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Year-end Q & A with Opposition Leader Cam Broten
Published Wednesday, January 1, 2014 6:56PM CST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 1, 2014 7:14PM CST
CTV News recently sat down with Saskatchewan NDP Leader Cam Broten to discuss the past year in politics. The following is a transcript of the year-end interview that aired Tuesday night.
CTV News: It has certainly been quite the year for you personally and professionally – and for the province of Saskatchewan as well. How would you characterize 2013?
Opposition Leader Cam Broten: A busy, but eventful year from my perspective, and the perspective of our party. It’s been a really positive year. Of course, we went through the leadership process, which was a busy time – but we’re really now at a point of looking ahead and doing the work that is required. We just finished up the fall sitting not too long ago, and we’ve really been focusing on issues that matter to families here in the province. So – an eventful, busy, productive year.
CTV News: Let’s go back to March 9 – a date you’ll remember well – the day you were elected Leader of the NDP. Take us back to that convention – how important was that leadership move for the party?
Opposition Leader Cam Broten: What we saw through the leadership process really was a generational shift within the party – among the candidates, among the teams that were working hard. There were many younger people taking on really important roles within the party. We welcomed in a tremendous amount of young people – I remember being at the convention, and lined up in the hallway there were a number of strollers. And that really spoke to the vibrancy and the activity that was going on. So it’s a very important time for our party, and really a new chapter for us as New Democrats here in Saskatchewan.
CTV News: Now as the win turned out, it was razor thin – what does that say about the NDP in the province?
Opposition Leader Cam Broten: Well, it says we had a good race and there was lots of interest and lots of people wanting to have a say. But what I was most impressed about was – following the leadership race – how the party came together, and how people were active in different campaigns. It really became not about an individual campaign, but about the larger work that we need to do as a party, and the larger work that we are doing as a party.
CTV News: Well, 44 votes separated you and Ryan Meili on that final ballot of your victory. You and many other New Democrats then said “it’s important to unite the party” – and here’s how you put it after winning the leadership race:
“We are a strongly united team right now. I’ve been so impressed today in having people come up to me and say “you may not have been our top pick, but we are very supportive and we want to play a role” – and that’s my pledge to the members. I want everyone involved.”
CTV News: Have you been able to do that? Have you been able to keep the Ryan Meili supporters engaged?
Opposition Leader Cam Broten: Yes – and it’s because we’re so conscious of this, and wanting to ensure that there was strong unity. We took some deliberate steps to build bridges and to have people involved in productive ways. The composition of our executive within the party is diverse and represents different groups that have been active over the years. So, we’ve taken some deliberate steps and it really is about looking forward now and doing the work that we need to do.
CTV News: Have you met with Ryan Meili himself, since the leadership race?
Opposition Leader Cam Broten: Oh, absolutely. We’ve had a number of meetings – we actually invited him to our caucus planning session that we had a while ago, to hear from him.
CTV News: What advice has he given you?
Opposition Leader Cam Broten: To focus on things that matter. Ryan is really busy right now with his project Upstream – which is non-partisan – but is seeking to continue to talk about a healthy society and how we can better organize ourselves.
CTV News: Well, he did talk about a healthy society – and health was one of his main messages, of course. How much of that are you willing to adopt as the NDP goes forward?
Opposition Leader Cam Broten: It’s a very sound message and a very important one. It ties in with the strong focus that we’ve had in this most recent city, in terms of topics that we’ve been talking about. In the last months, we’ve had such a strong focus on seniors’ care, on health care…yes, addressing the situation when someone is ill and sick, but also talking about how we can have a stronger education system, how we can have the right steps early on to prevent people from becoming ill. So, we have that broader focus, that broader attention, and are benefitting greatly from the work and the focus that [Meili] has added to what we’re doing.
CTV News: It’s been almost 10 months since you took on the leadership. It’s a big responsibility; you’re a young man in your mid-thirties – how has all this changed you personally?
