing them in and building with them is the only way that I’ve ever known to build lasting solutions and it’s what we’ve already started doing in this campaign,” said Beck in her final remarks. “Tommy Douglas didn’t just say ‘dream no little dreams.’ He and New Democrat governments after him made those big dreams a reality.”
Now, the two candidates continue their campaign as they seek to take over from Ryan Meili as leader of the NDP. The campaigns look to solidify support and convince anyone still on the fence during these final two weeks.
Beck’s campaign looks to be in the strongest position from a donations standpoint. According to the interim financials posted on the NDP website for the period up to April 30, Beck had raised $57,357.79 during April, while the Harvey campaign raised $10,760.
The Beck campaign also has received a number of MLA endorsements including from fellow Regina MLAs Nicole Sarauer, Trent Wotherspoon and Aleana Young. She got a further boost last Friday when Matt Love, MLA for Saskatoon Eastview, announced his endorsement.
Harvey's endorsements include Saskatoon University MLA Jennifer Bowes and former Saskatoon Nutana MLA Cathy Sproule. Harvey has also recently announced she was seeking the nomination to run in the upcoming Saskatoon Meewasin byelection.
The announcement of the new NDP leader is set to take place at Delta Regina June 26. At that event the candidates will speak one final time before results are announced that afternoon.