Friday, November 23, 2012

Editorial Content: Riffing on A Leadership Idea

Taking a moment to step outside of the leadership race, I'd like to talk a little bit about the impact that it's been having on regular politics here in the province of Saskatchewan. Yesterday, Premier Brad Wall stepped forward and said the cuts to the refugee health provisions made by the federal government were "unbelievable" and shouldn't happen in a country like Canada, where we believe in helping and looking out for one another.

It's a noble sentiment, and one that I think most people would agree on with the Premier; however it comes at an awkward time.

I say this because while Brad Wall is finally standing up for refugee health coverage in our province, he's not the first Premier to do so; and furthermore his opponents in the NDP leadership race have been talking about this issue for months.

In fact, Manitoba was the first to lead the charge with its government saying that it would pick up costs for refugees were no longer covered due to the federal cuts. Furthermore, British Columbia and Quebec hopped onto the same bandwagon and promised to do the same in their own respective provinces.

This is not a new issue; the fact of the matter is that provinces have been stepping up to condemn the federal government's decision to make these cuts for months. And Brad Wall, in traditional Saskatchewan Party manner, decided to stay silent refusing to really take a stand against Ottawa one way or another on this issue.

Which brings me to the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race. Ryan Meili and Cam Broten are the two candidates I can think of who have actively talked about this issue for very long time. Ryan has done so in his capacity as a doctor, and through various community events, to call on the government to respect refugees in this province and extend the coverage that we've seen in Manitoba and British Columbia.

Cam has done much of the same in the legislature, through his role as a member, and through calling on the government to extend coverage to these refugees; while at the same time bringing forward specific cases of people who have lost coverage and are now in dire straits financially and medically.

So we see two strong candidates in the NDP leadership race mentioning this issue with regular frequency. And yet, up until now our, Premier has remained silent on the issue.

So why the sudden change in heart?

The answer is surprisingly simple. Brad Wall, like his federal counterparts in Ottawa, is a man who is very aware of his public image and how the public perceives him and his government. As such, he is very calculating figure (as is his party) in determining the best course of action to take in order to maximize public profile while at the same time decreasing public outrage.

The story of a man with cancer undergoing chemotherapy, and being denied antinausea drugs that would enhance his treatment, pulls at the heartstrings and would generally outrage anybody who couldn't believe that the government wouldn't step in to assist this person.

Hence Mr. Saskatchewan to the rescue, with Brad Wall suddenly taking on the role defender of the common person and the beholder of the Canadian Ideal of standing up and helping one another.

But where was this outrage from the premiere months ago? Where were the comments of it being "unbelievable" when the federal government first announced the plan to revoke coverage for these people in our country? As I mentioned, Manitoba and British Columbia were very quick to announce that their governments would extend health care coverage to these people; yet the Saskatchewan Government dragged it's heels and didn't commit to anything and didn't say anything.

Even Ryan Meili called on the government to cover people people weeks ago, the government continued to remain silent. It wasn't until Cam Broten stood up and related this specific case to the legislature, and quite literally to the public by putting a public face on the issue, that the government was finally willing to stand up and do something about it.

And yet this isn't even a full victory. As Ryan has pointed out, the government is committed to provide antinausea drugs for this specific individual but they haven't yet announced whether or not they will be expanding coverage to everyone who is been denied by the federal cuts.

So while we can commend the Premier for finally taking a stand and standing up to his federal counterparts, we also have to realize the true motivations behind this decision. If this were about doing the right thing, this decision would've happened months ago when the cuts were first announced. Instead, we've seen the government drag its feet and make no real hems or haws about the issue until it was raised by prominent leaders in the opposition.

So, while the Premier can say this is about doing the right thing and continuing the Canadian tradition of looking out for each other; we know instead that this is carrying on a new Canadian tradition, spearheaded by the Harper Conservatives, the tradition of saying and doing anything that is absolutely necessary to keep your public image ahead of the other team.

At this point, it is too little too late to truly applaud the Premier for making this decision; as it should have come far sooner and with less prodding by the opposition.

At the very least, this shows that the Saskatchewan Party is listening quite actively to what is happening in the NDP leadership race. Furthermore it shows, or at least suggest that their polling data is showing, that people are liking what they are hearing coming from the NDP candidates; which is why they feel it necessary to start taking action on some of the issues of these candidates are talking about.

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