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The Year in Politics: An interview with Sask. NDP Leader Cam Broten
Published Wednesday, December 31, 2014 7:00PM CST
CTV Regina’s Heather Anderson and Wayne Mantyka recently sat down with Saskatchewan NDP Opposition Leader Cam Broten for an annual year-end interview, which is transcribed below.
CTV News: To begin, let’s talk a little bit about the year that was, 2014. Are you and your party where you thought you would be this time last year, a year later?
NDP Opposition Leader Cam Broten: Well, I’m really pleased with this past year that we’ve had as an opposition. We’ve grown into an effective opposition, where we hold government to account, we’re shining a light on the things that need to be fixed and we’re also coming forward with good solutions, and it’s been good. You know, for the first few years, this government had a pretty easy ride and I know now we have grown into an effective opposition, and I see it in their faces and their responses. They don’t really like it that much, but we’re definitely going to keep doing our job and hold this government to account.
CTV News: Now that you have close two years under your belt as a leader of the opposition, how do you feel about your position and the kind of work that you do and the issues that you deal with?
NDP Opposition Leader Cam Broten: Well, I love it. It’s an honour to be in this role and to work with people. What we’ve really focused on as an opposition is listening to Saskatchewan people. So, you’ll see the things that we’ve raised in the legislature and outside of the legislature, these are the concerns that Saskatchewan people have brought to us, and it’s a real honour for them to trust us with their concerns. Often, when we think about seniors care and health care, it’s often very difficult family circumstances with a lot of pain and tragedy at times. And for them to trust us with their stories, to bring them forward, to, yes, help to address an individual family’s concern, but to have that broader focus and application on how we can make the health-care system better for everyone. When we have families that have come to the legislature, that’s what I’ve heard from all of them. They’ve said, “we want to share our story so that others can learn from this and that other families don’t have to go through what we’ve experienced.
CTV News: Now, as for you and being in this high-profile role, it’s very busy. Has it been taxing on your family taking on such a high-profile role and the experience that you’ve had over the past two years. What’s it been like?
NDP Opposition Leader Cam Broten: It’s busy but there are a lot of families in Saskatchewan that are busy. We have three girls; we had a new daughter join our family in July. So, we have Ingrid, Clara and Gudrun and my wife, Ruth. The family popped by the legislature this last sitting and it was great to have them there. Sometimes, my four-year-old watches question period. She knows it’s on after lunchtime, so she’ll watch to see a bit. I miss them a great deal during the week, but we do a lot of FaceTime, a lot of Skype and it’s been fun this last season during Advent. The kids would do a Christmas ornament craft each day, take a picture of it while I’m in Regina and send me the picture. It was a little way to stay in touch during the day, which I really appreciated a lot when I’m here.
CTV News: Now, the fall session in the legislature was really dominated by health-care issues and we’re hearing some terrible stories about seniors care.
NDP Opposition Leader Cam Broten: It’s been a big concern and it continues to be. You know, as families have come forward to the legislature and their stories have been shared, what we’ve seen from this government is a very dismissive approach, trying to minimize the problems and pretend that they’re just isolated incidents. But when we hear all the families who have come forward from all over the province and the steady stream of people, it’s clear that there is a crisis in seniors care and more needs to be done. And it’s also clear, in listening to families and frontline workers, that the steps this government has taken, like removing the minimum care standards that were in place, have really had a negative effect on the quality of care, and things have gotten worse over the past few years.
CTV News: Now, the government says that these could possibly be isolated cases and they’ve called in the ombudsman to investigate one and perhaps more cases. I think there were up to 10 that the ombudsman has received at her office. Would you expect changes? What changes would you like to see once we have this report in hand.
NDP Opposition Leader Cam Broten: Well, there absolutely should be changes and we don’t have to wait until the report to make those changes. You know, there are some really concrete things that we’ve been bringing forward that should happen. First off, we should have minimum care standards put in place, so families know, residents know, what kind of care they can expect. Right now, there’s very vague general guidelines, which clearly aren’t working because we have all of these stories coming forward. We need better staffing levels, that’s absolutely part of it, too, which will flow out of the standards, and we also need things like an independent seniors’ advocate. The ombudsman has an important role, but the ombudsman investigates things once there’s been a tragedy or there’s been a death or things have gone horribly wrong. So, an advocate can help propose some of the system changes that are needed to make things better, and it’s about choices. This government has untold millions for its Lean pet project, but it is starving the front lines and not having enough staff to do the job.
