Although he’s in the midst of a leadership race for the Saskatchewan NDP, don’t expect Trent Wotherspoon to say anything negative about his competition.
Wotherspoon’s campaign trail stopped in Prince Albert on Thursday, where he had less to say about himself as a leadership candidate and more about the party’s merits.
Pulling aside Community Mobilization Prince Albert as a local success story, he explained that his vision for the part is centered on working together.
“We’re going to be stronger by moving together, by building partnerships,” he said.
“I think it reflects the spirit of co-operation that highlights both our history and I believe our future … The common sense work together approach that will better everyone’s interests.”
Community Mobilization Prince Albert links various agencies together to tackle community issues head-on — an example Wotherspoon said that the government should be emulating.
Wotherspoon cites the stories his great-grandfather passed down as further inspiration, about working together as a community.
His great-grandfather homesteaded near Melville, where the “common sense … community-orientated approach” was employed — the same approach that built the first co-op board, the wheat pool and establishing municipal doctor service.
“I believe that we’re all inter-connected in many ways to the broader factors going on in our society,” Wotherspoon said.
The affordability of housing is a good example of this inter-connectivity, he said.
Housing affects education, in that if students are in a housing versus food situation and are hungry in the morning, “learning itself is really a non-starter, so we need to take a balanced approach,” he said.
Post-secondary students have seen the cost of rental housing double over the past four years, making education less accessible to them — particularly when coupled with rising tuition rates.
“It’s also a drag on the economy,” he said of rising housing prices, citing some areas in northern Saskatchewan where the natural resources industries are strong.
“If young people can’t access the housing there, they’re not going to be able to come and fulfil the jobs that are inside the economy as well.”
Although some people in the north are making good money, many people necessary to these communities, including childcare providers, schoolteachers and those in the service sector, aren’t.
There are plenty of examples in Prince Albert as well, Wotherspoon said, using the YWCA shelters as an indicator of local housing needs.
“They’ve turned away more than 1,200 women over the past year from spending the night, which begs the question of where they went,” Wotherspoon said.
The bottom line is that the provincial government needs to spend more money on housing, he said.
“As our population is growing we need to increase the supply of housing and I think that the private sector plays a role there, but I think the public sector also plays a role.
“I’ve been arguing as a member of legislature, adamantly back to 2007 … that we need to be allocating dollars and partnerships that are going to ensure that we’re increasing the supply of housing.”
“We’re a caring society and one that looks out for their fellow neighbour, and in those circumstances we have to have that in place.”
Rebuilding the NDP
Wotherspoon’s campaign slogan, “Forward together,” signifies the Saskatchewan NDP working together to rebuild itself, Wotherspoon explained.
Although Wotherspoon notes that the party’s limited caucus of nine is “a mighty caucus,” it’s a shadow of its former self.
During last year’s provincial election, the Saskatchewan NDP lost its stronghold in the Prince Albert Northcote riding, meaning all Prince Albert area ridings are now headed by Saskatchewan Party MLAs.
We’re going to be stronger by moving together, by building partnerships. - Trent Wotherspoon, Saskatchewan NDP leadership hopeful
The trick now is to differentiate the party from the Saskatchewan Party.
“I think right now, the Sask. Party very much accepts a governing policy of growth for the sake of growth, and we believe very much in economic growth and economic development, but to better people’s lives — to improve the lives of Saskatchewan’s people — to reduce inequality, not to increase it.
“That’s where my message of forward together applies to us as a party — we build relationships and we come together.
“We see a lot of positives here in Prince Albert by way of community leaders being able to work together, be it in education or whether it’s in social services or police — a good example being Community Mobilization.”
The Diefenbaker bridge topped the list of issues brought up during Wotherspoon’s time in Prince Albert — commonplace since a crack was found on one of its girders last year.
The community, spurred in part by the Build a Second Bridge Campaign, wants to see a second North Saskatchewan River crossing at or near the city.
“The community’s rightfully frustrated that they’re not seeing any commitment or advancement on (that initiative),” Wotherspoon said.
The affordability of post-secondary education is another issue that’s been brought up.
Although the Saskatchewan Party has implemented the graduate retention program, which pays back tuition after students have received their degree, Wotherspoon said that something more proactive should be done.
“The accessibility to education has been reduced for many, so a rebate that comes after the fact for the few that maybe have the means or are able to secure the loans they need to get to school, that might not be good enough,” he said.
“If we’re preventing, as a province, bright young individuals who are motivated to go to school but there are barriers in place from a financial perspective, that’s not in our best interests as a province and it’s certainly not in those students’ best interests.”
Wotherspoon as a candidate
Although Wotherspoon’s focus during his current tour has been touting the merits of the Saskatchewan NDP, it’s based in his leadership campaign.
With a new leader to be elected on March 9, the Regina Rosemont MLA officially declared his candidacy on Friday, Sept. 14.
“As a candidate, I hear that some see my strengths being that I’m young and a fresh voice for the New Democrats,” he said, adding that his serving two terms during a time of party adversity is of significant merit.
“I can say with all sincerity I’ve learned the most from those with the least in my time working in education and in the community.”
With a few months left on the campaign trail, he said that he plans to continue making his way around the province to help build the party.
“What I really look forward to right now is going out and listening to Saskatchewan people and earning that trust again, reflecting that voice from all across Saskatchewan and finding that common cause with Saskatchewan people.
“I think that making sure that in a prosperous Saskatchewan that families see their lot being advanced and not being walked backwards or losing ground in their own economy.”
So far, Wotherspoon is one of four Saskatchewan NDP leadership candidates, the others being Cam Broten, Erin Weir and Ryan Meili.