At the invitation of the NDP party, The Mercury decided to avail itself of an opportunity to conduct a 20 minute telephone interview with the party's leader Dwain Lingenfelter a few days after the announcement of an extensive cabinet shuffle by Sask Party leader and premier, Brad Wall. The interview was held on June 30.
The provincial cabinet shuffle undertaken by Premier Brad Wall last week, has left the Opposition NDP party leader with a number of questions and concerns.
Dwain Lingenfelter told The Mercury last Wednesday there were at least two areas where "we have concerns with regards to the government's cabinet changes."
The NDP leader said that "the first was health care. He (Wall) didn't take care of that ongoing problem. I thought McMorris (Health Minister Don McMorris) would be fired for his incompetence on practically all levels."
The second area of concern, said Lingenfelter was with the finance portfolio with the impending retirement of current Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer for health-related reasons.
"Rod Gantefoer, for all we want to say about him, was, and is for the most part, a reasonable and stable minister and ministry manager. The overestimated potash revenues last year, I expect, were not all his fault. Brad Wall simply went overboard on resource revenue expectations and Gantefoer paid the price. But now we have the deputy premier who is the new Finance Minister (Ken Krawetz) so I can see Mr. Wall meddling in that ministry even more now. And we already know what a poor businessman he is."
Lingenfelter went on to say that money was pulled out of agriculture stabilization programs last year with the disastrous budget and financial results and now the farm sector needs help again and there's nothing left for it.
"And the premier was directly involved in that decision."
The NDP leader wasn't all negativity however. He stated there were a couple of cabinet movements where he felt there would be obvious improvements.
"Firing Nancy Heppner was one good move. She was out selling wildlife habitat but now she's gone that bill won't be implemented and hopefully Dustin Duncan won't revive it. We hope he'll just get back to business. The environmentalists and farmers just weren't in favour of what was being proposed there."
Removing Donna Harpauer from the Social Services portfolio was another positive move, the NDP leader said. "Although she did have some real strengths, she let the ball drop on the cost-of-living subject. June Draude may not be a step up though."
Lingenfelter said as far as his party was concerned, they will be anxious to see if there is some movement on the implementation of a bill to provide some major social housing programs during the fall sitting. That's a subject that should be of major interest to Estevan residents.
"This is something that should be done by the private sector, but it doesn't appear as if they're prepared to step up, so we need to have someone, somewhere, move quickly here," he said, adding that the NDP would also advocate rent controls where needed.
"In most jurisdictions when the vacancy rates dip below one per cent, rent controls are put in place. Our party would support that kind of legislation."
Lingenfelter went on to say, "in general, provincial finances are a big topic. And let's keep this straight. We're not down on the provincial economy. It's Wall's inability to balance the books that we're critical of. When the provincial income is up by 25 per cent and they can't balance the books that's frightening."
The NDP leader went on to note that, "we have over 12 million acres of provincial farmland that was not seeded this year. It's difficult to see how this government is going to handle that one. Farmers should be expecting about $100 per unseeded acre, or $50 a head for cows, and additional money for grid road repairs and if they don't come through, there could be trouble. If they do, we'll be the first to congratulate them."
As far as other cabinet shuffles were concerned, Lingenfelter said that appointing Darryl Hickie, Municipal Affairs minister was probably just a political ploy to shore up his and the party's chances in a constituency where the Sask Party support might be waning.
"That's a big political mistake. Any time you put a weak minister back into cabinet after getting rid of them, it will backfire. The Sask Party is needing to focus on places like Prince Albert south, Moose Jaw north, Regina south, Lloydminster and Meadow Lake, where we seem to be gaining strength."
As far as the Enterprise Saskatchewan portfolio is concerned, Lingenfelter said he's still wondering why that particular ministry even exists.
"That organization should be shut down and they should just let people run their own businesses, putting Jeremy Harrison in that spot is a strange piece of work. He has no experience in that realm at all. This could be a real unpleasant time for him. I don't understand why they removed Ken Cheveldayoff from that post. At least he had some experience. Of course, they want to use him to promote the new domed stadium and event complex, so maybe they're freeing him up to do more of that."
Lingenfelter said he and the party he represents "show no opposition to a domed stadium in principal, but not while we're in a deficit position."
He went on to note, "we need to get some money out there now for other reasons. There was a period a few years ago where that idea could have been moved along when things were flush. Now there is not enough money to go around. That window of opportunity may have closed on them."
When asked to comment on a local constituency matter, i.e. nominating a candidate to represent the NDP in the next provincial election which is expected in the fall of 2011, Lingenfelter said there are some interesting developments surfacing in the Estevan area.
"I'm pretty sure the Conservatives will run a candidate in Estevan, especially if Brad Wall will give them their money back. He's controlling about $3 million that belongs to the Conservative Party of Saskatchewan, not the Sask Party. If they can get that money, the Conservatives could make it very interesting in the Estevan Constituency and, of course, that would make it interesting for us as well. The Liberals probably won't be a big factor next time around and while the Green Party is working hard, we see them as a group that we (NDP) can work with on some fronts. One thing we won't do is parachute a candidate in from outside. We'll find someone from within the constituency. We have some good platforms to work from. For instance, we're certainly not perfect on health care, but that's one subject where we have credibility and some public trust, and Estevan Constituency needs that right about now. Labour is another area where there are big issues to address in Estevan that aren't being addressed."
The NDP leader concluded the interview by noting that while the party didn't have a local candidate named yet, there were a number of people expressing interest in the possibility of unseating long-serving incumbent MLA Doreen Eagles, but nothing that could be announced in the short term.