Buckdog Interview With Dwain Lingenfelter - New Leader Of The Saskatchewan New Democratic Party
The Saskatchewan New Democratic Party elected Dwain Lingenfelter as its Leader on June 6, 2009 in convention at Regina.
Thank you Mr. Lingenfelter for accepting my request for an interview.
Q. To begin with, during the leadership campaign you stated that you were anxious to implement a process of policy renewal for the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party. Now that you have taken the position of Leader, what can we expect to see upcoming in this regard?
The Saskatchewan NDP is often at its best when we are in opposition. It was while we were in opposition between the time of Premiers’ Lloyd and Blakeney that we came up with the New Deal for People. And I remember well when Roy Romanow implemented a province-wide policy renewal process in the years leading up to the 1991 Provincial Election.
Now is our chance to “dream no little dreams”. We need a systematic and complete review of all of our party policy in preparation for the next election. This was actually the first promise that I made in the leadership campaign. I firmly believe that a social democratic movement is strongest when it has an active, engaged membership, which is listening constantly to the issues and concerns that matter most to people in their communities, and then acting on that information to help form positive solutions to relevant policy challenges.
I have called on the provincial executive of the party to help me with the details of this plan to launch a comprehensive policy renewal process beginning in the Fall of 2009. I am committed to ensuring that this process is public, transparent and accountable. Too often in recent elections, election platforms were the work of select committees of the party, meeting in private, involving too few party members and too few voters in the process. In the 21st century, with new tools and technologies that allow for rapid and interactive discussion, we can and must do better.
The provincial executive of the party will be working on this project over the next few months and will be releasing the details of this plan in the fall. Of particular note to bloggers such as yourself, this process must use some of those new tools and technologies that I mentioned earlier, and I pledge to keep you informed of developments on that front as they occur.
Let me give you some examples. Now these are merely suggestions that I am making to the provincial executive, so I am not promising that all of these suggestions will be incorporated, but they will serve to give you an idea of what we are discussing and what options we are examining.
First of all there needs to be an academic component to any policy review that we undertake. This is not to say that the discussion begins or ends with academics, but that they can help provide us with some of modern developments in certain policy fields as experts in those fields, and help provide us with valuable resources for further study.
Any academic conference in our political party must be balanced out with the wisdom of the general membership and the general public. Imagine an academic conference that was broadcast over the Internet, where anyone could follow the discussion and participate in simultaneous online chat or discussion. This might be a way to engage the academic community and the general membership in a discussion about policy.
Or, take a look at what Barak Obama did successfully after he was elected, during the transition period in the United States. One of his initiatives was the “Citzen’s briefing Book” which was tremendously successful project that enabled everyday Americans to share their expertise and insight with President Obama.
Imagine a “policy round table” where any member of the party or the general public could submit a policy idea or proposal, any member of the party or the public could comment on each others proposals and people could cast their “votes” to indicate which topics were of the most value to them. This could result in a wide range of policy ideas and discussions that would involve any number of people from around the province, of varying levels of expertise.
In any case, no matter what the details, clearly there needs to be an online component to the policy review process. Even very basic features such as using Facebook to notify people of the policy discussions and inviting them to make online submissions, releasing up-to-date information on the webpage and ensuring that the final product is in a “web-friendly” format need to be incorporated from the very beginning of the discussion, and they will be.
We also don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. This is one of the reasons these types of discussions with bloggers and other online citizens is so crucial to the ultimate success of our party, if you or your readers have suggestions – please do not hesitate to let us know about them. We hope that these types of online interviews are merely the fist step in an ongoing dialogue.
Q. I am a member of the large baby boom generation and there is no doubt that this age demographic is going to continue to be felt in our society for sometime yet. At the same time, I am anxious to see younger individuals have opportunities to become more active in both our party and as Members of our provincial Legislative Caucus. What will you do to ensure that our Party becomes relevant to the whole range of ‘generational’ concerns that many younger supporters have?
From the beginning, I have worked closely with the youth of our party. I’ve listened, and learned from a whole new generation of activists. I’ve talked about the need for our candidate team to better reflect the diversity of the Saskatchewan population by involving more women, more First Nations and Métis people, more visible minorities, more trade unionists and more farmers.
Also, I would be lying if I said I was not impressed by the enthusiasm, energy and new ideas that the young members of the party brought, not just to my leadership campaign, but all of the leadership campaigns. There was a dynamic in all camps of this leadership race to truly engage and involve younger and newer members of the party. When I looked around at the leadership convention hall, there were more young people there then has been seen in our party for quite some time. We need to build on that engagement and that excitement.