Opposition Leader Cam Broten: Well, it has been a change – but it’s been a good one. Reflecting back on the last year and the last months that we’ve had, I have a real sense of gratitude to a whole lot of people. And while a lot of attention is placed on the leader – and the leaders of parties are hugely important in how our system works – there are so many people that play an important role, from the advice you get when you’re grocery shopping, to the people who are committed and do the work of politics. It really is about a whole lot of people pitching in and doing their part.
CTV News: So you’re not a changed man at all? This hasn’t changed your personality?
Opposition Leader Cam Broten: To be successful in politics – and I think every MLA figures this out once they’re elected – you really have to be true to yourself and you have to be authentic. If you’re trying to be something you’re not, I don’t think there’s a lot of success there and people can pick up on that. So my orientation is to be grounded in what I believe, rely on my family and friends for support and really to remember why I’m doing this job, and to be focused on the job. There’s a lot of noise every day – a lot of really important noise – but it’s important to have a plan, to have a view of where we want to go, and stick with it.
CTV News: Now you mentioned family – we had the pleasure of getting to know your wife Ruth, earlier in the fall in our ‘First Ladies of Saskatchewan’ special. How has her role changed now that you’ve taken over the leadership of the party?
Opposition Leader Cam Broten: Ruth is amazing – and I’m so fortunate to be married to her and to be raising a family with her. I am busier and I am away more, and Ruth is very accomplished in her own profession, but she does a lot at home, and when I’m gone, takes the heavy load of raising our kids. As Ruth commented in that interview…she talked about the importance of having stability at home, and in terms of providing honest feedback as well. She’s not a hyper-partisan person, so she’s a very good sounding board and gives honest, frank advice of what her view is – and I really benefit from that.
CTV News: After you were elected leader of the NDP, you told New Democrats you wanted to – and I’ll quote here – “revitalize our party so we can earn back the trust of Saskatchewan people”. First of all, why do you think the NDP lost the trust of the people of Saskatchewan, and how do you go about getting that trust back?
Opposition Leader Cam Broten: I think over years of government, New Democratic government did many, many great things in terms of addressing the financial situation Mr. [Roy] Romanow had to deal with, and the good work and the good economic steps that Mr. [Lorne] Calvert took – great work went on by the NDP governments. But over time, one can become complacent – and what I really sense now in the party is that there is no sense that we’re entitled to anything, and really we do have to earn the trust of people. We do that by focusing on things that matter and coming forward in a relevant way and being consistent in what we’re talking about. So at a party level, that’s important work to be done. And I know that over the past months, when this government decided to add three more MLAs for no real good reason, it caused new provincial boundaries. So we’ve been going through the process of holding founding conventions throughout the province for new constituency associations, and I’ve really been impressed by new people coming forward, by younger people coming forward and taking on a really active role at the local level.
CTV News: Would you say that trust is the biggest obstacle right now for the NDP – gaining back the trust?
Opposition Leader Cam Broten: Trust is always hugely important – but I think it is the need to be focused on issues that matter; issues that families are talking about that really cut to the heart of what a parent cares about their kid, or a parent cares about their parent – grandparents. And by being focused in on those issues and identifying the areas where this government is falling short – I think that’s a smart approach in terms of gaining trust and gaining residence with the Saskatchewan public. Because Saskatchewan people are doing a great job in this province of holding up their end of the bargain – whether that’s expanding businesses, or ensuring that our kids have the best opportunities that they need. What’s missing – and where the ball is being dropped – is in a number of key areas where the government is not holding up its end of the deal.
CTV News: Is it difficult to have a presence with just nine members in the legislature?
Opposition Leader Cam Broten: Well, more is better than nine – that’s clear, because there is a lot of work to do. We do our best – we really work as a team and have a huge reliance on one another for covering off when need be. We’re doing our best to travel to get to different parts of the province, and you know; each of us of the nine, we have many critic duties that we’re doing. So when the House is sitting, there’s a lot of work to do, but its work that we love.
CTV News: One of the striking aspects of exchanges in the legislature are member’s statements. [Those] coming from the government are very critical of the NDP’s past – and also with respect to current issues that the NDP is dealing with – I’m wondering how do you deal with that; what are your thoughts on that tactic and do you and your caucus find that demoralizing?
