Sask. Party lead­er­ship hope­fuls vie for ru­ral vote

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - SPORTS - ALEX MACPHER­SON amacpher­son@post­media.com twit­ter.com/macpher­sona

The can­di­dates vy­ing to re­place Brad Wall as leader of the Saskatchewan Party have been quick to ap­peal to the party’s tra­di­tional base of sup­port by es­tab­lish­ing their ru­ral and agri­cul­tural cre­den­tials, but the heads of two pow­er­ful or­ga­ni­za­tions rep­re­sent­ing farm­ers and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties say they aren’t pick­ing favourites — at least not yet.

Saskatchewan As­so­ci­a­tion of Ru­ral Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties (SARM) pres­i­dent Ray Orb and Todd Lewis, who leads the Agri­cul­tural Pro­duc­ers As­so­ci­a­tion of Saskatchewan (APAS), said they’re pleased the five can­di­dates who have an­nounced lead­er­ship cam­paigns are in­clud­ing the prov­ince’s ru­ral ar­eas, but few con­crete poli­cies have emerged.

“We would like to see what their plat­forms are,” said Orb, who in 2014 was elected pres­i­dent of SARM, which rep­re­sents all of the prov­ince’s 296 ru­ral mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and rou­tinely at­tracts not just the pre­mier but the en­tire cab­i­net to “bear pit” ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sions at its bian­nual con­ven­tion.

Lewis, whose as­so­ci­a­tion rep­re­sents 113 RMs and around two dozen smaller in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tions, agreed. He added that while a clear front-run­ner has yet to emerge, it’s not surprising that even can­di­dates from ur­ban con­stituen­cies have made a point of high­light­ing their com­mit­ment to ru­ral ar­eas.

“That’s just the lay of the land here in Saskatchewan,” he said. “We’re unique to a lot of prov­inces in that we have an econ­omy that in a lot of ways … comes out of ru­ral Saskatchewan, whether it’s oil and gas or potash or agri­cul­ture. (But) I don’t think it points to a ru­ralur­ban split or any­thing like that. I think all the con­stituen­cies are im­por­tant.”

Since Wall an­nounced his in­ten­tion to re­tire once the party chooses a new leader early next year, for­mer cab­i­net min­is­ters Tina Beaudry-Mel­lor, Ken Chevel­day­off, Jeremy Har­ri­son and Gord Wyant and for­mer deputy min­is­ter to the pre­mier Alanna Koch have launched lead­er­ship cam­paigns. For­mer en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter Scott Moe is also ex­pected to an­nounce in the com­ing days.

Beaudry-Mel­lor said de­spite her strong push on so­cial is­sues she plans to lis­ten to ru­ral Sask. Party sup­port­ers. Chevel­day­off at­tempted to con­nect his up­bring­ing on a farm near Blaine Lake with his sta­tus as the long­time MLA for Saska­toon Wil­low­grove. Har­ri­son an­nounced his cam­paign not in Regina, but near his home in Meadow Lake.

Koch, mean­while, an­nounced her lead­er­ship bid on a farm south of Regina and em­pha­sized her long ex­pe­ri­ence in the agri­cul­tural sec­tor, in­clud­ing al­most 10 years as deputy min­is­ter for agri­cul­ture. Wyant, mean­while, pledged to visit ev­ery con­stituency in the prov­ince and se­cured sup­port from the prov­ince’s well-liked agri­cul­ture min­is­ter, Lyle Ste­wart.

APAS and SARM, how­ever, are wait­ing for the can­di­dates to out­line their po­si­tions on a wide range of is­sues, from how fed­eral in­fra­struc­ture fund­ing is dis­trib­uted, im­prov­ing crop in­sur­ance and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s on­go­ing con­sul­ta­tions on agri­cul­ture busi­ness risk man­age­ment. One pro­posal that won’t fly with most ru­ral vot­ers is sup­port for a car­bon tax, Orb added.

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