SASKATOON – The Saskatchewan election campaign kicked into gear Tuesday with a leader who consistently rates as one of Canada’s most popular premiers using political history to try to undercut the economic attacks of his rival.
The Saskatchewan Party’s Brad Wall met with Lt.-Gov. Vaughn Solomon Schofield on Tuesday and asked her to dissolve the legislature. That triggered a 27-day campaign that will end at the ballot box on April 4.
“The No. 1 issue in this campaign in the province will be the economy,” Wall told supporters at a campaign kickoff in Saskatoon.
“The question will be which party has the proven record, has the team, has the ideas, has the vision to keep Saskatchewan’s economy strong.”
The premier immediately attacked the NDP, which was in power in the province from 1991 to 2007. Under the New Democrats, he said, Saskatchewan’s population shrank, job creation numbers were poor and surgical wait times were the longest in Canada.
The NDP raised taxes 21 times in 16 years, Wall said.
The New Democrats and their leader Cam Broten punched back.
Broten brushed aside Wall’s criticism as “coming from a guy that’s running nearly a half-a-billion-dollar deficit, coming from a guy who won’t bring forward a budget and be honest and straight with Saskatchewan people about what his plans are for cuts and increased privatization.”
Wall said there will be few campaign promises from the Saskatchewan Party, because he’s trying to watch the province’s finances.
Slumping resource prices have hit the province’s bottom line hard. Shortly before the election began, the government tabled a third-quarter budget update with a $427-million deficit.
Still, Wall said he will proudly campaign on what his government has done since first taking office in 2007 and being re-elected in 2011 with the largest popular vote in the province’s history. He urged candidates to do the same.
“You will have on your side the proven track record of the Saskatchewan Party after eight years in leadership and you’re going to the track record of the other guys when they were in government to help make the case.”
Wall, 50, always ranks at or near the top in polls gauging the most popular premiers in the country and he has steadily gained a more national profile by vehemently opposing a national carbon tax, calling for the abolition of the Senate and championing pipeline projects.
His party held 49 seats at dissolution to the NDP’s nine. Three more seats have been added for this election.
Broten, 37, is heading into his first campaign as NDP leader.
He took aim at the Saskatchewan Party’s fiscal management. He said the government drained a rainy-day savings fund during the sunniest days in the province and put nothing aside for the future.
The question for families is who can they trust to improve health care and education, Broten suggested.
He promised Tuesday to shut down SaskBuilds, the Crown corporation responsible for public-private partnerships used to build everything from schools to roads.
“First step is to cut the waste, then spend in the smartest, most cost- effective way and be focused on things that actually support the economy.”.
The Saskatchewan Party was formed in the 1990s when Liberal and Progressive Conservative members of the legislature joined forces. There are four other parties registered with Elections Saskatchewan, but none has won any seats in Saskatchewan since the Liberals last elected members in 1999.
— With files from CKRM in Regina