CTV News: That was the other question I wanted to ask you about, the Lean initiative. The government says that long-term, this will save money. Is it too early to criticize the Lean initiative?
NDP Opposition Leader Cam Broten: It’s been going on for a number of years now, and none of the government’s rationale holds water, as to this being an effective approach, and it’s especially with this John Black version of Lean that this government has bought into – $40 million on one U.S. consultant. This government is still flying in senseis from Japan and paying them $3,500 a day, all at a time when there are big needs on the front lines. So, the government’s own stats through the Health Quality Council show that the health outcomes are not getting better. We have the evidence from families and workers, who have clearly said that it’s not working. Then, the government’s own information – we had freedom of information requests released by health regions that talked about savings – and they’re meagre, especially compared to the untold millions that are being offered up. (Prince Albert) Parkland Health Region, as one example had saved, since February of 2013, $131.26. That’s nothing, and so we’ve been pushing for the cancellation of this John Black contract because it’s not bringing the intended results… The minister said that John Black doesn’t even tailor his program for Saskatchewan’s needs and we have senior health officials say that it’s overly militaristic, it doesn’t follow basic adult learning approaches; it’s clearly not working. We need some good Saskatchewan common sense here. When it’s actually Saskatchewan people coming together – frontline workers and staff and family coming up with solutions – that’s a good thing, and that can be part of Lean. But the type of Lean that this government has adopted and bought into hook, line and sinker definitely is not working here in Saskatchewan. And if we were serious about spending dollars wisely, the contract would be cancelled, and it would have been cancelled some time ago, and those resources would be put onto the front lines.
CTV News: The Assembly of First Nations has elected a new chief, Perry Bellegarde, from our province… Bellegarde would seem to be once again raising the issue of oil and other resource revenue sharing with provinces. It’s been debated in the past, the premier said he’s not willing to make any special deals with any particular group. Where does the NDP stand on that?
NDP Opposition Leader Cam Broten: Well, the way that it was presented in the last election by our party did not work for me, did not work for the people of the province and didn’t work for First Nations. I’ve heard this clearly from many First Nations leaders and normal people as well. It simply was not the right approach, but we know we’ve got a great opportunity in this province, an opportunity to close gaps; an opportunity to ensure that Saskatchewan is actually strong for generations to come. That’s what’s needed and to do that, we need to ensure that everyone in the province benefits from the resources that we have here. That includes First Nations and non-First Nations people, but we know that there are big problems. You know when education on reserve is funded at 60 per cent of the level that my kids will be funded for their education in Saskatoon, that’s a problem. You know, you don’t need to be an expert in education policy to know that you’re going to have worse outcomes when there’s such a discrepancy in funding. So, we’ll have very concrete and tangible proposals as we get closer to the election, but it’s time for the province and for the feds and for First Nations to look at issues like differences in education funding and think about how we can come up with better approaches.
CTV News: Now, Cam we do have another question from one of our viewers. We’ll let you listen to it and then respond:
Viewer: I would like to ask what the NDP is doing and planning to address climate change and also ask why the NDP is in support of the Keystone pipeline, and how those two things are compatible?
NDP Opposition Leader Cam Broten: Well, it’s important that we have good environmental policy in this province. And especially as a trading province with resources that we ship to many places, we need to make sure we do that in the safest way and a way that brings benefits to the province for the dollars that we need to run the programs that we need. So, it’s important to get the resources that we have to market, and that’s why projects are important to support. But we also have to have smart policy, especially on climate change, especially on greenhouse gases, that fits with the things that we want to accomplish. We have now (Saskatchewan Premier Brad) Wall saying, well, we can’t come forward with environmental policy as it relates to greenhouse gases because we’re waiting for the federal government, for (Prime Minister) Stephen Harper to do something. Stephen Harper says we’re waiting for the Republican Congress to do something. Well, that’s not going to happen, but we can look right next door to Alberta, where they have things like a technology fund that support innovation and support improvements to the climate, and these are things that we should be doing in Saskatchewan, that should be implemented, things that this government has promised to do but hasn’t and, so, we’re calling for that. So, we need a much broader approach. This government has placed zero emphasis on renewables, on conservation programs and the recent budget, it seems like anything with green in the budget usually faces some type of cut.
