Prince Albert candidates square off

PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. — Randy Hoback can look across the street from his campaign office and see a row of orange signs.

If Lon Borgerson does the same, he sees blue ones.

Neither admits to keeping such close tabs on the competition, but with offices across the street from each other, the Conservative and NDP candidates, respectively, could easily keep a sign score.

However, it’s the Oct. 19 vote tally they are both worried about.

On the “blue” side, Randy Hoback has his track record after seven years in Parliament and strong riding history to rely on. This is, after all, the home of Conservative prime minister John Diefenbaker.

Lon Borgerson has a term as a provincial MLA, bright orange sneakers and more than 44,000 views of his YouTube song, Heave Steve (as in prime minister Harper), on his side.

Borgerson senses a mood for change.

“People want to see the Harper government gone,” he said. “If we don’t lose by a little, we’ll win by a little.”

Hoback said people have been quiet during the campaign and that tells him things are going well, but he takes nothing for granted.

“We’re running as if we’re 10 votes behind,” said Hoback during a mid-September interview. “We’re working hard to win.”

The Liberal candidate is Gordon Kirkby, a former mayor and former MP, and the Green Party is running Byron Tenkink.

In 2011, Hoback won with 62 percent of the vote, followed by the NDP at 32 percent. Projections in late September showed the gap at 53 percent to 34 percent, with the Liberals at eight percent or more than double their 2011 showing.

Agricultural issues are important in this riding, as is forestry and the public service sector for northern Saskatchewan. Farmers busy with harvest hadn’t turned much attention to the election earlier in the campaign but both candidates identified grain transportation as a sore spot.

“The level of service review is crucial,” Hoback said, referring to examination of the Canadian Transportation Act.

But he bristles at any suggestion that had the Canadian Wheat Board still been in place the backlog in the winter of 2013-14 would not have occurred. He said the transportation system has to work better in the future and the CTA review should set a course of action.

Borgerson said farmers tell him grain movement should be equitable across the Prairies and they worry about Canada’s reputation as a reliable supplier.

“There should have been something put in place to make the railways and grain companies accountable,” he said.

Farmers also say they want guaranteed service levels for producer cars, and more transparency from grain companies.

Borgerson noted it was a Conservative prime minister who set up the Canadian Wheat Board in the first place because farmers were complaining about greedy grain companies.

But Hoback said the board never comes up in conversations because farmers in the riding are happy with marketing freedom.

“They’re glad the long gun registry is gone and not happy at the thought of the NDP bringing it back,” he said.

He said business risk management programs continue to be a concern for farmers. They want more crop insurance coverage for certain crops.

Hoback said the Conservative government’s focus on securing trade access for grains, oilseeds and meat has been critical to Canadian farmers’ bottom lines.

“The winner out of all of this is the farmer,” he said.

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