The Meili Campaign has entered into the new media format this evening through their hosting of a live-telephone town hall meeting. The use of telephone ensured that disruptors, the like found at Erin Weir's online town hall, were kept from the event and I don't think anyone will say that this was a bad thing.
The event also used the opportunity to conduct three polls during the course of the evening, of which only one set of results were released to those present for the conference. It was an interesting step for the meeting, and one that I think worked very well (though, I do worry that given the nature of the call, the data could be skewed slightly; more on that later on in the post.)
So, we'll start by recapping the questions and answers segment of the town hall. Well, technically, we'll start with a bit of Ryan's opening statements, but the Q & A will take up the bulk of this post. Do keep in mind that I was furiously writing down questions and answers, as such as was the case in the Trent Wotherspoon Q & A posted here previously, answers are not 100% verbatim was what said by Ryan; but will be close in either content or meaning.
The town hall started with Ryan hammering home the foundational message of his campaign, which continues to build on his team of "Better Together"; by explaining in the style of John Donne, that "no man is an island", in that there is not a one of us out there who can strive and succeed alone.
He also used the opportunity to talk about what has changed since the last leadership race; including his marriage and the birth of his son, and some of the work he has done as an author and as a doctor. Building on the work done as a doctor, he's talked about the first hand experience of seeing levels of preventable illness in our province and knowing that this stems from poverty, and that the poverty often stems from short-sighted policy ideas.
He then explains that he sees the NDP as the best vehicle for fostering a change in our province. He also explained his view that the results of the last election were not a rejection of the NDP as a whole, but rather a message that people wanted a clearer message and vision for the future; it was a demand for the party to do better.
He touched on some key issues, such as ensuring that we create sustained and well managed growth and bring issues like climate change and clean energy back to the forefront, and expressed concern over current approaches to labour legislation being floated by the current government. He ended his opening statement by saying that we needed to not only change the leader of the NDP, but we needed to change the discussion in the province as well.
So, with the opening statement covered, let's explore some of the questions and answers. As always, questions are BOLDED while answers appear in normal text format.
Q: What are you thoughts on the recent Saskatchewan Party attack ad against the four NDP leadership candidates?
In Ottawa, Conservatives are worried about Thomas Mulcair. In Regina, the Saskatchewan Party is clearly worried about these four young and intelligent candidates. At the same time, the ad doesn't seem particularly effective for the amount of money it would have cost to air it. Part of me wanted to send a thank you note to Brad, for spending a lot of money to put me on TV.
Q: The last campaign focused a lot on the idea of a royalty review in our province. What are you thoughts on the issue?
We've blown things out of proportion on the language behind conducting a review and how we approach our economy. A boom is a big noise that is explosive and brief, it isn't something that you can count on in the long run. Instead, we need a bloom in our economy; something that is long term and ensure development that not only affects us but continues to positively affect our children.
A review is important, in the short term to ensure that we are receiving a fair return. The current deal on potash, for example, expires in 2016; shortly after the next provincial election. That would be a perfect time for us to review our royalty rate.
Q: With some of the extreme weather conditions we've seen across the world, would you bring green energy back to the forefront?
We've seen extreme weather in the province as well, from droughts to floods, and this is another chance for us to create a 'bloom' in our economy, by investing in green energy. By developing the capacity for businesses to succeed in producing the tools needed to develop green energy, from wind turbines to solar panels, we can have a positive impact on both our own energy needs and growing our economy.
Another idea would be to develop energy co-ops in communities. These co-ops could produce energy for local needs, while at the same time providing energy back into the power grid and generating a profit for the community.
Q: Farmland throughout Saskatchewan is being bought up by large multinational corporations; what is your opinion and idea to ensure that we keep track of something as simple as land ownership within our province?
If we can't control something as basic as land, we lose the ability to understand what corporations are doing on that land, and the ability to contribute to the future development of that land. We have to protect what we already have and should require residency for the ownership of farmland. But we should also push for greater transparency from companies that being to develop land in Saskatchewan.
Q: What are you thoughts about indexing the SAID (Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability) Program, and thoughts on expanding the program?
As the opposition party, we shouldn't always criticize the government and their programs, and the SAID Program is a good example of that. This is a program that has helped people with disabilities rise out of levels of poverty. Indexing the program prevents it from eroding away over time and becoming less effective. There is a worry that the program could be a way of preventing advocacy for those affected by disability, since the program limits the need for advocacy since it gives them something, but that doesn't mean we should stop advocacy for causes.
There is an example of this in equal justice. Equal Justice for All was a community based program that was run by people with disabilities, and it recently had its funding cut and the suggestion is this was because of their role in advocacy programs.
Q: What is your policy on affordable housing?
Politics should be about building a healthy society, and when looking at the social determinates of health, housing is a major part of that. We need to push for a provincial strategy on housing, if not a national strategy, and we need to increase the amount of social housing units in the province. We should also look at co-op housing; as it is often more affordable and easier for people to gain access to. At the same time, it provides that sense of pride in home ownership and gives the resident a better chance of overall success.
The Housing First model, which is being explored in Saskatoon, addresses the need to ensure that homeless people are provided with housing as the first step in lifting them out of poverty.
Q: We seem to be seeing a greater level of economic disparity these days, and the gap between richer and poorer is growing. What are you plans to foster greater economic justice?
Countries that are less equal are shown to have worse health across the board than countries where equality is higher. In fact, Canada's inequality rate is now growing faster than the USA's. We need to be able to talk about increased equality from the top (lawyers and doctors) to the bottom (people who are on social assistance programs) and look at both redistribution and predistribution.
Redistribution is the system we have generally used, where we tax a person's income and use that money to fund programs. We need to address this system more progressively to ensure that someone with a large income is not paying less in taxes than someone with a lower income.
Predistribution addresses money before taxes. We need legislation that protects middle and upper class jobs, and ensure that minimum wage jobs and social assistance programs aren't keeping people trapped in poverty.
Q: What is your mental health plan?
A healthy society doesn't just include physical health, it includes mental health as well. Sufferers of mental health often have challenges in securing an education and an income, but we often don't talk about this. We have prisons full of people who have mental illnesses, and while they may have done something to end up in prison, we're not providing them with the care they need to address their illness.
We need a provincial mental health strategy, and we need to get over the taboo of talking about mental health. 10% of the adult population suffers from a mental illness, while 50% of people will experience depression or another mental illness in their life time. We can't be afraid to talk about the issue. Once we can talk about it, we can ensure that we are providing sufficient mental health care.
Psychiatrists are covered, but often hard to get into, while other forms of counseling and treatment are not covered at all. We need to expand coverage and ensure that people are receiving proper care for their illness.
Q: What is your plan to enhance the NDP presence in rural Saskatchewan?
This is importantly, not just strategically as a party, but also in ensuring that we are representing people from across the province. The SK Party has taken these constituencies for granted, but there's still a lot of work for our party to do. These areas are filled with members who feel disconnected or disillusioned with the NDP, or in some cases neglected by the party. We need our next leader to spend time in rural Saskatchewan and foster greater connections in these areas.
Once the party is on sounder economic footing, we could also look at creating field agents to represent the party and be visible in these constituencies. Whether that's attending union meetings at the chicken plant in Wynyard, or helping to rebuild executives in these areas, we need to increase our own engagement.
However, policy is the strongest step we can take. We should consider establishing a body, if not a wing, for rural voters to ensure that concerns and issues are being brought up and making their way into our party policies.
Q: What is your view on the dumping of Nuclear Waste in rural communities?
If one community decides to store nuclear waste, it doesn't just affect their community it affects us all for years to come. And the current approach of a committee going in behind closed doors to speak with community leaders, with the promise of immediate financial benefit, is not the right approach to this issue.
We need to focus more on the development of green energy as well, as opposed to considering nuclear power. In addition to the problem of waste, nuclear power is more expensive and takes longer to implement. If we started building a reactor today, it wouldn't be operational until 2025, and the cost would be monumental. But we could easily invest in wind turbines and solar panels that take a fraction of the time and cost.
Q: Would you consider, or support, a merger with the provincial Liberal Party to form a centre-left party to avoid vote splitting?
That doesn't sound advantageous in Saskatchewan, given the low levels of support that the third parties tend to receive in provincial elections. Instead, we need to develop policies and make connections with people who have voted for the other parties and show them that the NDP is the best alternative to the SK Party.
Q: Can you expand on how a healthy society creates a healthy economy?
Often, we think about this in the other way: a health economy creates a healthy society. But when we investment in human infrastructure, the economy can strive. If you can imagine a large group of marginalized and disaffected people, you can see how this creates a strain and drain on the economy and programs supported by the government. If you have healthy and engaged people, you reduce the drain and strain and will create positive benefits for the economy.
Q: I like your "Your Ideas" page on the website, how do you plan to get more people to contribute?
It's important for a leader to have their own ideas, principles, and vision; but it's also important to foster participatory democracy. We can see the opposite of this ideal being practiced in the federal Conservatives and the provincial SK Party, and their heavy top-down approach. We've held off on our own policy developments because we want to hear from as many members and citizens as we can. We want our ideas to merge to create policy not only for the leadership campaign, but for the next election. -Ryan also explained how to use the website to submit your ideas, or how to contact the campaign, but we don't need to put that here-
That bring us to Ryan's final thoughts, and then we'll look at the results for the one poll listeners were privy to the results of.
Continuing on the theme of leadership, Ryan again called on the need for the next leader of the party to come up with their own ideas and vision (Of which he included the creation of SaskPharma, a crown corporation that could be used to produce or secure low cost generic drugs; and the creation of a Saskatchewan Bank, based on the Bank of North Dakota model), but also stressed that leader needs humility and good judgement to listen to the ideas of others.
He also called again on the need for the party to reach out to the disillusioned NDPers and supporters of other parties who could support the NDP through the creation of good policy. He closed the town hall with a reiteration of his motto: We can do better, and we can be better, together.
So, let's look at the poll that was conducted during the town hall. In total, there were three polls. The first poll focused on how important it was for the next leader to already be a MLA; while the other two asked who people would support as their first and second choice candidates on the preferential ballot.
The last two polls did not have their results released to the gathered masses, but the first poll was, and Ryan spoke to it. I'm going to include the results, and Ryan's comment, then do a bit of editorializing on the issue.
The poll asked how important it was that the next leader of the NDP be a sitting member of the legislature.
12% said it was very important.
27% said it was somewhat important.
54% said it was not important.
7% were undecided.
Ryan approached the results as follows; he expressed appreciating for the work and experience that sitting MLAs have, and even acknowledged his own lack of experience as a sitting MLA. However, he called on the fact that he will be bringing his own unique experiences to the post, much in the same way that any first time MLA would. He also invoked the spirit of Grant Devine, reminding those gathered that keeping him out of the legislature during a by-election allowed him to travel the province and lay the groundwork for his eventual term as Premier.
He expressed that it wouldn't be a bad thing for the next leader to sit out of the legislature for an extended period of time, and that it would provide a chance for the leader to reach out across the province and create those connections and relationships that would be invaluable during the next election campaign. He also cited Jack Layton being elected leader of the federal NDP while not being a sitting Member of Parliament.
Ryan was also quick to remind us that the poll was not scientific, and he even hinted that given that people on the line were more than likely vested in his campaign, the results might reflect that.
And now begins the very light editorializing.
That last point is incredibly important. We weren't told how many people were on the call, so I don't know whether we're talking about 54% of 200 people, or 54% of 50 people...Also, yes, a lot of people on the line were already likely in camp Meili, and as such, would say that it isn't important that he already have a seat in the legislature. As such, it's good to see some caution in giving too much faith to the polling result.
Now, I've thought about this question a lot, and I'm going to do a stand-alone post on it in the future. (Though, slight spoiler, I have spoken about it a little in the past on the blog but the next post will be a major pro-con sort of approach to the issue.)
All in all, that concludes the report from the Meili Town Hall. (sorry for the rhyme.)