CTV News: Looking ahead to the 2015 budget, oil prices are falling significantly and things will be tight. So, if you were to write the budget for 2015, what would be in it? What would you trim down and where would you look to increase revenue?
NDP Opposition Leader Cam Broten: Well, the first thing that needs to happen is to have this government’s Lean pet project through John Black stopped. We know we are continuing to shovel millions and millions out the door and we need to spend dollars wisely, that’s important, and so that’s an obvious place where we can start. Those dollars should be put onto the front lines. I know the minister talks about a one-time payment fund that was created to address seniors care issues, it was $10 million, but not even all that money has gone out the door, and that’s a problem. But the need is great and is immense. When (health) regions put forward their requests for projects, they talked about the need for 450 care aids in the Saskatoon Health Region to improve care to where it needs to be. They knew there were limited funds, so they asked for 38 and all they got were 19. So, I can’t understand why we are still flying in senseis and paying them as we are, still having the huge travel bills and hotel bills for the U.S. consultant, while there are needs on the front line. So, that’s a key area where we need to look.
CTV News: So, trimming that when it comes to the Lean initiative, would that be enough to make up for those falling oil prices?
NDP Opposition Leader Cam Broten: It’s also about how we can better diversify our economy and support economic activity in the province. In that vein, something we’ve done to support local businesses, which pay taxes and contribute to the provincial coffers, is to bring forward legislation to fix this government’s approach to procurement when a Crown corporation or ministry gets products or services. Right now, the government just looks at lowest initial price and, while that’s important, it doesn’t actually determine whether or not a project and going with a certain bidder is the best value over the long run. Any consumer, when they go out to buy something new, yeah you look at initial price, but you look at quality, you look at warranty, you look at the track record of the company, and all of these components determine whether or not it’s the best value. So, when I’ve spoken with many in the business sector, especially steel fabricating, as an example, they tell me how it’s so frustrating to be giving out pink slips to workers while they see semis rolling in with work for Crowns from California, Texas, Quebec and Ontario. So, if we have better procurement policies, that also goes a long way to supporting business locally, keeping the tax base up, and ensuring that we actually have a diversified economy here in the province. We can look at other examples of the film industry of how we’ve gone in the wrong direction under this government.
CTV News: Observers have noted that your party really started to hit its stride in this session – you alluded to that yourself in earlier remarks… Have you changed something internally in how the opposition operates and thinks or do you think, perhaps, the government has lost a little bit of its political edge and is, perhaps, giving you more to work with?
NDP Opposition Leader Cam Broten: Well, you know, we’ve had a focused plan, we’ve been working hard and that’s what my team of MLAs, that’s what we do, we listen to people in the province and bring those concerns forward. You know, I remember doing these types of interviews last year and, yeah, we were talking more about having gone through the leadership process, and that’s all necessary things that the party had to go through. But, now, we’re at a point where we have a determination to hold this government to account and to bring forward the good ideas, and that’s what we’re doing. So, as we’ve been really focused talking about the smart meter mess that has this government’s fingerprints all over it; as we’ve talked about the problems with Lean, the problems in seniors care, yeah, we’ve been going at it in a determined way because this is what we’re hearing from the Saskatchewan public.
CTV News: You’re hearing that from the Saskatchewan public but, just recently, Premier Brad Wall was voted the most popular premier in the country again. So, how do you combat that and how do you compete with that?
NDP Opposition Leader Cam Broten: Well, that doesn’t surprise me because I know that things don’t turn around overnight. We haven’t gotten to the point we are now, as a credible opposition holding government to account, we didn’t get here overnight and we will not be earning the trust of the Saskatchewan people overnight. It takes a lot of work, it takes determination and it has to also include maintaining that listening ear. But what I see from government, and I saw it very clear in this sitting, is an increased sense of entitlement, an increased lack of awareness of what families really care about, and a really dismissive approach on a lot of issues. I saw minister after minister stand and give really evasive answers, either to opposition critics or to journalists in scrums and interviews afterwards, and so, I think that is a change. This government had an easy go of things for a number of years without an effective opposition and with resource prices where they were, I understand where we’re at. But we’re committed to the work and I’m pleased with what we’ve accomplished over this last year. I know we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, I’ve been aware of that the whole time, and we’re committed to doing it.
