© Herald photo by Perry Bergson
Saskatchewan NDP Leader Cam Broten, shown speaking at the 13th annual Prince Albert Northcote Gala last month, says the party is forging ahead.
For Saskatchewan’s NDP leader, the road back to power will be paved one constructive idea at a time.
Cam Broten, who was in Prince Albert on Monday, told the Daily Herald that the shock of successive election losses in 2007 and 2011 delivered a clear message to most people in the party.
“When you lose an election, it’s an indication that things aren’t on the right path,” Broten says. “When you lose two elections and go the wrong direction in losing, that’s an indication that things aren’t well.”
Broten says that some people in the party thought that trust with the people of Saskatchewan would inevitably restore itself.
“It’s a time for us to evaluate as a party what we’re about, how we want to improve,” he says.
Broten was elected the provincial NDP leader on March 9, 2013. He was taking over a party that had governed for four terms from 1991-2007 before dropping to 20 seats in the 2007 election and just nine in 2011.
Broten says he’s learned a lot in the last 15 months, something that may have been reflected in Moose Jaw on May 31 when he received a 98.7 per cent endorsement during a leadership review.
“There’s a pretty positive feeling about where we’re going,” he says of the party.
Still, Broten and the NDP have a daunting challenge ahead of them.
The next provincial vote is set for September of 2015, a plan that could change if a federal election falls at the same time on its fixed date. That could push the election as late as the spring of 2016.
Either way, his party has work to do.
He not only faces a 49-9 disadvantage in seats, he’ll be up against Brad Wall, the country’s most popular premier. An Angus Reid survey in March suggested that Wall had an approval rating of 66 per cent, the highest in Canada.
Broten says that the government’s approach to some issues could be its undoing.
“I think the spring sitting we saw a number of issues where people scratched their head and said ‘Why doesn’t government just admit this is wrong,’” Broten says, pointing to decisions like the scrapping of the film employment tax credit and the money spent on LEAN management practices.
To capitalize on what he sees as Sask. Party shortcomings, Broten says the NDP has to show that it can govern effectively both by criticizing government initiatives and by introducing constructive new ideas.
He says he tries to offer comments on Sask. Party initiatives from a common sense standpoint rather than pure ideology. And he also believes that good ideas can come from anywhere.
The Opposition leader brought forward a private member’s bill called Howard’s Law that mandated that a list would be created with all of the public buildings in Saskatchewan that have asbestos in them. It was initially rejected in the Legislature, before a groundswell of support from the public brought it back.
In April of 2013, the trail-blazing legislation was unanimously backed in the Legislature by both parties.
“That’s an example of when the Legislature can work like it should,” he says.
He worries about the lack of civility created in some places when the divide between left and right becomes too great, saying attack politics isn’t good for democracy.
While it may seem that way in Saskatchewan to outsiders, he doesn’t think it’s that bad here. Broten says there is a public and private face to the business of serving in the Saskatchewan Legislature.
“I think in many ways the decorum has improved,” Broten says, adding that he believes his caucus tries to stick to issues rather than personalities. “There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work that happens in committee where we sit across the table and talk things out like normal people.
“Question Period has a bit more theatrics.”
The spring session wrapped up on May 15. The Assembly next sits starting on Oct. 22.
Broten says he was pleased with his party’s work over the last few months in the Legislature.
“It was a sitting where we really zeroed in on some key issues, issues that really mattered to families,” he says. “We talked a tremendous amount about health care, about education and a creeping sense of entitlement that we saw in government members …
“My view is one of government dropping the ball on basics that are needed but having a real obsession with pet projects.”
Broten says he was surprised by a couple of things after the recent cabinet shuffle by the Sask. Party.
Broten says what he perceives as Wall’s lack of bench strength is reflected by the retiring Ken Krawetz staying on as Finance minister and deputy premier and the lack of cabinet representation from Prince Albert, Moose Jaw, Yorkton and the Battlefords.
After the NDP convention last month, riding associations from across the province will begin to choose their candidates for the next election over the coming months.
While Broten isn’t sure exactly when the two Prince Albert ridings will have candidates in place, he confirms that there are people who wish to carry the party’s banner into the next election.
“There have been a number of people who have expressed interest at the constituency level,” he says. “There are no announcements at this time but I anticipate some good strong candidates.”
His candidates will only be facing one of the two Sask. Party incumbents.
Darryl Hickie is retiring from politics in Carlton while Victoria Jurgens, who won in 2011 by 200 votes, will be looking for another term in Northcote.
Broten says the need for a second bridge will be one of the issues that Prince Albert NDP candidates will be able to capitalize on.
“I just want to restate the need for a second bridge in this city.”