Sask Party race: Premier candidates talk students and advanced education

By in Features/News

After winning the provincial election on Apr. 4, 2016, Brad Wall announced his retirement on Aug. 10, 2017, after a decade as Premier of Saskatchewan. Now, five candidates* are running to be the next leader of the Saskatchewan Party, and the subsequent premier of the province, a position that will be determined at a leadership convention on Jan. 27, 2018.

Each candidate took time to discuss their student-related platform points with the Sheaf in a question-and-answer interview, and both Tina Beaudry-Mellor and Scott Moe answered by email correspondence.

Which of your platform points will appeal most to students? What do you want to draw students’ attention to?

Tina Beaudry-Mellor: “I am committed to growing the entrepreneurial ecosystem in our province. The Conference Board of Canada indicates that the tech sector will be the largest source of job growth in the next decade. I also know … from many conversations with university students that many are interested in working for themselves and creating their own business rather than punching a clock.

“I have put forward details in my Next- Gen economic plan, … but it includes … working with our post-secondary institutions to ensure pathways to tech entrepreneurship, providing a 25 per cent tax incentive for new start-ups [and] moving the Status of Women Office to be housed directly under the Office of the Premier, so a gender-based lens will be applied to all we do, with a specific focus on economic- development opportunities for women.

“This is one of [the] many ways we begin to equip women with the financial security they need to leave situations of interpersonal violence and abuse — a problem which our province has a serious problem with.”

Ken Cheveldayoff:  “I think that my position is all about growth in the province. We’ve had 10 years of strong growth under Brad Wall. When we first started, we were, … just around a million people, and now we’re almost 1.2 million people.

“What I’m looking for is another 10 years of growth, and with that comes jobs for university graduates and university students while they are going to school, so I think that is very appealing to students on campus.”

Alanna Koch: “I have been specific in my platform about diversifying the economy — definitely focusing on our natural strength, but then seeing how we can see more value-added opportunity in all of our key natural resource vectors, as well as diversifying our economy into the home-grown tech and innovation sector.

“I’ve had young entrepreneurs tell me what we need is more attraction of investment, because often times, these new businesses — particularly in the tech sector — are quite capital intensive. And so, of course, these new young entrepreneurs just out of university don’t have much capital, obviously, to build their businesses — they have great ideas.

“So, I’ve talked about bringing in an Angel Investment Tax Credit for those new entrepreneurs to attract investment capital and be able to build their businesses, and for their own purposes, to then create jobs for others.”

Scott Moe: “I want to continue the growth that Saskatchewan has experienced over the last decade and grow Saskatchewan’s population to 1.5 million people by the year 2030. Growth creates opportunities, especially for our students. Growth gives our young people a reason to stay here [to] start a career or start their own business and to start their own family.”

Gord Wyant: “In terms of advancing post-secondary-educational opportunities, that requires resources from government, but that’s what also drives our economy. We have an economy that has disruptors in it every day, so we need to make sure we are training people to fulfill the roles that they need in an everchanging economy.

“So, refocusing on what resources post-secondary education needs, and … when we make cuts to the amount that we are giving post-secondary education, we’re ignoring the fact that these are investments.”

If you are elected Premier of Saskatchewan, would the Graduate Retention Program continue to provide post-secondary graduates who live and work in Saskatchewan up to $20,000 in tax credits?

Beaudry-Mellor: “Yes, the Graduate Retention Program is an important and popular program. I want our young people to stay and grow in our province.”

Cheveldayoff: “I’m a very strong proponent of the program, and I think the numbers speak for themselves. It’s been a very, very successful program, and since 2008, nearly 70,000 students have taken advantage of the Graduate Retention Program, receiving around $345 million in tax credits.”

Koch: “I’d retain it. I’m committed to it, but I would leave it as is, and I guess, in the years ahead, if we get more fiscal capacity and students think that it’s not enough support, well, then I can have a look at it another time.”

Moe: “Before the Sask Party became government in 2007, young people were leaving the province in droves, … because there weren’t opportunities in Saskatchewan… This program has played an integral role in our population growth of over 160,000 people in the past 10 years, so if I become premier, the Graduate Retention Program will continue.”

Wyant: “I support the [Graduate] Retention Program, and I think that we need to look at expanding it, because … keeping people in Saskatchewan that are trained in Saskatchewan is very important.”

If elected Premier of Saskatchewan, would you maintain the cuts to post-secondary education year-to- year or could the University of Saskatchewan expect base operating costs to be restored?

Beaudry-Mellor: “I think there are opportunities to work with industry — something that Saskatchewan Polytechnic has done successfully, and as a result, about 90 per cent of its graduates find employment upon graduation.

“There are some opportunities for us to both meet the challenge of a major drop in provincial revenues and still equip our future workforce with the tools they need.”

Cheveldayoff: “Since we became government, each and every year, the grants to advanced education have gone up, with the exception of last year, where — because of the resource royalties and the $1.3 billion of revenues the government doesn’t have anymore — there had to be a rollback of around 5 per cent in the budget.

“I’m all about growth and trying to grow the economy so that we can restore funding to health care and education and social services. So, certainly, I would be doing all I can to grow the economy so that we can get back to record levels of funding.”

Koch: “At this point, what we need to do is make sure we are getting the most effective use out of the dollars that are being spent, and then, as we see our resource revenues recover and we’ve got more fiscal capacity, we can look to provide more funds where needed.

“I have said that I would take an additional year to balance the budget, because I think last year’s budget was tough. And, [we] need to look at moving back on some things that had unintended consequences or where we perhaps have overreached on taxes — like the insurance tax.”

Moe: “One of my previous roles as part of Brad Wall’s government was the minister of advanced education, so I know the importance of post- secondary education for our students… I want to sit down with our post-secondary partners and find creative, cost-effective ways of delivering post-secondary education to our students, so we can balance the budget in 2019 while still providing high-quality education.”

Wyant: “Education is a key priority for me, so — to the extent that I can restore that funding — I am going to work to try to do that… If it means expanding and advancing further funds for post-secondary education, we’ve got to look at that, too, because we have to look at our labour-market needs, and we’ve got to look at all the opportunities that the universities and our technical institutes can provide to us to make sure we’re going to meet the challenges of the new economy.

“It’s not just a matter of restoring funding but a matter of looking [to] enhance funding where that needs to happen, and that starts with a respectful dialogue between our universities and our technical institutes.”

What television character would you describe your personality as or identify with the most?

Cheveldayoff: “The cartoon character the Road Runner, because I get up in the morning and go all day, and the next morning, I get up [in the] morning and I go all day, and I’ve been logging about 30,000 kilometres as I travel around Saskatchewan.”

Koch: “From the show Madam Secretary, the character is Elizabeth McCord — [she is] values-based, which I always focus on, and she seeks out creative solutions and is a mom with a husband, who also has an active career, and they’re always balancing family duties between them as a team.”

Moe: “Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, but that might be a bit of a stretch.”

What is one fun fact about you?

Beaudry-Mellor: “I listen to hip hop… I love Post Malone, but I also like Gucci Mane, Migos and Kendrick Lamar.”

Wyant: “I love restoring old cars. It’s kind of my passion, and I’ve been doing it for quite a number of years. I’ve restored a ’65 Mustang, and I’ve currently got a ’57 Ranchero that I’m working on.”

*Due to the Sheaf’s holiday production schedule, this article was written a number of weeks before the official publication of the paper. In the intervening time, some of the candidates may have pulled out of the race.

Nykole King / News Editor

All photos supplied by candidates