File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS                                Ontario deputy NDP leader Jagmeet Singh launches his bid for the federal NDP leadership in Brampton, Ont.

File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS Ontario deputy NDP leader Jagmeet Singh launches his bid for the federal NDP leadership in Brampton, Ont.

NDP contenders square off in Saskatoon

NDP OTTAWA — Four candidates in the running for the NDP’s top job are squaring off in Saskatoon discussing climate change and resource development — a debate that marks the beginning of the homeward stretch in the lengthy race to replace Tom Mulcair in October.

Federal MPs Niki Ashton, Charlie Angus, Guy Caron and Ontario legislator Jagmeet Singh are debating each other in a province where the NDP claimed three seats in the last election.

It’s also where the NDP began its work, candidates said in their opening statements.

The Saskatoon event is the only debate scheduled for the Prairies in advance of the party’s fall leadership vote and the candidates are set to face a number of questions of regional interest during the 90-minute discussion.

Climate change was raised as the first question in the debate.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has been a vocal opponent of the federal Liberal government’s plan to put a price on carbon emissions, vowing to take Ottawa to court should the province be forced to adopt the plan.

To help tackle climate change, Singh has pledged to reduce carbon emissions to 30 per cent of 2005 levels by 2025 — five years ahead of the current Liberal target.

For his part, Angus has argued for adopting a legislated carbon budget to reduce emissions.

Ashton and Caron have both forcefully opposed the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal to carry oil from Alberta to British Columbia, but have yet to unveil their full climate plans.

Regina New Democrat MP Erin Weir, who has vocalized support for the Alberta NDP government’s income-tested rebate scheme to supplement the province’s carbon tax, says all candidates need to explain how they would help make carbon pricing work for Saskatchewan.

“Emulating this progressive approach would make carbon pricing more palatable in Saskatchewan and other provinces,” Weir said in a statement prior to the debate.

“The federal government, which will collect GST from carbon pricing, (should) provide a direct transfer to lower-income Canadians to help offset carbon costs.”

Ottawa could encourage companies to stay put in Canada by taxing the carbon content of imports while rebating any tax on the carbon content of exports, Weir added.

The debate follows the recent departure from the race of Peter Julian — a veteran B.C. MP who announced last week he was bowing out of the race due to financial reasons ahead of the release of second quarter Elections Canada results later this month.

Julian said he plans to throw his support behind one of the campaigns, adding he will speak with the remaining contenders before making his decision known.

During the Saskatoon event, candidates will answer questions submitted through the party’s website.

There’s also debate of those answers and will have at least two opportunities to ask a question of each other.

Candidates have also been given the option of using a so-called “wild card” for the first time, designed to allow the hopefuls to take the floor to make a statement or rebuttal.

The next NDP leadership debates will happen in August in Victoria and Montreal as well as in Vancouver in September.

Online voting in the leadership race will begin on Sept. 18, with results to be announced in October after each round of balloting.

—Follow @kkirkup on Twitter

Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press