Moe, Meili face off for first and only election debate

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Election on October 26

On October 14 the Saskatchewan provincial election debate was held in Regina. Premier and leader of the Saskatchewan Party, Scott Moe, faced off against the leader of the New Democrat Party, Ryan Meili in a debate to inform voters of their position on some of the critical topics this election season. The four main topics on the board were COVID-19, each party’s plans for the budget, the engagement between the government and Indigenous peoples in Saskatchewan, and plans for education in Saskatchewan. 

Most remarkably this year, the debate managed to be a (relatively) civil affair, with both leaders giving the other time to speak and respond to questions and comments, certainly a breath of fresh air.

The Sask Party started off strong with Moe reading from a script, and promising to reduce Saskpower bills by 10 per cent if they get elected. With the Sask Party’s strong stance against the carbon tax, this is their way of trying to offset the costs to Saskatchewan residents. Of course, when questioned about where the money to afford this cut was going to come from, Scott Moe responded that “nothing will be cut, except for taxes,” a bold statement, especially since they also promised to balance the budget and increase the Sask Advantage Scholarship. While these promises would be beneficial for residents and students in the midst of this pandemic, I’m sure we’re all curious where Moe expects to get the money from and what other services will suffer to achieve these goals.

The NDP had no script in their opening statements, and though they lacked the specificity the Sask Party put forward in how they plan to help Saskatchewan, the NDP promised to stop the exporting of jobs to out of province companies and promised to stop cutting funding to healthcare and education, and invest in them instead. 

Leading into the first section of the debate the first question was how the parties planned to prevent the spread of COVID-19. NDP came in swinging, when Moe talked about reducing gathering sizes from 30 people maximum, to 15 people maximum, Meili pointed out that the Sask Party has been failing to address that for class sizes, asking Moe, “What about our classrooms with 30, 35, 40, 50 students? You’ve never been able to address the overcrowded classes’ sizes.” A failure many residents are aware of and concerned about. 

Moe also managed to dodge the question of when mandatory masking would be required, merely stating that “when that distance [of two metres] can be maintained, there’s no need for a mask” and altogether avoiding whether or not the government would be willing to put in a mandatory mask policy. 

Leading into the second section of the debate, regarding their party’s plans to help the economy, the NDP promised to raise wages, in part by introducing a multi-year plan to increase the provincial minimum wage, currently the lowest in Canada, to $15 per hour and create jobs. The Sask Party’s response was all about balancing the budget and investing in infrastructure above all other things.

Meili responded by saying that, “this is the message we hear over and over. He tells us we can’t afford things, we can’t afford childcare, we can’t afford to not have overcrowded classrooms, we don’t deserve high quality healthcare. We do deserve it.” While the Sask Party only has a focus on balancing the budget and doing the bare minimum for its residents, the NDP have promised to invest in Saskatchewan and help the people in Saskatchewan. “What we can’t afford” Meili said, “is four more years of back room deals for the old boys club while ordinary families are struggling across Saskatchewan.”

The rest of the economic questions were answered with similar responses. The NDP promised higher wages, more investment, greater diversification, while the Sask Party promised a balanced budget, and criticized the NDP spending habits. 

When the debate shifted into its third section, from the economy to Indigenous relations, the Sask Party promised to engage with Indigenous communities by strengthening them economically, promising continued support for Indigenous work in the forestry industry. Meili responded by reminding residents that the Sask Party unanimously voted down a legislative mandate to help reduce suicide rates. Saskatchewan has the highest suicide rates of any province, particularly among Indigenous people. Moe’s response was that the Sask Party has their Pillars for Life strategy which he said, “was working.” Hearing that, Molly Thomas, the debate MP, pointedly asked, “over 1000 people have lost their lives in the last five years, larger than the first half of this decade, so how are you measuring your success?” Unfortunately, Moe’s response was cut short by the debate limitations. 

Regarding education, the Sask Party attempted to act like they hadn’t been cutting education funding for years and promised “continued investment in our schools.” Meili focused on the overcrowding of classrooms and the fact the government needed to promise to do better in terms of class sizes. 

To sum up the debate, both parties managed to represent themselves well. Across the board, the Saskatchewan party Promised to maintain the bare minimum in order to balance the budget. The NDP, while they often lacked specificity, gave a hopeful promise to invest more in Saskatchewan, to get down and tackle large issues like the economy, like Indigenous relations and suicide, and overcrowded classrooms. 

This upcoming election, it’s important to get out and vote, and it’s important to be informed when you go out to vote. For those of you going into your first year at university, this will be the government making decisions throughout your schooling. They’ll be largely responsible for if you see education costs go up or down. For how healthcare will be handled. For the mental health supports people rely on. For those of you about to graduate, this is the government that will affect your ability to find work, find an affordable place to live, and access healthcare.

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