The Saskatchewan NDP is looking at this weekend’s convention as a means to kick off the 2020 election campaign, delegates heard on November 1 in Prince Albert.
Dozens of delegates, observers and NDP supporters were at Plaza 88 to set out the party’s direction heading into next October’s provincial election. The work began Friday afternoon as delegates listened to guest speakers and began platform consultations before holding a fundraiser for area constituencies. It continued with workshops, a leader’s address and policy resolutions before wrapping up November 3 with a report from the provincial secretary and the election of the party’s officers.
Saskatchewan NDP president Linda Osachoff of Canora kicked off the convention with a speech seemingly aimed at galvanizing the NDP supporters.
“I can’t help but feel inspired by the bright orange sparks being lit in every community we go to,” she said.
“I continue to be inspired by the energy for change that’s growing everywhere.”
Osachoff said that an election or two ago, the party would not have seen some of the supporters it does now, those who were on the fence or who voted for the Saskatchewan Party.
“Opportunities are presenting themselves, for us to fan this growing flame until we turn our province orange again,” she said to cheers.
She then turned her attention to Premier Scott Moe, accusing him of embracing divisive election rhetoric and of blaming the federal government for Saskatchewan’s problems instead of looking at what’s going on inside of the province.
“We can seize this opportunity that provides residents (and) communities with a vision, a thoughtful, researched plan, not just for today but for the future,” she said.
"We have a leader who makes space for all voices at the table. Who invites us to work hard away from this nasty, resistant and unhealthy preoccupation with the status quo and works together for a healthy, sustainable and progressive society that puts people first.”
She concluded her remarks by characterizing the upcoming provincial election as “the most important, in a generation.”
Her comments set the stage for campaign director Trevor McKenzie-Smith, who outlined what the New Democrats can expect in the coming months.
He said the goal for the 2020 campaign is a “growth campaign,” promising to elect more MLAs next year than the party currently has.
He pointed out that the party picked up three seats over the last two-and-a-half years in by-elections.
“We intend to continue that trajectory into and up to election day in 2020,” McKenzie-Smith said.
According to a report from the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, the Saskatchewan Party is targeting the Prince Albert Carlton riding, currently held by Joe Hargrave, minister responsible for SGI, as well as the forest fringe area, which could refer to the Sask. Rivers or Batoche ridings.
Teacher and long-time party volunteer Troy Parenteau has been nominated for Prince Albert Carlton, while for the Batoche riding, the party chose Lon Borgerson, a former NDP MLA who successfully won a rural riding in 2003 that had previously been held by the Sask. Party. He told the Daily Herald this week that he’s in a “similar situation now, seeking to win back a rural constituency.” He said the only way the NDP would ever form government would be to win in rural areas and he hopes to help lead that.
He said that in 2003 he was the NDP’s only rural MLA.
While the 2020 election isn’t until October 26 of next year, some of the NDP’s messaging is already underway.
“We’ve embarked on growing the concern across the province for the Sask. Party government's failures,” McKenzie-Smith said.
He mentioned the budget cuts of 2017, as well as “problems in education, looming threats to our crowns and a lacking focus on what’s important right now in people’s lives.”
He contrasted that with the central message of Osachoff’s speech, which also matched the text emblazoned on all of the party’s orange signs, “people first.”
“We’re saying it, and it’s true. We’re going to put people first. People’s needs will be at the centre of everything we do when we form government, so putting people first will be at the centre of everything we do as a campaign, as we get ready and through the writ period as well.”
McKenzie-Smith said the party can succeed by getting bigger, growing internally and externally. He said the party will use “new tools” to engage with new people, and then provide opportunities for those people to work alongside them.
He stressed that the work cannot wait until next October.
“We need to get organized right now. We've spent some months now working through plans,” he said.
“We don’t want to sit in rooms talking to each other until the beginning of October next year. We want to start getting to work.”
The goal of the party over the coming weeks is to shift to campaigning outreach and talking to voters, he continued.
Some work on developing the platform has already begun, he said, and all nominated candidates so far have participated in workshops to think through and discuss policy in an in-depth way. Those discussions will continue.
‘We all need to be saying the same thing,” McKenzie-Smith said.
“How do we succeed? We succeed by telling the story of who we are, and being disciplined and focused on our message.”