There are two parts to any plan to engage and excite people. One is to have a message that interests them, the second is to get that message to them. As I have already discussed in my first answer, we need to ensure that there is a message and a vision that people can relate to – and this includes younger people. There must be substantial input in our policy development process from those individuals to ensure that their concerns are reflected in the final product.
Once that policy exists, we need to communicate it to people. With younger people in particular, this means embracing new technology. Be it Facebook and twitter which all the leadership campaigns used, websites or bloggers, increasingly, more and more people are getting their news from purely electronic sources. While not ignoring the traditional forms of communication, we need to embrace and adapt to these new forms of communication as well.
I hope that these types of interviews, with bloggers like you, will begin a dialogue with people who are connected to this new technology and new method of communication. I am genuinely interested in what you have to say on this topic! I look forward to reading a post in the future from you about how you think we can better communicate in the online world.
As to your second point, about getting young people involved in our party and in our legislature, I could not agree more. First of all, I have encouraged both the younger candidates for Leader, Yens and Ryan, to run for seats and get elected to our legislature. We need them on our team, in the House, helping take the fight to Brad Wall and the Sask Party.
The first step towards getting more young people involved in the legislature (as will all target demographics) is getting them involved in the party. My team had many people in their 20s and early 30s involved in every aspect. My co-chair was a young woman in her thirties, all of my policy statements were worked on by people in their late twenties and early thirties, and I have encouraged many of those people, and others, to get involved in elected positions inside the party as a first step to getting elected in the legislature. I am very happy with the diversity of people, particularly young people, that I see getting involved at the constituency level. This is a trend that needs to be nourished and encouraged.
Again, we look to the online world for help here. It is no secret that today’s young people are more familiar with the new technology and the new ways of doing things. We will be looking to young people to play key roles in this space moving forward, and hopefully teaching us old dogs a few new tricks along the way!
Q. Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party seem to have already decided that they want a nuclear power reactor to be constructed in this province even though they said nothing on the topic during the last election campaign. As you know, they are being widely criticized for the rapid process of public consultation that they have adopted. What are your thoughts on the whole area of nuclear power generation in Saskatchewan?
First of all, I would encourage people not to make the same fundamental mistake that Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party have made. It is foolish to think that you can examine the nuclear power issue in isolation. Where is the comprehensive, even-handed, public review of all the energy options available to our province? The energy options we choose for the next twenty years will impact everything from our provincial finances, to our economic growth; from peoples’ health, to our quality of life. These decisions cannot be made without full, public input and understanding.
Let me also say this, and I cannot emphasize this enough, we need a renewed commitment to energy conservation and a mix of both renewable and conventional energy sources to meet our energy needs in the immediate future. We in our party know that the best source of new energy is conservation, and this needs to be one of the cornerstones of any energy plan moving forward.
On the topic of a nuclear reactor, I do not support the construction of a nuclear reactor to generate power within Saskatchewan’s borders unless a public, transparent study has been conducted by a blue ribbon panel of independent experts, showing the people of Saskatchewan that such a project could be sustainable, from both the financial and environmental perspective. This is in line with our party policy, confirmed at our most recent convention, and will no doubt be part of our policy review moving forward.
The Wall government has refused to let the people of Saskatchewan help plan their own energy future. It has stumbled and bumbled into a flawed process that clearly favours a single new energy source, provided by a single, private sector player, while freezing out the people of Saskatchewan.
Much of the Wall government’s information about the nuclear power option has been based on a feasibility study commissioned by the very company that proposes to build the nuclear power plant. As I have said, this is a little like commissioning General Motors to ask if you really need to buy a new car.
The Wall government’s special committee reviewing the nuclear option, the $3 Million Uranium Development Partnership, has conducted its work behind closed doors, is dominated by nuclear proponents and has a limited mandate by the government’s own admission to “make recommendations on Saskatchewan-based value-added opportunities in the uranium industry”. Again, I ask, where is the comprehensive, even-handed, public review of all the energy options available to the people of Saskatchewan?
And as you pointed out in one of your recent posts, Wall is already trying to build a nuclear research reactor that could produce medical isotopes with no consultations, no legislative authority, and with his own Uranium Development Partnership report telling him that this is not feasible. Clearly this is an issue of ideology with the Sask Party and they just cannot be trusted on this file.
Q. Brad Wall has had a fairly cozy relationship with the Harper Conservative Government. In fact, Premier Wall dropped any further action against the federal government with regard to the equalization issue. What is your position on the whole matter of equalization, and can you comment on the Saskatchewan Party government's record on this file?
