REGINA — Saskatchewan Party Leader Scott Moe tried to fend off attacks during Wednesday night’s election leaders debate as his main challenger probed for soft spots in the long-governing party’s record.
NDP Leader Ryan Meili accused the incumbent premier of having a hidden austerity agenda as the two parties campaign toward the Oct. 26 vote.
Meili said now is the time for the province to invest in health care, smaller class sizes and infrastructure that will get people back to work.
Moe warned that reckless spending by the NDP would harm the province’s economic recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said the Saskatchewan Party has an economic plan that would make life more affordable for families with cuts to power bills and home renovation tax credits — all while balancing the budget by 2024.
The NDP, Moe charged, has no specific timeline to get out of the red.
“We are going to balance the budget as soon as we are able, but we’re not going to do it in a way that is going to hurt families and that’s the biggest difference,” Meili responded.
“People across the province, they want to see wise fiscal management, but the deficits that the people that I am talking to are the most concerned about are the deficits in our schools, the deficits in our hospitals and the deficits in the bank accounts of ordinary families.”
Moe recalled the financial record of the New Democrats when the party was in power in the 1990s and early 2000s.
“This is the NDP record of not balancing the budget in Saskatchewan,” Moe said.
“Mr. Moe, have you ever balanced a budget?” Meili interjected, a shot at the Saskatchewan Party government’s long string of deficits.
Much of the debate focused on spending and Moe accused the NDP of planning to finance its investments on the backs of taxpayers.
“We will not raise taxes for ordinary families by a single cent,” Meili responded.
“The only increase that we are committed to is asking those very few families — those folks with over $15 million free and clear in assets — to pay a little bit more right now.”
Moe said the NDP numbers don’t add up.
“You are accounting, with your tax increase, for one per cent — one per cent — of your deficit spending that you have put forward. Where is the other 99 per cent going to come from?” Moe asked.
“It’s going to come from you,” he said turning to the camera before Meili could respond.
Meili also tried to score points on the topic of youth suicide, criticizing Moe for not meeting with an Indigenous protester who set up a teepee camp on the lawn in front of the legislature earlier this year. Tristen Durocher fasted for 44 days in an effort to convince the government to legislate a suicide prevention strategy.
Moe countered that he sent two minister to meet with Durocher, even as the province was taking the young man to court to have his teepee removed. The government ended up losing the court case.
“Instead of meeting him, Mr. Moe, you sent two of your ministers across the road to basically say get off my lawn. What kind of a message do you think that sends?” Meili said.
“Words will not get us reconciliation. It takes action.”
The debate was a first for Moe and Meili, who both won their party leadership contests two years ago.
Moe, who moved into the premier’s office when Brad Wall retired from politics in 2018, has recently faced tough questions on the campaign trail about his past.
He apologized to the family of a woman killed in a car crash that he caused in 1997, and he disclosed an impaired driving charge from 1994 that was stayed.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 14, 2020.
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press