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Candidates address local election issues

The candidates for Weyburn-Big Muddy in the provincial election will be looking to meet the needs of the riding's residents as they seek the votes to be the MLA for the next four years.

The candidates for Weyburn-Big Muddy in the provincial election will be looking to meet the needs of the riding's residents as they seek the votes to be the MLA for the next four years. As of Monday, the candidates include incumbent MLA Dustin Duncan of the Saskatchewan Party, Ken Kessler of the NDP, and Gene Ives of the Green Party; there will not be a Liberal candidate this go-round.

Duncan was first elected in a byelection in June of 2006, as the youngest MLA in the Legislature, and within five years has risen through the ranks to now be serving as the province's Environment minister, which includes having charge of the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority, the main body that had to deal with the flooding of this year.

"Five years have gone by incredibly fast; this will be my third election campaign in the five years since I was first involved as a candidate. I guess it was serendipitous that Premier Wall announced the election on Thanksgiving. I feel very thankful to have served in the Legislature. Whether it continues for me or if this is the end, I will always be thankful I've had the opportunity to be an MLA," said Duncan, adding that being a cabinet minister has been a bigger challenge than he imagined it would be.

"People have been very supportive and kind to me and my wife (Amanda). It's probably more stressful on the family than we realized it would be," he said, adding that it's also been very rewarding for him personally and politically, as he's been able to help people out as an MLA. "The job is basically helping people; that's what you're there for."

Looking back at his party's record over the last four years, Duncan said he is proud to stand on that, as he pointed out the reduction in the province's debt, the largest income tax reduction in the province's history, taking 144,000 low-income earners off the provincial tax rolls, and putting in approximately $24 million in capital funding for the K-12 system in this riding.

On housing, he said his government is offering a $10,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers as one way to help people in the southeast, in addition to other initiatives that are ongoing.

For those with intellectual and physical disabilities, Duncan noted the province has reduced a waiting list of 440 people by 80 per cent, including the opening of three new group homes here in Weyburn, and a $1 million grant to the Wor-Kin Shop towards their new day-program building, for which they are fundraising to start building in 2012.

The Sask. Party has also opened some 144 child care spaces in this riding in such diverse places as Pangman, Ogema and Coronach. As far as highways, Duncan noted his government has spent a record amount on highways, including fixing highways and roads in the Weyburn region, with the realization there is still a lot of work yet to be done.

"We inherited a huge deficit in infrastructure," said Duncan, adding that for municipalities, revenue-sharing has increased by 113 per cent for the city, "so we've more than doubled what the government used to give them."

He also pointed out when the government divided up a surplus $106 million between municipalities, Weyburn received $1 million of that without any strings attached as to how it was to be spent.

In regard to the oil industry, Duncan said, "People want to see stability when it comes to royalties," noting the royalties as currently structured has resulted in stability and in creating more new jobs. As for the royalty structure for the potash industry, Duncan pointed out it was put in place by former NDP Premier Lorne Calvert and that it helping towards the long-term stability of the industry, including the proposed creation of the first new mines in Saskatchewan in decades.

"Saskatchewan has the highest royalties in the world; the next closest country is Jordan. We're very competitive when it comes to royalties, and we're seeing the benefits of it," said Duncan.

Ken Kessler is the 2011 NDP provincial candidate for the Weyburn-Big Muddy constituency. If his name seems to come out of nowhere, you are right in terms of political background, but Kessler isn't stepping up without a strong conviction for the changes he wants to see for Saskatchewan.

"I see the strength in Saskatchewan and it's my job to show everybody else," said Kessler.

The 36-year-old organic farmer, who also raises sheep, is from the Pangman area and has been active in volunteering for various community projects mostly in rural Saskatchewan for years.

Ultimately, Kessler said he views his job as a politician to take the concerns of his constituency to whichever government is elected, and he wants to hear from the people what they consider most important.

Kessler's own ideal Saskatchewan has a strong rural base. He said the province has relied heavily on its rural population historically and that it shouldn't change as time passes.

Agriculture is a key ingredient in Kessler's rural Saskatchewan and something he plans to raise within the NDP.

"We are strong enough to support not only our own province, but the whole country," said the pro-Wheat Board Kessler, referring to Saskatchewan's agriculture, noting it provides a special niche for Saskatchewan in federal politics as well.

Kessler's main concern is finding a way to encourage younger people to become farmers.

"That's a good example of something I want to bring to the attention of whichever government needs to hear it," said Kessler of his goals if elected.

Other priorities for the NDP candidate include rural health care, infrastructure, affordable housing, and schools.

"Schools are a big issue for me," said Kessler, whose local school in Pangman is currently under review by the Southeast Cornerstone School Division for possible closure or discontinuation of some grades.

Accessible health care and concern over roads are the main concerns he said he is repeatedly hearing from members of his constituency and which he thinks need to be addressed.

"I'd like to see that kind of investment," said Kessler of education, health care and roads. "We have the opportunity to build. We shouldn't be making cuts."

The opportunity Kessler refers to is the millions of dollars the government receives each year from natural resource revenues.

"We have an economy like Saskatchewan has never seen and yet we're running a social deficit. I don't see our money, right now, being invested in the future," said Kessler of how the Saskatchewan Party is spending the natural resource revenues and added that it was also a concern that prompted him to throw his hat in the ring. He said he doesn't see improvements at the ground level after the millions of dollars of resource revenues the Saskatchewan Party has spent.

"If not now, when?" asked Kessler with regards to resource investment.

The NDP plans to save some of the money from revenues for future generations, but also to improve infrastructure and housing, educational funding, and health care.

The NDP's housing strategy involves many different incentives including first-time home buyers grants, building 2,500 new affordable rental units, and building more entry-level homes with PST rebates on supplies to build those homes (which must be valued at $280,000 or less to qualify).

In an effort to increase access to health care, the NDP promises to give nurse practitioners the authority to fill some of a doctor's duties to keep rural hospitals and clinics open, while budgeting $24 million to recruit and retain more physicians.

Kessler responded to accusations that the NDP has not fully costed out their platforms by saying that the NDP has the best record for budgeting of all the governments in provincial history and stated that the party's financial plan will be disclosed very soon.

Gene Ives, the Green Party candidate for the Weyburn-Big Muddy constituency, lives in Regina. He was unavailable for comment by publication deadlines.

Ryan Bater, Liberal leader and candidate for The Battlefords constituency, explained they don't have a candidate "because no one local came forward, and I don't believe in running paper candidates. I believe in doing things right and honest."