The equalization file is a crystal clear example of why Saskatchewan people need a Government that will stand up for their interests. Brad Wall has demonstrated that when it comes to an issue as important as $800 million a year that is being stripped from our province that he would rather stand with Stephen Harper and watch the money go to Ottawa than stand with the people of Saskatchewan.
In March, 2005, when Brad Wall was leader of the Opposition Saskatchewan Party and Paul Martin was the Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Wall said in the legislative assembly "I think all sides in this legislature can agree on at least one thing today. The federal equalization formula does not treat Saskatchewan fairly."
As a matter of fact, Mr. Wall and the Saskatchewan Party felt so strongly about the issue that they released a 10 point plan to deal with the matter, which included the concept of launching a Constitutional challenge if negotiations with the federal government weren't successful.
But when governments changed, Brad Wall’s position changed with them.
In 2007, after repeated attempts to negotiate a better deal with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the NDP government launched a Contstitutional challenge. A challenge based on two important principles - equitable treatment with other provinces and provincial ownership of non-renewable natural resources. At the time, Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party supported the idea in principle.
Shortly after the Saskatchewan Party formed government, Mr. Wall acknowledged that Stephen Harper had personally requested that the province drop the Constitutional challenge. In July 2008, the Saskatchewan Party did just that. However, Mr. Wall also noted that he had no intention of releasing the legal opinion surrounding the challenge because it might have to be dusted off for use against some future federal government.
It is clear that Mr. Wall feels this is about politics. The NDP has always known it is about fairness. The constitutional challenge has merit and both levels of government know it, that is why Mr. Harper had to lean on his buddy Brad Wall to drop the lawsuit.
Should the NDP win the next election, I commit to re-launching the lawsuit against the Federal government and I commit to getting a fair equalization deal to help the people of Saskatchewan build a better future right here.
Q. In roughly two years time, Saskatchewan citizens will be voting in a provincial election. As you see it, how would you rate the performance of the Saskatchewan Party government halfway through their mandate?
Well first of all, let me say this. No government, certainly in this province and I doubt in any province in Canada, has ever been handed the reins of power with the province in such good shape. Under the NDP, there was unprecedented economic development, people were moving to the province in record numbers, the books had been balanced for many years and money was just starting to be put in place to deal with social and environmental issues (such as the senior’s drug plan and the $300 million commitment for climate change).
Was our government perfect? Of course not. We made our fair share of mistakes. But no reasonable person could conclude that we left this province worse off then when we took over in the early nineties.
So, yes, Brad Wall’s government has been able to make a number of popular decisions since taking office. But the true test of a government is not how you manage the good times, but how you manage the bad times. And the world is now facing some very tough times indeed.
Sure the Sask Party government has spent a lot of taxpayer’s dollars trying to be popular. But what have we got to show for it? The boom certainly has not benefited all people equally. What about the person earning minimum wage (the Sask Party has been “studying” that for two years but won’t raise the wage)? What about the working families that are struggling under high utility rates and massive rent and housing increases? How would they grade the Wall government? What about working men and women in our province that are seeing their rights stripped away by the Sask Party’s agenda in their ongoing war on labour? How would they grade this government?
And what is the government’s response to all of those people? Nothing.
Worse than nothing, Brad Wall and the Sask Party are simply arrogant in the way they ignore the less fortunate in our society. Arrogance and secrecy are the way this government does business.
When it comes to privatizing our crown corporations by the back door, when it comes to consultations on the nuclear file, when it comes to labour legislation that affects thousands of working people in the province, when it comes to signed agreements with others provinces that take away the rights of municipal governments, when it comes to simple things, like publishing the names of businesses who have been convicted of occupational health and safety violations, when it comes to telling the people of Saskatchewan how much they are going to have to pay in the future to heat their homes and turn on the lights, what answers can you get from this government?
Or worse yet, when you do get an answer, it just shows that they don’t actually care about the people of the province that are left out by the boom.
Let me give you an example, just a few days ago, Statistics Canada released numbers showing that Employment Insurance (EI) recipients in Saskatchewan has increased by over 80 percent from April of last year. An 80% increase in EI. That concerns me, and it should concern you. But it doesn’t concern the Sask Party. The Minister responsible for the file said that it was expected and that there was no cause for alarm. How will those people, the 80% increase, how will those new recipients of EI grade this government?
The only way they will give them an 'A' is if it stands for arrogance.
Mr. Lingenfelter, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.