Sask. Party leadership candidate Alanna Koch says she would do immediate review on insurance tax

In the lead-up to the Sask. Party leadership race, CBC Saskatchewan is interviewing each of the six candidates about their priorities and opinions.

Koch continues to deny allegations she had briefing notes before Weyburn debate

'I intend to win,' says Sask. Party leadership candidate Alanna Koch. (CBC)

In the lead-up to the Sask. Party leadership election, CBC Saskatchewan is interviewing each of the six candidates about their priorities and opinions.

In August, Premier Brad Wall announced his upcoming retirement. His party will elect a new leader on Jan. 27 and the winner will take over the province's top position.

The candidates are Tina Beaudry-Mellor, Gord Wyant, Ken Cheveldayoff, Scott Moe, Alanna Koch and Rob Clarke.

On Facebook, CBC Saskatchewan is giving our followers a chance to pose their own questions, which the candidates will answer live on air on CBC Radio's Blue Sky. Koch appeared on Tuesday.

The former deputy minister to the premier also spoke with CBC News host Jill Morgan following her live appearance.

JM: If you could turn back the clock, what's something you would have liked the government to have handled differently?

AK: I think last year's budget was a tough one and absolutely some of the tough decisions needed to be made. I think the difference that I would have done was probably gotten a little bit more information out on the options we that we were considering, get a little more outside advice in from those who were most impacted. That's probably the most significant thing that I would've changed over the last year or so.

JM: What have you seen in government that makes you want to create this premier's council, something that you've put forward as an idea?

AK: It's a style that I used when I was deputy minister of agriculture. Having come from the industry myself, it was very clear to me when I got into government that not enough information was coming from the outside for us to consider in our decisions. So it's a model that I used in a more informal way, frankly, I'd get that outside advice in.

So when I considered running for this leadership race I just really believed in that more formal ensuring that in a very disciplined way at least once or twice a year we were actually asking for advice from the outside. It would be information that was available for me as premier, but also for cabinet. And then when we would ensure that, just from a style perspective, we were always going out and getting the best advice possible, both from within the caucus and cabinet, but also from those who are outside, whether they're business people, industry leaders, community leaders, Indigenous leaders, whatever the case may be. They've got advice that they need to provide for us and that way we get the best decisions made.

JM: Why do you want to go from a more behind-the-scenes role to the very public life of being a politician and the premier of the province? 

AK: Prior to coming into government in the last 10 years, I did have a very visible role. Granted, it was in the private sector, but as executive director of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers, as a board member of Agricore United, as president of the Canadian Agrifood Trade Alliance and as a school trustee, I did have a really public role and I was out speaking all the time. And of course in the last 10 years I've been a deputy minister. As deputy minister of agriculture, I was out quite a bit, talking to industry and to the public. But clearly, as deputy minister to the Premier, my role was very much internal. But, I've almost had more experience being external, than internal, and it was really something that I felt I wanted to put that experience into action and really serve people in this new role.

JM: That being said, would you want to be an MLA in a general election if you didn't win this leadership race?

AK: I intend to win. But if I am not successful as premier, we'll have to see what happens in 2020. Right now my home riding isn't open. I think it's really important that you run in your home riding. If I'm a leader, I clearly need to find a seat and I've indicated that I would run in a byelection right away if I was elected as premier because I know it's important to have a seat in the house. I've got to wait and see what happens in 2020.

JM: What's your top priority if you do win this election?

AK: My top priority is to make sure that our plan continues to be focused on growth and that that growth leads to a better quality of life for everyone and that we then bring our team together around those plans for growth. I've talked about a vision out to 2030 being focused on growth and prosperity so that we can continue to provide the programs and services to serve those that are more vulnerable and serve Saskatchewan people. It's going to be really important that we bring the team together and we have a strong Saskatchewan party, a strong government, and I absolutely interested in doing that if elected as leader.

JM: Tell us about the budget — you mentioned how difficult it was this last round— and what we could expect going forward. Are there any changes that would be significant to the people of Saskatchewan?

AK: What I've talked about during the campaign very specifically on insurance tax is that I'm going to do an immediate review. I know changes need to be made there. I've absolutely heard right across Saskatchewan that there's been all kinds of unintended consequences as a result of that tax so I'm definitely going to have an immediate review.

I've also indicated with respect to the budget that I would take an additional year to get to balance. I do know whether it's the changes to the insurance tax or having a look at maybe one or two other things that have maybe had unintended consequences, that we are going to need to stretch that balanced budget plan out for a year. Those are the two most significant things that I could mention with respect to the upcoming budget.    

JM: As you know, three other candidates are alleging that one of the campaigns may have been provided with debate questions before the Weyburn debate. Did you receive any other information from executive council prior to to the Weyburn debate that addressed issues that were raised during that debate?

AK: I was not aware of what any of the questions were at any of the debates, not Weyburn or otherwise. I have been a senior public servant advising the premier and ministers for the last 10 years. It was my job to be well prepared. Travelling around the province, we all could fully expect what those questions were going to be in the debates. All I did was make sure I was as prepared as possible for any of the questions that were going to come up, including the debate in Weyburn.

JM: So there were no briefing notes or anything that should be concerning to the other candidates?

AK: Any information I had was available to all the candidates so I didn't get any different information than anybody else didn't have. I've said all of those allegations are false and I absolutely had no inside information with the questions.

JM: Why then, do you think there is concern among three candidates that you received this information, including Gord Wyant who's a former justice minister? He's seen something that concerns him. Do you know anything about what that would be?

AK: I don't know what it's about. All I can tell you is I appreciate the acknowledgement that my other candidates that I'm running against have acknowledged that I've done really well in the debates. In fact, I've said if I had any information prior to the debates I would've expected to do even better on the debates. I have no idea what they're inferring but I can tell you all of the accusations are false.

JM: The head of the teacher's union is asking teachers to take out political party memberships in order to have a say in this leadership race. Why do you think teachers should vote for you?

AK: I had a chance to talk to teachers on the campaign trail and in fact did a video with the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation on what my plans are for education. I think why teachers need to be interested in me as leader is because I've talked about re-establishing that trust relationship with teachers, getting out and talking to them, getting their best advice as to what they need in the classroom. What are the resources that it's going to take to make sure our kids are getting the best education they can get? I'm committed to re-establishing that relationship with teachers.

I've also said that I'm really focused on local school board governance. I think that's absolutely vital, so establishing that relationship with trustees as well. And then making sure that within the resources we have we make the absolute best decisions we can. I know teachers have got ongoing, increasing challenges in the classroom, so I want to hear from them as to what it's going to take to get the absolute best results we can for the resources they need and then for, of course, the best education we can get for Saskatchewan students.