Sask. mulls debate make-up ahead of fall vote

Discussion about who should take part in a federal leaders debate has Saskatchewan politicians pondering the configuration of a provincial debate in the fall.
From left, Saskatchewan Party leader Brad Wall, Liberal leader David Karwacki and NDP leader Lorne Calvert engaged in a televised leaders debate in advance of the provincial election of 2007. (Troy Fleece/CP)

Discussion about who should take part in a federal leaders debate has Saskatchewan politicians pondering the configuration of a provincial debate in the fall.

Saskatchewan voters go to the polls Nov. 7.

In the 2007 provincial campaign, the leaders of the Saskatchewan Party, the NDP and the Liberal Party debated on live television.

On Wednesday, Premier Brad Wall quipped that former Liberal Party leader David Karwacki was mostly remembered for several interruptions during the debate.

"Mr. Karwacki and my suit were the most distracting things about that debate," Wall said, alluding to the strong pinstripes he wore that night.

David Karwacki, who led the Saskatchewan Liberal Party into the 2007 provincial election campaign, did not have any elected members but was part of the leader's debate that year. (Troy Fleece/CP)
Wall said he is wondering if the debate format should be changed and suggested there could be two debates.

"People might be thinking to themselves: maybe we should hear from the two who can actually form a government and then hear from the others in another separate debate," Wall said.

In Wall's scenario, he would square off against the NDP's Dwain Lingenfelter. Leaders of other parties would engage in another forum.

Lingenfelter said Wednesday that debate participation could be based on which parties have formed government in Saskatchewan in the past. He said he welcomes more parties in a debate.

"For sure the Liberals and Conservatives who have been government in the province, [and] the Sask Party, NDP," Lingenfelter said.

He added there could be some debate on whether or not to include the leader of the Green Party, which has never formed government. But Lingenfelter said he would not mind it if the Green Party leader was involved.

Liberals want in

The current leader of the Liberal Party in Saskatchewan, Ryan Bater, said he should have a spot on the debate facing off against the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition.

Bater said Wall's idea to limit speakers in one debate should be viewed as a strategic move.

"If it's just him and Mr. Lingenfelter, he's able to paint the debate as an 'NDP or not NDP' debate," Bater said. "What I would bring to the table is a completely different point of view. And I would be able to expose the Premier as being simply NDP-lite."

Bater added that the Liberals should be involved because they elected members of the legislature in the recent past, although the party does not have any members of the legislature now.

Rick Swenson, the leader of the Saskatchewan Progressive Conservative Party, said he believes Wall wants to shut him out of a debate to avoid questions on controversial issues involving party funds.

"I can appreciate that Mr. Wall wouldn't want to have me sharing a podium asking him about the Tory Trust Fund," Swenson said, referring to an ongoing court dispute about the control of some $3 million in party funds. "So I suspect he'll want to just have a debate with Mr. Lingenfelter."

The Green Party of Saskatchewan has fielded candidates in provincial elections and the leader of the party said that should be the criteria for who takes part in a debate.

Leader Larissa Shasko said any other format would not be fair.

"It would send the message to voters that there is one debate between the real contenders and one debate between everyone else," Shasko said. "And that is just not democratic."

Shasko said any party that runs candidates in at least 15 of Saskatchewan's 58 constituencies, or about one quarter, should be included in the debate.

Broadcasters said they have not made any decisions about a debate format.