Who will be the next Sask. premier?

Saskatchewan Party members will vote Jan. 27 to determine their next leader and the province’s next premier.

Five candidates are seeking the job, and while they have common positions on some issues — none of them are in favour of a carbon tax — they all bring different perspectives to the table.

Here are some of their thoughts on agricultural and rural issues.

Tina Beaudry-Mellor

Tina Beaudry-Mellor

  • Constituency: Regina University
  • Elected: April 4, 2016
  • Occupation: Instructor at the University of Regina’s Department of Political and International Studies. Also a consultant on policy issues such as surgical wait times and the immigrant nominee program.
  • Most recently: minister of social services

Beaudry-Mellor was the first to enter the race and admits that campaigning in rural Saskatchewan has been a learning curve. However, she says she understands the issues.

She was the first to commit to rolling back the PST on insurance premiums, which was announced in the 2017 budget.

“We did the math. By the time you add up crop, hail, life and vehicle insurance, it’s a $20,000 to $30,000 hit,” she said.

“The ag sector is the resource sector that’s bolstering our GDP right now. This is just not something we can do.”

She said drainage has come up at every forum, and she would move quickly to bring partners together to establish an advisory council, as promised in Bill 44 passed last year, and find a solution to the Quill Lakes flooding.

Beaudry-Mellor said connectivity is a huge barrier to rural competitiveness. She said given the technology in today’s farm equipment — she spent time in several combines last fall — it shouldn’t take 17 minutes to download data.

“That is not a competitive advantage,” she said, adding this infrastructure deficit must be addressed.

She agrees with another candidate, Gordon Wyant, on the need for a transportation summit after spending time on the province’s roads and listening to farmers talk about rail issues.

She said she is a fan of the P3 funding model but says it could be time to explore private equity financing models for infrastructure.

Beaudry-Mellor proposes a two-year budget process rather than the year-to-year “bureaucratic churn” that doesn’t involve enough consultation with sectors affected by such things as revenue shortfalls.

Ken Cheveldayoff

Ken Cheveldayoff

  • Constituency: Saskatoon Willowgrove
  • Elected: 2003, 2007, 2011, 2016
  • Occupation: Worked for Western Economic Diversification before election. Has economics and political science degree and a Master of Business Administration.
  • Most recently: Minister of parks, culture and sport. Has also served in First Nations, enterprise, crown corporations and environment portfolios.

Cheveldayoff bills himself as both rural and urban strong, given that he grew up in Blaine Lake, Sask., and has worked in the agriculture sector in the past.

“We have to represent rural Saskatchewan but we have to win in urban Saskatchewan,” he said, referring to the seat distribution.

“People understand I can win in rural Saskatchewan.”

He said one of his most popular pledges is to increase rural internet service to every farm and small community by 225 percent.

“Some of them are operating on two megabytes per second right now, and the minimum for doing business for commerce is 10 megabytes per second,” he said.

SaskTel spends $300 million on improvements.

“I’m asking them to take 10 percent of that, $30 million a year, and dedicate that strictly to farms and hamlets and towns and villages.”

Cheveldayoff has a four-point plan for agriculture and food, which includes adding value, innovation, improving business risk management programs and ensuring food safety and sound environmental stewardship.

He said sustainable crop rotation should be reflected in crop insurance premiums. He also said government should provide premium support for cattle and hog producers who participate in the price insurance programs.

Cheveldayoff is a proponent of environmental farm plans and said farmers shouldn’t bear the sole cost of providing habitat through proper wetlands management.

He said farmers tell him AgriInvest is working well but AgriStability has to be changed.

“I haven’t done that work on what it may look like, but I certainly hear it very clear that that program has to be vastly improved or totally overhauled,” he said.

Alanna Koch

Alanna Koch

  • Unelected
  • Occupation: On leave from her job as deputy minister to Premier Brad Wall. From 2007-16 she was deputy agriculture minister. Has also served as president of the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance, executive director of Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, director of Agricore United and ran several campaigns.

Koch’s connection to agriculture is likely the strongest of the candidates, given that she has spent her career in the sector and has negotiated international trade agreements. She doesn’t hesitate to wade in on the current talks, saying she believes Canada is “in tough” on the North American Free Trade Agreement and that the federal government appears asleep at the switch on the Trans-Pacific Agreement negotiations.