Opposition Leader Cam Broten: It’s interesting – I was elected in 2007 for the first time, so I’m in my second term and I’ve seen the legislature and the chamber at some of its finest moments and at some of its not so fine moments in terms of conduct of members. The type of approach that I like is one that is talking about issues, the one that is based on substance – not the personal attacks. I have noticed in the last few months, in this last sitting, an increased sort of level of sharpness from the government in terms of their statements. Does it affect me? No – I mean, before Question Period, when those statements get up, so much of what they’re saying is outlandish. They haven’t yet run the ad saying I hate Christmas and I don’t like puppies – that could be coming next week, I don’t know.
CTV News: There were the negative ads in the fall, of course, that seemed to be on every commercial break….do you agree with that tactic, or will you be using it?
Opposition Leader Cam Broten: I think it’s important to have an approach that contrasts differences…[but] to suggest that I’m not in favour of schools – on the believability continuum, it’s pretty far on the not believable end of things. Clearly, we need new schools in growing neighbourhoods. In my own constituency of Hampton Village, I’ve been calling for that for years. The question is how do we build those schools in the best possible way? In the most cost-effective way, in a way that brings a type of building that really meets the community’s needs for home and school associations and Scouts – and in a way that allows the best economic prospects for our province. So that’s the question – how we go about doing it; not so much the need for schools. And for the government to try and twist that, its standard form, but we’re just going to stay focused on the actual issue.
CTV News: Your party raised a number of issues in the legislature this year – one of them being seniors’ health care. What most concerns you with that issue?
Opposition Leader Cam Broten: What we’ve seen – and our motivation and my motivation to talk about seniors’ care – really comes from the stories that I’ve heard from families throughout the province. Stories about a quality of care that just isn’t where it should be. Where seniors don’t have the respect and the dignity – the quality of care – that they deserve. And we’ve had a very strong focus on this, because the many steps that the government has taken have really gotten us to this point. We’ve seen the removal of minimum care standards, where there used to be at least so many hours per resident per day – that’s been removed. In the regulations, any reference to sufficient staffing has been removed. When we first started talking about seniors’ care, the response from this government was “oh, there’s no cause for alarm, everything is fine”. They eventually bowed to pressure and did a CEO tour, and a report came forward which really confirmed what we had been hearing from many families. But their response – the one-time payment fund – even the CEO of the Saskatoon Health Region has said that it won’t actually address the causes and the problems that we’re seeing. So we’re going to keep focusing on this, because seniors in this province deserve better.
CTV News: What do you ultimately hope is done, then, by pushing?
Opposition Leader Cam Broten: We’ve been calling for a number of things – one would be minimum care standards, so there would at least be a floor that families could expect. I think of one family’s story that we brought forward in the legislature: their mother was waiting in a hospital for a long-term care bed and because of short-staffing, this family actually felt compelled to hire a private care nurse to come in and just help with the basics of getting to the bathroom; of helping with meals – at about $1,000 per week. That’s not acceptable – we have to and can do better here in the province.
CTV News: In the fall of 2013, the government announced a number of schools would be built using P3s: public-private partnerships. We did hear some concerns from educators about the P3 models – and at the same time, public opinion polls would indicate the people are in favour of this kind of payment for schools. Should we toss out the concept of P3s altogether?
Opposition Leader Cam Broten: I think when we approach the concept of P3s, especially when it relates to education, this needs to be a discussion based on common sense and based on the facts, as opposed to on an ideology. And that’s what guides our focus and our discussion. So we look at a number of other provinces that have gone down the path of using P3s for schools – and we see some concerns. Alberta is one example where there really was a lack of control of what the final school would look like and how community groups could access the schools – that’s a real concern. We also see in Nova Scotia – and this isn’t about parties – it was actually a Conservative government that cancelled the Liberal government’s use of P3s for schools. And when they stopped midstream and completed the rest of the schools through a normal process, they found that they saved $2 million per school. So we need schools, but we need to make sure that it’s cost effective and done in a way that brings a product that meets the community’s needs. And because of our concerns of this type, in a really constructive way, Deputy Leader Trent Wotherspoon brought forward a private members’ bill – the P3 Accountability and Transparency Act – and basically said that if this is a good approach, let’s look at the facts. It called for three things: one, to have a watchdog in place to oversee the process – to ensure that everything is above board; two, to disclose the full cost of the P3 school projects, including the cost of credit, so that the public has all the facts; and the third component would be if projects are to go ahead, there needs to be at least three bidders, to have that healthy competition. So that’s our orientation and what we’re bringing to the discussion.
