The final official Saskatchewan NDP leadership debate before the holidays took place in Melfort, and featured a couple of twists on the themes that have dominated the previous forums:
So what was new in the fifth leadership forum?
Well, Cam Broten mostly stuck to his usual script and in-debate pattern. But he did supplement his all-too-familiar questions for Ryan Meili with a query as to whether Meili would seek to draw a salary from the NDP if he won the leadership without pursuing a seat in a by-election. And while Meili's response that he wasn't too concerned about money at least partly defuses the question, Broten followed up a question going to the state of the NDP's broader finances with a fund-raising appeal aimed at the party rather than his own campaign.
Erin Weir's response to a familiar question on rural issues included a proposal that I hadn't picked up on in previous debates or in his policy announcements - identifying a transaction tax aimed solely at foreign purchasers as a possible means of balancing the ability of existing owners to sell their land with the desire to encourage local and small-scale ownership. Which might seem like interesting middle ground between barring outside ownership and leaving it unrestricted - but might also require plenty more explanation as to the associated revenue expectations and prospect of validity under trade agreements which generally require equal treatment for foreign investors as would be applied to local ones.
In his first question, Trent Wotherspoon offered Broten what should have been the easiest softball question yet - asking him to identify positive traits and policies from his fellow leadership candidates. But at best, Broten took partial advantage of the opportunity to reach out to other candidates' supporters - with a reference to Weir's chutzpah looking like a particularly unimpressive response.
But if Wotherspoon's seemingly more friendly questions to Broten didn't turn out quite as planned, his more challenging query to Meili about the details of how SaskPharm might operate was met with a strong response: on the type of question where Wotherspoon has often struggled to go behind talking points, Meili was able to point to his own work with academic researchers to identify the expected (and massive) returns for a generic drug manufacturer.
Once again, the Melfort forum did little to change any candidate's overall prospects. But we're starting to see some evolution in a few of the areas which have been discussed at most of the debates - and each campaigns figures to have some work to do over the holidays in both building on the themes developed so far, and addressing areas where there's room for improvement.