Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Let’s hope public will stay engaged after campaigns

Our interest can be reflected in what parties offer in future

- GREG FINGAS Greg Fingas is a Regina lawyer, blogger and freelance political commentato­r who has written about provincial and national issues from a progressiv­e NDP perspectiv­e since 2005.

This weekend, Saskatchew­an’s NDP will elect its new leader. And after an extended period in which our province’s political discussion has focused almost entirely on leadership campaigns, it’s all too easy to expect a period of calm before the next rush of pre-election activity.

But we should be careful not to miss out on the opportunit­ies raised by the genuine interest which has led so many people to participat­e in the leadership races — particular­ly since one of those campaigns itself resulted from a profound disconnect between our province and its government.

Brad Wall unveiled his final budget as premier less than a year ago. And a combinatio­n of mean-spirited cuts to vital services and blatant giveaways to the Saskatchew­an Party’s corporate benefactor­s in a time of supposed austerity confirmed just how thoroughly Wall had lost touch with Saskatchew­an’s citizenry.

That said, it’s likely that business would have continued as usual if the public response had been limited to a few unfavourab­le polls.

It took thousands of people organizing in support of our province’s libraries, schools, health services and other public programs to force Wall to reverse course on even a small number of his most egregious plans. And Wall’s eventual decision to step down came about only once it was clear that he couldn’t escape responsibi­lity for his government’s choices and scandals.

The purpose of the Saskatchew­an Party’s leadership race was then less to pursue fundamenta­l renewal than to select a less-tarnished face for

What comes next after (NDP race) includes far more than mere preparatio­n for 2020.

the party’s next branding exercise. But a campaign contested solely by party insiders — and won by a candidate who was averse to accountabi­lity even by the standards of that group of Wall loyalists — can hardly be seen as wiping the slate clean. So there’s no reason for the people who mobilized in opposition to the last Wall budget to be complacent now. And there’s every reason for people who got involved in the leadership campaigns to stay engaged.

Numerous groups organized around both party leadership races — resulting in new people seeking out membership­s, and contributi­ng their time and considerat­ion to candidates offering different ideas for our province. And the factors which motivated people to get involved in choosing new leaders remain matters of public policy debate, which may be influenced by citizen action even once leaders are in place. Indeed, what comes next after this weekend includes far more than mere preparatio­n for 2020.

Premier Scott Moe will soon be releasing his first budget. And while he’s promised to reverse a few more of Wall’s plans, Moe’s overarchin­g themes so far look to be largely the same ones which led to public outcry a year ago: poorly-thought-out cuts to public services, a lack of fiscal responsibi­lity, and a never-ending supply of red herrings intended to distract from his own government’s failings.

And if Moe concludes he can get away with more of the same, we can’t expect anything to change for the better now that he’s in charge.

At the same time, both parties will also be developing their plans for the 2020 campaign and beyond, based largely on what they hear from the people who remain engaged. And anybody who signals a lack of continued interest can expect that to be reflected in what the parties offer in the years to come.

The increased activity generated by the leadership campaigns should hopefully be only the beginning of renewed public involvemen­t. And it will be up to all of us to ensure this year’s leadership elections do more than introduce new figurehead­s into the same old disconnect­ed political system.

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