Sunday, November 15, 2020

On missed opportunities

There has been plenty of commentary and analysis about the results of Saskatchewan's provincial election - including some discussion on the theme of an overly risk-averse NDP campaign. But I'll follow up with one specific example of what may have been missing from the party's message.

One of the key ideas promoted by Ryan Meili over nearly a decade as a leadership candidate and public figure has been the concept of SaskPharm, giving effect to the familiar and already-mooted idea that there should be public ownership of a supplier capable of meeting the need for medicine where the private sector fails to deliver (whether within reasonable price parameters or at all). 

And as recently as June of this year, the NDP's caucus included the concept in its COVID recovery plan (PDF). But come election time, the NDP's platform omitted any mention of SaskPharm. 

Unfortunately, that fit into a broader pattern of only tinkering around the edges when it came to economic issues. 

The NDP was willing to direct substantial amounts of money toward an SGI rebate and the removal of the PST on construction labour. And it planned to reinstate a number of lost entities such as STC, and industries such as the film sector. But very little in its economic message even hinted at any plans beyond restoring the province to its economic mix circa 2007.

That then caused problems in responding to the Saskatchewan Party's constant demand of slavish devotion to the oil sector. When it came time to answer as to what sources of jobs and economic development might be available for Saskatchewan once the rest of the planet wised up to the imperative to shift away from fossil fuels, the NDP unfortunately left ready-made possibilities off the table. And that made it far too easy for voters to accept they should stay on an unsustainable path, for lack of any specifics as to what alternatives might be available.

What's worse, the omission of SaskPharm from the election came at a time when we've become acutely aware of the dangers of relying on foreign and corporate suppliers for the medication and other supplies we need to stay healthy in the midst of a pandemic.

It's not clear that the next election will offer quite the same natural intersection between an immediate need, and an already-developed policy proposal which can serve as the focal point for Saskatchewan's economic development. But I'd argue that the NDP needs to put in the effort laying the groundwork for an economic vision which offers a clear choice of something better - lest voters wrongly believe their only option is more of the same.

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