Sask. NDP leadership debate shows small differences between candidates

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WATCH ABOVE: Ryan Meili and Trent Wotherspoon squared off in Moose Jaw for the Saskatchewan NDP's second leadership debate. – Jan 6, 2018

Major political changes are on the horizon for Saskatchewan. There will soon be a new speaker of the house, a new premier, as well as a new leader of the Opposition.

But before any of that can happen, the NDP needs to find its new face. The leadership hopefuls squared off in Moose Jaw on Saturday.

The two men are remarkably similar. Both Saskatoon Meewasin MLA Ryan Meili, and Regina Rosemont MLA Trent Wotherspoon believe in a $15 an hour minimum wage. Both believe in strengthened Crown corporations. They both believe in a greener future.

But in their shared beliefs they differ. Subtly. One of those differences is health care.

READ MORE: Saskatoon MLA Ryan Meili announces platform for Sask. NDP leadership

“My commitment is to deliver universal mental health and addiction services,” announced Wotherspoon. “With urgent wraparound support with emergency mental health care. It will quite literally save lives, but it will also save dollars.”

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Meili’s focus is elsewhere.

“We need to show the people of Saskatchewan that we are ready to lead, ready to lead with universal pharma care,” Meili’s voice was passionate. “So that no one has to choose between the medication they need, and paying their rent.”

The two again differ in how best to handle the province’s Crown corporations.

“I would look for every opportunity to build back the strength in our public services,” explained Wotherspoon, leading into one of his campaign cornerstones. “I would have an accountability commission to act wherever possible.”

While Wotherspoon is focused on legislature, Meili believes it’s not the only solution.

“What really makes a difference is public sentiment,” Meili countered. “If the Crowns are delivering, if they’re growing, if they’re keeping costs low, if they’re employing people, then any government that comes in and wants to change them won’t be able to because of public sentiment.”

Across each area of the debate, it was more of the same. The two hold very similar beliefs, differing only on where they choose to focus.

That became even more visible when discussing the importance of reparations with the province’s Métis and First Nations communities.

It played a major role in Meili’s climate change plans. For Wotherspoon, those reparations begin in the classroom.

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READ MORE: Trent Wotherspoon seeking Sask. NDP leadership

“It’s not fair to anyone that a child can go to a provincial school in Moose Jaw or Regina and receive one amount of funding for that education and close to half of that if they’re on a reserve,” an intense Wotherspoon continued. “We have to close that gap immediately.”

With such similar policies the question then is what will differentiate these two men?

Ryan Meili has the answer: “We’ve been, as New Democrats taking a fairly consistent approach — a fairly play it safe approach — and I think it’s time for us to be a bit bolder.”

Meili will have a number of opportunities to show off that boldness before the leadership convention on March 3. Details on the next debate can be found on the party’s website.