CTV News: Let’s talk about the Crowns. For years, the NDP has warned about the privatization of these Crowns – particularly in 2003 when it was an election year – warning about what would happen if the Saskatchewan Party took over. Well, we’ve now seen that – does [the NDP] still have worries about privatization of Crowns?
Opposition Leader Cam Broten: Yes – and concerns about the health of Crowns, generally speaking. What we’ve seen with this government is they’ve taken a lot of profits from the Crowns and putting them in a place where they aren’t able to do the necessary work and investments that need to occur – and then forcing more debt onto the Crowns, so that they’re not as strong. All viewers have seen the many SaskPower ads talking about this, but those ads don’t talk about the profits that have been taken in a very large way, which prevent the Crowns from doing their very important work.
CTV News: The government announced new liquor stores would be built and run privately by grocery store chains. Your party didn’t oppose that strongly – why not?
Opposition Leader Cam Broten: We looked at all the changes that were brought in through SLGA and the different aspects. There are many components – some components where it is about modernization and better service. We need to be ensuring that we take those common sense steps when it comes to hours; when it comes to availability. We do know the profits that are obtained through our public liquor stores are important for providing services here in the province – so we do have questions about the approach the government has taken.
CTV News: We’re about to head into 2014 – what do you see as the major issues facing the people of Saskatchewan?
Opposition Leader Cam Broten: Three key areas come to mind – the first is the need for better seniors’ care and better health care. That’s what we’ve been talking about inside the legislature and outside of the legislature as we listen to families. We think this is an area where the government is not doing all that it needs to be doing – so that’s a key area. The second one is in the area of education. Earlier on in the interview we talked about P3 schools, but it goes a lot farther than about school buildings. It’s also about what goes on inside those buildings – about respecting the roles of teachers, about having enough educational assistants in the classroom, and ensuring that every child has the one-on-one attention that he or she needs. The third component is the need to better diversify the economy. Saskatchewan’s economy is strong - we’re hugely blessed by the natural resources that we have and I’m really optimistic about the future of the resource sector in the province. We also have to think beyond that and how we have prosperity over the long term and support – better economic diversification.
CTV News: Will you change your strategy in the coming months? Does that happen as you get closer to an election?
Opposition Leader Cam Broten: We’re always evaluating and talking about issues, but it’s important to have a focus – and based on what I’ve heard from people, the listing that we’ve done, these areas are essential to the future of our province, because it is about how we set ourselves up for success in the long term. So we’re going to continue to talk about these areas. For anyone who watched some of the last legislative sitting, they’ll know that we looked at these themes a lot – but we certainly weren’t limited to these topics.
CTV News: You’ve had almost 10 months now as Leader of the NDP – anything surprise you in the last (almost) year?
Opposition Leader Cam Broten: The pace of the day is one thing, but to me it really is about the feedback we get from people – and that comes in various forms. I think about the 80-year old in Moose Jaw that writes letters with advice every now and then. I think about the Grey Cup festivities – Trent [Wotherspoon] and I were going around to the different tents and getting feedback from people. Some non-partisans, some Saskatchewan Party, some New Democrats – and getting that kind of input from people and how people are willing and open to share, and get some encouragement and advice along the way.
CTV News: If there’s anything else you’d like to say to the people of Saskatchewan, we’d like to give you that opportunity.
Opposition Leader Cam Broten: I want to wish everyone a happy holiday season. Over Christmas, over New Year’s – it’s a time for all of us to slow down and to think about what really is important. To give an extra hug to our kids, to think about cousins and do some fun things together. I hope that’s the kind of Christmas that you’ve all had – and as we look forward to the next year, I wish you a happy New Year and a healthy and prosperous one.