“This government isn’t inviting provincial input,” Koch said. “I’m not going to wait to be invited.”

She said Saskatchewan should have a multi-year strategy for international engagement.

“I’ve certainly heard from those who are active in exporting that we need to do more, that the trade missions we’ve been doing are so effective, but we need to have a more sustained presence,” she said.

Koch has promised an Angel Investment Tax Credit to increase food processing and other value-added opportunities in other sectors of the economy. Four-year rolling infrastructure plans would ensure that rural internet and roads help get goods to market.

She said her platform wasn’t put together until after she’d met with many provincial residents including farmers.

“I see agriculture as a big economic driver in the province,” she said.

Her pledges include science-based decisions to develop policy and regulations and continued investment in ag research.

Koch favours expanding rural home care and looking at private sector investment in long-term care facilities. She is committed to implementing the government’s 10-year Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan and ensuring access to human-centred services such as health, education, social services and justice.

Scott Moe

Scott Moe

  • Constituency: Rosthern-Shellbrook
  • Elected: 2011, 2016
  • Occupation: Business owner and worked with local economic development corporation before election. Has an agriculture degree.
  • Most recently: minister of environment. Has also served as advanced education minister and was minister responsible for introducing agricultural drainage regulations.

Moe enjoys the strongest support within the current Sask. Party caucus: 23 of his fellow MLAs, rural and urban, have endorsed his leadership bid.

He has promised a ministry of export and trade to replace the ministry of the economy. He said that would support agriculture and the other resource sectors by creating jobs and population growth.

“This will support industry in opening up markets, protecting the markets that we already have and making efforts to increase not only the volume of our exports but the value of our exports,” he said.

He said he is focused on what industries and communities will look like out to 2030 and then deciding whether government can do something to help or get out of the way, as the case may be. He has committed to removing the PST on crop, hail, life and health insurance premiums.

In late December, Moe announced he would implement a moratorium on school closures and reinstate the funding required to hire 400 educational assistants and other professionals. That is a $30 million promise he said is key to supporting population growth.

“We’ll pay for it through growth and through astute budgeting at our Treasury Board table,” he said.

Moe also said investment in infrastructure must continue as exports grow beyond the current $30 billion per year.

“If we’re going to add value to our ag products or any other products, that value is going to be quite often added in or near our urban areas, where there is a labour force available,” he said.

“We need the proper transportation infrastructure to get those products there.”

Moe said that speaks to the synergistic relationship between rural and urban Saskatchewan.

“This is how we have succeeded in the last decade, and decades,” he said.

Gordon Wyant

Gordon Wyant

  • Constituency: Saskatoon Northwest
  • Elected: October 2010 byelection, 2011, 2016
  • Occupation: Lawyer at McKercher LLP, Saskatoon public school board chair, city councillor.
  • Most recently: minister of justice and attorney general

Wyant has the support of the current and previous agriculture ministers, Lyle Stewart and Bob Bjornerud, even though he represents a city riding.

“My experience in rural Saskatchewan as it relates to the rural economy isn’t as strong as others,” he said.

“One of the key elements of leadership is to recognize that where you do have weaknesses, you shore those up with the appropriate support.”

Wyant has promised a review of rural land use, including legislation and regulations around “right to farm” and land access.

He said the rules need to be modernized, and he would put together a group of rural MLAs to lead a consultation with all stakeholders, including farmers, municipalities, snowmobilers and hunters to work toward that.

“There were a lot of people a little surprised that an urban MLA would be bringing this up,” he said, but it was a topic that rose to the top.

Another is drainage. Wyant said “solutions based in science, not hysteria” are required.

“One of the things we can’t do is nothing,” he said.

“Coming to work every day with your fingers crossed hoping that the Quills is down a little bit is no way to manage a problem.”

Wyant has also promised a transportation infrastructure summit within six months of taking office to support the needs of getting exports and resource-based products to market.

As well, he has committed to addressing the mental health and addictions needs of rural residents.

He said rural MLAs will play a critical role in developing a strategy to serve the population in this regard.

Wyant said the party can’t let divisions such as urban and rural, liberal and conservative or left and right come into play as it works to govern for all.

“There’s really only one economy, and we need to be able to focus on that,” he said.

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