With Stephen Harper planning to lead the Conservative Party and its Prince Albert MP Randy Hoback into the next federal election, the Official Opposition is getting its own game plan in order.
Regina lawyer and NDP federal executive member Noah Evanchuk, who plans to seek his party’s nomination in the Regina-Lewvan riding, said the NDP has identified the main issues it intends to focus on in the forthcoming electoral contest.
“The next election in Saskatchewan will be fought on entirely different boundaries, and so there’s going to be a lot of fresh faces running for Parliament,” Evanchuk said.
“But more generally, you’re going to see the NDP, especially in the next year to year and a half, focus on issues like affordability and extra costs that have been shunted down by Stephen Harper and Randy Hoback onto the backs of average, everyday citizens.”
As an example of such costs he cited bank and ATM fees, which are regulated by the federal government.
Evanchuk noted that the Conservative government has drastically cut taxes paid by banks even as bank fees themselves have increased.
“That’s just not on with Tom Mulcair and it’s not on with the NDP,” he said. “I don’t know where Randy Hoback stands on the issue of banks taking tax cuts and paying back Canadians by raising their bank fees, but we certainly oppose that.”
Other issues the NDP plans to highlight in the next election include ethics and accountability, as well as good government -- specifically, Evanchuk said, convincing Canadians that New Democrats are “ready to govern in an effective way and in a way that benefits all Canadians.”
The Senate remains the crux of ethics and accountability questions for federal opposition parties in the wake of an expenses scandal involving Conservative-appointed Senators Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy.
In an interview with the Daily Herald last summer, Hoback named Senate reform as the number one issue on the minds of his constituents.
He argued for elected senators and the imposition of term limits, while noting that the Conservatives previously put forward legislation to reform the Senate in 2006 and 2011.
Evanchuk, however, accused Hoback of inaction on the issue.
“I don’t think he can point to a private member’s bill that he’s passed in terms of Senate abolition, and in fact seems to have stonewalled any efforts by the federal NDP to do that sort of thing … I think we have to take anything Mr. Hoback says in terms of the Senate with a grain of salt,” he said.
In a biblical reference to the sudden conversion of Paul the Apostle, Evanchuk noted, “There is not one single Conservative member of Parliament who refused to have Pamela Wallin or Mike Duffy campaign for them in the past, so for them to now claim that they’ve had a ‘road to Damascus’ moment I think needs to be viewed with some skepticism.”
Evanchuk characterized Hoback’s views on rail transportation as another such “road to Damascus” moment.
The Prince Albert MP has highlighted the harm that an overtaxed rail system is causing to Saskatchewan farmers in the wake of a record harvest.
Arguing that oil and gas are straining the provincial rail system, Hoback pointed to support for new pipelines such as the Northern Gateway Pipeline and Keystone XL as a way of alleviating the problem.
But Evanchuk noted that the impact of rail troubles on farmers was already raised 18 months ago, during discussions by a House of Commons committee on proposed changes to the Canadian Wheat Board.
The fact that Mr. Hoback maybe is changing his tune on the Senate might be indicative of the fact that he’s looking over his shoulder for 2015. Noah Evanchuk
He accused Conservative MPs of adopting a “stick-your-head-in-the-sand-until-it’s-a-crisis” approach.
“One of the things we’re trying to do and Mr. Mulcair is doing as leader of the Official Opposition is to have a national strategy so that we don’t have to have this crisis management, (in) which this government that Mr. Hoback belongs to seems to be lurching from crisis to crisis,” he said.
“It’s time we actually had these strong national policies that address this so that we don’t … every six months have to deal with logjams for producers who are just trying to get their grain to market.”
When it comes to moving natural resources, Evanchuk reaffirmed the NDP’s support for a west-east oil pipeline as opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline favoured by the Conservatives, which he noted by law cannot ship Saskatchewan oil.
“I haven’t seen a single release … from Mr. Hoback about his position on the west-east pipeline, which is odd given that that’s the pipeline that will actually ship Saskatchewan crude,” he said.
Where infrastructure is concerned, Evanchuk said the NDP’s main priority was transparency and ensuring existing infrastructure is safe to avoid disasters such as oil spills and the Lac-Mégantic train derailment. He described the need for a second bridge in Prince Albert as an example of a public safety issue.
Yet Evanchuk criticized the three-tiered infrastructure-funding model that Hoback said would roll out this year -- which would require the federal, provincial and municipal governments to each cover one-third of the cost of select projects.
“We should leave the specific model for funding these projects up to municipalities, and not as Mr. Hoback would have it, coerce municipalities to enter into one sort of financing model or the other,” Evanchuk said, citing negotiations over a wastewater treatment plant in Regina as an example.
He added, “The people of Regina ultimately had a referendum and decided to proceed with a P3 project, but in large part because the likes of Mr. Hoback said that they had to or they wouldn’t get any funding … We don’t think in the NDP that it’s fair for a federal government to impose ideology on municipalities that just want to do things like have clean drinking water.”
Looking ahead, Evanchuk painted a picture of a strong and robust federal NDP well-positioned to fight the next election.
He noted that the party has now paid off its entire debt from the 2011 election and saw its greatest month ever for online fundraising in December, when the NDP raised more than $800,000 through online donations.
“We have a great team of people across the country organizing, we have new constituency associations with the new boundaries forming and it’s the party’s goal to win upwards of six to eight seats in the next election in Saskatchewan,” Evanchuck said.
“We think we have a very good shot at those ridings, and the fact that Mr. Hoback maybe is changing his tune on the Senate might be indicative of the fact that he’s looking over his shoulder for 2015.”