Premier hopefuls talk winning back seats in Regina, Saskatoon

The next premier of Saskatchewan had their chance to impress party members at a debate in Saskatoon Saturday.

Party says 800 people have registered to attend

On Saturday, the five candidates running to be the next premier of Saskatchewan participated in the party's third leadership debate in Saskatoon. (Adam Hunter/CBC)

The five Saskatchewan Party hopefuls competing to become the next premier took to the stage in Saskatoon this weekend to woo members in the party's third leadership debate.

The event got underway at TCU Place on Saturday, following an emotional tribute to outgoing Premier Brad Wall, who announced his retirement in August.

Saskatchewan Party president James Thorsteinson moderated the debate—held as part of the party's convention where a record 800 registered to attend, 200 more than expected—asking questions submitted by party members.

Balancing the budget

The first question was about balancing the province's budget. Scott Moe, Gord Wyant and Ken Cheveldayoff committed to sticking with the government's current plan to balance the books by 2019.

Both Tina Beaudry-Mellor and former top civil servant Alanna Koch said they extended that plan by one year to 2020, also stripping the provincial sales tax from insurance. Beaudry-Mellor also pitched extending the budget cycle to two-years, not one.

Cheveldayoff referred to the proposed extension as "watered down," saying he'd introduce expert consultation on taxes that are reported back to the premier.

Carbon tax alternatives

On carbon tax alternatives, Koch said she's committed to carbon capture.

The "federal government doesn't have the science right. Carbon isn't a villain," Koch told the crowd.

Beaudry-Mellor pointed to doing a better job of communicating with the federal government about what the province is already doing.

Wyant said he'd look east to Manitoba to work with that province to use hydro to reduce Saskatchewan's carbon output.

All five candidates expressed the importance of supporting arts and cultural organizations in the province, with all pointing to Creative Saskatchewan.

"Cities need these kind of institutions," Wyant said pointing to Saskatoon's new Remai Modern art gallery.  Beaudry-Mellor also used the question to say that arts funding cannot be sacrificed to balance the budget.

Growing tech economy

In or out?

The five leadership hopefuls have a few more weeks to declare their intent to stay in the race. By Nov. 24, candidates must pay $25,000 to the party. The fundraising limit for each candidate is $250,000.

The deadline for party members to sign up in order to vote is Dec. 8.

The new leader will be elected on a one-member, one-vote system.

When it comes to diversifying the economy, many candidates underlined the need to foster the tech sector.

Wyant said tax incentives need to be explored to commercialize innovations coming from universities and technical schools, while Koch and Beaudry-Mellor both said their platforms include a tax credit for angel investors to put money in local entrepreneurs and tech startups.

Cheveldayoff spoke to the importance of the provincial nominee program, saying "We need more people in our province," and Moe committed to create a minister to oversee export trade and investment attraction.

Connection to party

Wyant said if he were premier, members would see an annual policy convention.

Beaudry-Mellor says she'd bring in mandate letters and a yearly door-knocking campaign in order to stay connected to the party's grassroots, while Koch would travel for regional dinners. 

GTH inquiry?

Among other issues discussed, which included improving healthcare, better connecting with teachers and dealing with landfills, candidates were posed the question of how they would win seats in Regina and Saskatoon.  

Beaudry-Mellor said she hears from urban residents they are concerned with the Global Transportation Hub, saying there needs to be more transparency and that "we may need to have a public inquiry on that issue."

Wyant said there's a perception the party isn't listening and it needs to do a better job at that with urban voters. 

The crowd cheered when Moe mentioned that he sees only Saskatchewan people, not an urban/rural divide. 

For Cheveldayoff, he said winning seats in cities will come from running the best candidates, explaining that "extraordinary" campaigns will be needed. 

"What happened in those byelections isn't good enough," he said.

Question of experience

In answering the final question about why each candidate thinks they should be premier, Cheveldayoff highlighted his experience and stressed the next premier should have experience being an elected official in the legislature. 

Koch, the only unelected official running for leader, listed her years of work in the public service for government and beyond. She told members that by understanding the operations of government, she could effectively implement policies as premier. 

Beaudry-Mellor, Wyant and Moe all pointed to their time in government, with Moe referencing the 22 MLAs who have announced their support for him. 

The party will elect a new leader on Jan. 27, 2018 in Saskatoon.

With files from CBC's Adam Hunter