Members of Sask. premier's staff recuse themselves from investigating leadership debate complaint

The Saskatchewan Party's leadership election organizing committee, which is currently investigating a leadership debate complaint, include two members of Premier Brad Wall's senior staff — although they have recused themselves from any discussion on the matter.

Alanna Koch’s campaign asked premier staff member for information on nurse practitioners

The Saskatchewan Party is investigating a complaint raised by three leadership hopefuls centred around information on debate questions. (Adam Hunter/CBC)

The Saskatchewan Party's leadership election organizing committee, which is currently investigating a leadership debate complaint, included two members of Premier Brad Wall's senior staff — although they have recused themselves from any discussion on the matter.

The committee is comprised of Patrick Bundrock, Doreen Eagles, Merin Coutts, Bevra Fee, James Thorsteinson, Reg Downs and Ken Krawetz.

Downs and Krawetz are both in executive council in the premier's office. Downs is senior advisor to the premier and Krawetz is the premier's chief of staff.

But on Wednesday, the party's executive director, Patrick Bundrock, said both Downs and Krawetz have stepped back from any discussion on the debate investigation.

"Both recused themselves earlier today when it became clear that one of their colleagues in executive council is a subject of some of the allegations," said Bundrock.

Krawetz also acted as fill-in moderator at the Weyburn leadership debate on Nov. 30, replacing party president Thorsteinson, who was unable to attend.

"A public statement will be issued when the investigation concludes," said Bundrock, who is also the chief electoral officer of the Saskatchewan Party.

Origins of complaint

Leadership hopefuls Scott Moe, Gord Wyant and Tina Beaudry-Mellor signed a letter of complaint to the Saskatchewan Party, alleging a candidate received questions or answers to questions prior to the Weyburn debate.

On Nov. 29, the premier's chief of operations and communications Kathy Young sent a question to the minister of health's chief of staff, looking for information about nurse practitioners

"What do we have on Nurse Practitioners – we increased their scope, right? Using them in areas of the prov to fill-in for doctors where possible, etc?" Young wrote in the email.

The following night, a question about nurse practitioners was posed to the candidates at the Saskatchewan Party leadership debate in Weyburn.

While the candidates who launched the complaint didn't name the candidate that may have benefited from information, Alanna Koch denied receiving any questions in advance.

"I was not aware of what any of the questions were at any of the debates, not Weyburn or otherwise," said Koch, who previously worked as deputy minister to the premier.

Koch's campaign said it requested the information from Young because "that was one of many subjects that we discussed for debate prep. We have a former health minister as part of our campaign who was part of increasing the scope of nurse practitioners and had a member of our team who's family member was dealing with an issue related to healthcare in Weyburn that touched on that issue. Our request was made with no advanced knowledge of any debate question."

On Nov. 30 at a leadership debate in Weyburn, Sask., moderator Ken Krawetz asked a question about nurse practitioners. Three other candidates have accused Koch of receiving a question list ahead of time due to her answer. 1:04

Young explained that from the outset of the campaign the rules around information sharing with campaigns have been clear.

"If any of the campaigns asked for information about any government policy, government position, record, etc. in any area, it would be provided to that campaign – as we would do for MLAs, individuals, members of the media, every day."

Asked if she herself knew any of the questions in advance of the debate, Young said, "I can tell you that at no time were any debate questions shared with any leadership campaign prior to any of the debates."
Scott Moe, Gordon Wyant and Tina Beaudry-Mellor are the three Sask. Party leadership hopefuls who signed a letter of complaint asking the party to investigate. (CBC)

Wall advised staff to 'stay neutral'

Wall spoke to reporters on Aug. 11 in Saskatoon, a day after he announced his retirement.

"I'll be staying … very, very neutral," he told the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

"All the folks that work in executive council or in the premier's office are being asked to stay very, very neutral."

NDP hoping for answers of its own

The NDP caucus released a statement on Wednesday calling into question Young's claim that she would provide information requested by MLAs or individuals.

"Really? They're willing to provide information in 'any area' 'every day'?

"If only we had known!

"This whole time we've been asking questions in question period and in committee about the Sask. Party's GTH scandal and the lawsuits surrounding the Regina Bypass but, apparently, we should have just been just sending emails to the premier's office," the statement said.

"On behalf of all Saskatchewan people who have been waiting for answers to these questions, we look forward to getting the same swift reply Sask. Party leadership candidates get."

Ex-candidate says premier's office should stay out of race

Rob Clarke exited the Saskatchewan party leadership race on Wednesday but says he has an issue with the premier's office providing information to one of the leadership campaigns.

"I think the premier's office should stay out of it totally. It's up to the candidates to work on their own prep, work on their own issues, that they feel are challenging Saskatchewan and some of the answers were way too polished, even for experts," Clarke said.

Rob Clarke left the leadership race but says the premier's office shouldn't be involved in the campaign. (CBC)

Clarke said despite being out of the race, he's looking forward to seeing a resolution.

"Could this be a one-time incident? I don't think so. My personal belief is, this may go further down from past debates but hopefully the party will be able to get to the bottom of this and we'll make a ruling," Clarke said.

NDP leadership candidates weigh in

"It did strike me as strange," said NDP leadership candidate Ryan Meili. "It is odd. If premier's office actively helping all campaigns or helping one in a party. It seems very strange, very partisan.

"I think it would be unethical for the premier's office to be directly helping a party. It seems unethical if it's helping one candidate and not the others."

Meili's fellow NDP leadership candidate Trent Wotherspoon also questioned the premier's office involvement in the campaign.

"It seems inappropriate to see how the premier's office is being politicized and utilized on this front," Wotherspoon said.

Ryan Meili (left) and Trent Wotherspoon (right) are raising concerns about the premier's office sharing information with a Sask. Party leadership campaign. (CBC News)

He said any information he would seek from the premier's office would be as an official opposition and not as part of a partisan leadership campaign.

"We've got a highly politicized premier's office and sadly a premier's office they are supposed to serve the people of Saskatchewan and the public's interest, not a partisan interest."

Both Meili and Wotherspoon say they have not requested information from the premier's office to assist them on policy or in debates, nor will they.

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story said two members of the Saskatchewan Party's leadership election organizing committee, who are also part of Premier Brad Wall's senior staff, had stepped down. In fact, those two members have recused themselves from any discussion on an investigation into a leadership debate complaint.
    Dec 13, 2017 7:45 PM CT

About the Author

Adam Hunter

Journalist

Adam Hunter is the Provincial Affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca