Sunday, November 4, 2012

Campaign Update: Trent Wotherspoon

As mentioned in the week review, Trent Wotherspoon stopped over in Saskatoon on Saturday night for a meet-and-greet event held in the home of a local supporter. The event was a good chance to socialize with various people, from academics to several youths in attendance, and it certainly provided a good night of political discussion.

In addition to Trent speaking and taking questions, our host was kind enough to explain why he was supporting Trent and encouraged the others in the room to do so as well. My notes aren't as accurate as they should be, but I can condense it down to three key points: Trent's genuine nature in his approach to people, his policies, and his work within the Legislature.

That brings us to Trent's speech before the questions. Again, I was taking notes by hand, so this won't be a 100% accurate/verbatim recap of what was said. In some cases, it will be my own mangled twisting of a larger idea into condensed, more writing friendly, points. So, we'll cover the highlights from the speech and then move on the Q & A section.

Trent opened by talking about the traveling that he has done thus far, noting that he's put 17,000km on the odometer since entering the race last month. A campaign worker told him that this distance meant he could have traveled to Paris and back, and Trent assured us that he wouldn't trade the experiences he's had on the roads for the cafes of Paris.

As the event took place in Saskatoon's north-end, Trent recalled his experience coming out to help during the Saskatoon-Northeast by-election. He recalled walking the streets and making connections, and talked a bit about some of the outcomes from that by-election. From here, Trent talked about the need for inclusion; and how as a party, we need to reach out to young & old, left & right, and so forth to rebuild the party and create a more inclusive province in general.

Trent also highlighted some of the reasons for his policy announcement order. He assured us that more announcements are coming, but that he started with education because of the impact that it has on so much of our province. He went on to talk about how we've continued to use and support an education system that was designed for a different kind of family in a different time, and how it is time for us to move forward with a new system for this day and age.

Further to that point, he addressed the need for us to start taking action against poverty and to be be aware that we can't leave anyone behind. He talked about how for too long we've focused solely on GDP to determine the health of the province, and while that is an important financial marker, it doesn't look at how the people in the province are doing. We need to include well-being of our people in order to fully understand whether or not we're a healthy province.

Part of that is a focus on housing, especially with regards to investment in social infrastructure. If we don't address something as fundamental as housing, it will have a profound impact on other areas (education, health care, etc). Rent controls are first good step, but they need to be implemented with a plan for direct investment in building more housing as well.

Going back to inclusion, we need to create a province where a boom is a boom for everyone. The current government is wasting our competitive advantages, and we need to move away from that to a system that supports a strong middle class and fosters the creation of small business. Restoring the film tax credit is one way of helping to achieve this. We need to focus on unlocking our human potential, not just our resources, in the province.

That more or less touches on the points Trent brought up during his brief speech to the assembled group, at which point the floor was left open to questions and comments. Again, this is not a verbatim record, as there is a limit to my speed when writing by hand, but I did my best to keep it as accurate as possible. As always, questions are BOLDED and answers are in regular text.

How do we balance our left-wing values while still focusing on resource development and things like pipelines?

Currently, Saskatchewan has 30,000kms of pipeline, most of which was put up under NDP Governments. We need to move our resources, in particularly oil, but we need to ensure that inspection and regulation are in place that allow us to foster industry while respecting the environment. Saskatchewan people have a sense of ownership of our province, in particular our land, and I think we want our resources developed but we want to do it in an environmentally friendly way.

This is very true of land itself, as sometimes land is being purchased by capital provided by larger multinational corporations. We should know who is purchasing farmland and where the capital is coming from.

We often fall into old debates, especially when we raise valid concerns about ecological issues during resource development. How can we show that we are supportive of resource development?

We do want development, it isn't an either or position. At the same time, we also want to explore newer options with things like green energy. In a province like Saskatchewan, where we have such an abundance of natural resources (like wind, and solar, and the potential for geothermal energy), we can foster development while also developing these resources.

But we also want sensible development of resources already in play. It makes no sense for the current government to go into a private partnership for natural gas development, while the government puts up all the investment and assumes all of the risk, when SaskPower could have easily achieved the development alone. Furthermore, now regardless of who forms the next government, we've essentially lost our bargaining rights or negotiation rights in the future, since these private corporations will hold all of the cards.

Are we going to change the way we do Trades training and look at expanding programs into high schools?

We should look that, but also ensure that any program we create doesn't lock children into a certain program and limit their opportunities for the future. (*Ed. Note: This comment stems from the worry that in Europe, some programs exist which remove students from regular studies and instead puts them in a skills program). A lot of the programs that we have now in high schools are always stuck in the method of being a 'pilot program', and we need to expand these programs and fund them better.

We should also be concerned about Aboriginal employment numbers, which have failed to improve in a 'boom economy', and there is the potential that programs like this could have a positive impact on those numbers, and an impact at on at-risk youth as well.

What is your post secondary plan?

We need to be cautious, as we don't want to fragment education, but we have to ensure that it is accessible across the province. We need to focus on the affordability of education, both in terms of tuition and housing and other related costs.

Furthermore, through the creation of Centres of Excellence, we can create a melting pot of academia and community resources that are able to address policy issues and help with employment, technological investment, and so forth throughout a community.

Last election showed that we have a bit of an 'allergic' reaction when we talk about special treatment or programs for First Nations. How do we deal with that hostile perception to deal with very real problems?

There is no excuse for inaction. We don't need to talk about special deals, but we do need to talk about fairness and equality. We can appeal to people through a sense of fairness, as I think that is a path that will serve as a uniting force to make real progress on these issues. We also need to remind people that we're doing this for all of us; accepting lesser circumstances for anyone means we push lesser circumstances onto us all.

There's been some great work done here at the U of S regarding Aboriginal education and employment. And that work has spoken to the government money that is saved, but also generated, when we close the gap in Aboriginal education and employment.

What should the education funding model look like?

The current model has forced fewer funds onto schools and left them to make difficult decisions. We need a mechanism that reflects student population growth and ensures that schools are receiving accurate funding. Educators are willing to adapt to new challenges, but we need to ensure that they are getting the resources they need to meet these challenges.

We should be proud of our population growth, but at the same time we need to ensure that we grow our infrastructure as well.

Can you expand on your plan on bullying?

We need to addressing bullying, whether that is through legislation that can see bullies removed from an environment or not, but we also need to address the circumstances that lead to bullying. We need to understand why bullying happens and what we can do to change the conditions that create a bully, whether this is in a school or even in a workplace.

Part of this is also getting greater student involvement in stopping bullying. A great movement has started among athletes that see leaders getting more involved in stopping bullying and providing support mechanisms, both on and off the field.

How will you form government?

Policy is important, but we do also need to rebuild our party. Showing that we're a listening party, and showing that we're willing to work with people throughout the province regardless of political support or situation, goes a long way. We need to become more involved in communities, and work with community leaders to get their perspectives and to address issues and concerns that exist for these communities.

I also agree that prohibiting union and corporate donations is a good step for this, as it will remove outside influence from our electoral process and allow the citizens themselves to have a greater say in their participation.

Outside of the questions, there was some light discussion about youth involvement in politics and whether the voting age should be lowered; as well as some light discussion of recent events from inside the Legislature. From there, a core group of 'politicos' (for want of a better word) hung around for quite awhile to talk about politics, the history of the NDP, and a myriad of other topics. 

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