Social assistance, environment, unemployment key topics
© Justin Crann
Saskatchewan NDP leadership candidates (L-R) Cam Broten, Trent Wotherspoon, Erin Weir and Ryan Meili discussed social assistance, sustainable energy and unemployment at the Moose Jaw Legion Wednesday.
Party unity and the government's role in shaping a socially and economically prosperous future were key themes of the thirteenth Saskatchewan NDP leadership forum, and the third of four formal debates.
"Right now is the time for us to rally, as we probably have not rallied in the past 10 years. It's time to rally right now around these four candidates," said Rev. Doug Sheppard during his financial appeal. "Now is the time for us to gather our strengths, talents and gifts to work and to bring to reality the dreams of the great premiers and great people of this province."
The debate drew a crowd of hundreds to the Moose Jaw Legion Wednesday, and addressed issues across the spectrum.
The importance of addressing the widening socioeconomic rift in Saskatchewan was a focus of every candidate.
"We need to create more employment opportunities. We have twice as many unemployed workers as job vacancies," said candidate Erin Weir. "We need to increase minimum wage. Saskatchewan should aim to have the best minimum wage in Canada."
Ryan Meili suggested an overhaul of social assistance programs to create a mechanism that would help underemployed individuals find work.
Meili also said the hiring of underemployed demographics, such as First Nations labourers, could be incentivized to improve social outcomes.
Cam Broten spoke of the need to recognize everyone's outcomes are shared.
"At a time where we're adding jobs in other places, we're leaving behind a huge segment of the population," Broten said. "We need to recognize that our destinies are interconnected, and act — as a government — to play a role and reduce inequality."
"A thriving middle class is important to support a very strong, thriving small business economy," said Trent Wotherspoon. "Many families of different income levels are facing huge challenges in terms of housing."
The candidates generally agreed on the importance of using Crown corporations such as SaskPower and the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation to invest in alternative energy, efficient housing, and a larger portfolio of affordable housing for the underprivileged.
Party unity, and the need to unite Saskatchewanians, was a point of emphasis for every candidate.
"We have a tremendous opportunity ... it's my focus to ensure that we are strong and united," declared Wotherspoon. "I'm ready to work with you to lead a comeback ... a comeback that's only possible by following the process of working together."
"I want to say I'm going to miss you guys, but I don't think I will. I think we're going to be a great team," Meili said to his fellow candidates. "When we remember that we're all in this together, that's when we are building a healthy society."