CTV News: We have another question from one of our viewers and here it is:
Viewer: What are you going to do in the upcoming years for children in the school system with learning disabilities?
NDP Opposition Leader Cam Broten: Well, that’s a great question and I’ve dealt with a lot of families who have been wrestling with this and how to get the best care for their children, and from a lot of teachers who are frustrated that the right resources aren’t there in the classroom to ensure that every student has the help that he or she needs. The role of education assistants is a really important one and we need to ensure that EAs are there to work alongside teachers so that the supports are there, in addition to all the many other professionals that work and provide help to children. You know, education is such an important thing and what I hear from a lot of parents and teachers is that they can’t understand that in the past few years, when the economy has been strong, why the right resources haven’t been placed into the classroom. Why are classroom sizes so large? Why is this government having to resort to a rent-a-school project from corporations for the building of new schools? It doesn’t add up, especially when we see the huge increase in the provincial budget that has occurred over the past years.
CTV News: There is an upcoming provincial election and it’s now not too far off. Do you have any idea what your platform is going to hold as we get closer to that provincial election?
NDP Opposition Leader Cam Broten: Well, I’m sorry… I’m not rolling it out tonight, I apologize. But, you know, you’re going to see some consistent themes with what we’ve been talking about so far. A good, strong focus on health care, on seniors care, on education and support (for) local businesses and ensuring we have a good economy and, so, we’ll see a focus on that. And as we look at the election, I have to say I’m really thrilled with the candidates we have coming forward – great diversity, good experience and I’m really pleased to see the team coming together and looking forward to the election is ahead.
CTV News: Speaking of which, what are your priorities, more short-term, for 2015?
NDP Opposition Leader Cam Broten: Well, I want us to continue to have a strong focus that is determined by what we’re hearing from Saskatchewan people. So, we’ll continue to talk about the need to fix seniors care in this province, we’ll be continuing to call for accountability around the smart meters fire mess that we see carrying on here in the province, and we’re going to continue to talk about the need for a good, sustainable economy that is really diversified. So, we’ve had a concerted forcus over the past months and you can expect that to continue.
CTV News: Looking back at the past 12 months, if the opposition was given a do-over on one thing, what would you choose?
NDP Opposition Leader Cam Broten: That’s a good question. I think of one woman who came to the legislature, her name was Laura, and she had a story, she needed surgery and the government wouldn’t cover it, and she did an exceptional job of talking about her own story. But I was sad because I felt I didn’t do the best job that I could have in explaining it in the interviews afterwards, and the government hasn’t changed its view of covering her surgery, and they should have, that’s what the facts are showing. So, I wish I was able to re-do that one, in terms of communicating it better than I did. I take it really seriously when a family or an individual comes forward with a concern, and it’s so important to get it right and that’s what we strive to do.
CTV News: When did you first realize that you were a New Democrat? Does it run in your blood?
NDP Opposition Leader Cam Broten: My grandpa was elected in the ‘60s. We were a pretty tight family, with my parents and my grandparents, we were tight and we had a cabin together with my grandpa and grandma and I would see them every week a few times. So, maybe I was influenced by my grandpa in what I’m interested in doing. But, fundamentally, politics is about people. It’s about ensuring that families and communities are doing well and, whether you’re in politics or a whether one’s a teacher or operating a good family business in a community, that’s what makes Saskatchewan what it is and there’s so many different ways that people can serve.
CTV News: We are almost out of time but quickly, we’d love you to be able to wish your holiday greetings to the people of Saskatchewan.
NDP Opposition Leader Cam Broten: Well, I want to say I hope you’ve had a great Christmas together with your family. I hope you’ve had a bit of rest and relaxation, and I hope that 2015 is a good year for you, with prosperity and well-being for your family. So, all the best in the new year.
CTV News: Alright, thank you very much, Cam, and thank you for your time tonight, we certainly do appreciate it.
NDP Opposition Leader Cam Broten: Thank you.