Sask. Party leadership hopefuls vie for rural vote
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.