The premise is First Person Exploits into the Unknown, but politics is something I have known all too well as of late.
As the main political reporter for the News-Optimist and Regional Optimist, I have been following a host of political happenings over the past number of years — premier’s dinners or fundraisers featuring the opposition leader — and of course, election nights.
This provincial election campaign was different, though. Because it was a close win by the NDP’s Len Taylor in 2007, it was going to be the top target by both the Saskatchewan Party, running Herb Cox, and by the Liberals, running their leader Ryan Bater. And because it was so close last time, it was bound to be the top defence by the NDP. That meant only one thing: we would inundated with politicians for the month prior to the election, all getting a piece of the action in the only riding in the province that could boast a legitimate three-way race.
I thought I would provide this look, then, at the excitement and intrigue surrounding the election campaign that unfolded in the Battlefords in 2011.
Saturday, Oct. 8: We are all getting set for Premier Brad Wall to drop the writ on Monday to officially launch the election campaign. On this day, I am at the Agrivilla on the Battlefords Agricultural Society grounds, where Liberal leader Ryan Bater is holding an unusual campaign fundraiser. He’s hosting something called Barnstorm in the Battlefords, where he plans to perform with his band Jackwagon. It is a musical event with a few rock bands performing, and all the money goes to the Liberal campaign. Bater seems determined to appeal to the younger voters, with Facebook and Twitter accounts and heavy use of YouTube.
I do an interview with Bater, where he tells me the NDP stole the idea for a sovereign wealth fund from the Liberals. Bater said he even proposed the idea in his very first speech after becoming leader.
Wednesday, Oct. 12: First big campaign event of the writ period in the Battlefords. Len Taylor’s campaign office is open on 100th Street and leader Dwain Lingenfelter shows up to help with the grand opening. The office is decked out in orange and they even have some “Orange Crush” pop on display. Link tells the crowd about one of his policy announcements from earlier in the day – that the school dental program is coming back. He also says a few things about the Bright Futures Fund idea unveiled the previous day.
Thursday, Oct. 13: Both Link and Len Taylor are at a major policy announcement at Crandleberry’s. It is crowded with TV cameras and reporters from the CBC and CTV, among others. Link’s announcement called for the elimination of the small business tax, which sounded impressive. I noticed, though, that the rest of the provincial media were aggressive in their questions. The guy from the CBC in particular was roasting Link about the costs of his platform.
I asked Link if the election was turning into a bidding war. “No, I’m not bidding against anyone. I’m putting forward positive platform items that we have heard from the public of Saskatchewan.”
Later that day he has another big policy announcement on Red Pheasant First Nation on sharing resource revenues with First Nations – which proves a hot topic on the campaign.
Friday, Oct. 14: I’m at Liberal Ryan Bater’s campaign office on 101st Street for the official opening of their Voter Information Centre. The place is spacious and looks well-equipped for a busy campaign. Bater gives me an interview on the release of his party’s platform from earlier in the week as well as his thoughts on being excluded from the televised leader’s debate. He said he thought the “fix was in.”
There was a decent turnout of Liberals at the event and Bater gave a solid speech, but I noticed there wasn’t much media interest compared to the Lingenfelter events. I was the only reporter there.
Tuesday, Oct.18: A big day on the election campaign as Premier Brad Wall’s campaign tour arrived in the Battlefords.
His bus showed up outside Herb Cox’s campaign office on 100th Street. The place was packed with supporters and the usual TV reporters as Wall unveiled the Saskatchewan Party’s health care policies. But he also went on a tear against Lingenfelter and the cost of his campaign promises. He was telling the media how there were now $2 billion in additional spending from the NDP and it was certain to send the province into deficit. During the press conference CTV News asked Wall about some additional campaign promises Lingenfelter made earlier that day, and Wall responded it was more of the same.
I asked him a question about Saskatchewan Hospital and that gave Wall a chance to roast the NDP and Liberals and boast about how his party kept 146 campaign promises. Wall was at a podium next to Herb Cox and Don McMorris, minister of health who was there for the announcement. Everyone there was in a good mood, as the Saskatchewan Party provincial campaign seemed to be going well.
Later that day everyone was in a better mood as they headed to Canola Avenue for the announcement that the old Peak Manufacturing plant had a new tenant: Grit Industries Inc. Premier Wall was there for the announcement, as were Len Taylor, Herb Cox and Ryan Bater and city officials. This was upwards of 75 jobs coming to the city of North Battleford.
Wednesday, Oct. 19: On this day Dwain Lingenfelter was due to be at the CUPE office in downtown North Battleford for another big policy announcement – that of the NDP’s mental health care policies and plans for a new Saskatchewan Hospital. However, something was up with Maple Leaf Foods. I had to miss out on a conference call that the press release said was about an “investment of $560 million to establish a world-class, highly-efficient prepared meats network and one of the largest single investments in the Canadian food industry.” But I couldn’t be in two places at once, so I went to the NDP event at CUPE.
The reporters and the television cameras were all squeezed in right next to one another. I happened to overlook an iPhone of the reporter next to me. The screen had a Twitter feed scrolling on it. One of the tweets was from none other than one of our own columnists, provincial politics reporter Murray Mandryk. His tweet read that Maple Leaf Foods was shutting down its North Battleford plant and laying off 330 workers.
That’s how I found out about the Maple Leaf Foods closure.
I got some comments in a scrum from Len Taylor about his take on the whole situation and then spent the rest of the day chasing down comments from company officials and the city. What a change from a day ago. One day, the premier is at an announcement of 75 new jobs in the city, and the next day – boom.
Tuesday, Oct. 25: This was a busy day. First I’m on the phone with Rob Norris, minister for SaskPower, who is hot under the collar about some things the NDP leader told reporters in Kronau about the Northland Power project now under construction in North Battleford. Lingenfelter was voicing his discontent with the power purchase agreement with Northland Power yet again, and Norris thought Lingenfelter was putting at risk Battlefords jobs. He’s not impressed.
Next I’m on the phone with the local Liberals, who were protesting the location of the Cut Knife-Turtleford NDP campaign office, which just so happened to be located in downtown Battleford. The Liberals were claiming this office was aiming its posters not at Cut Knife-Turtleford voters but at NDP supporters in the Battlefords, and claimed this was a potential election spending violation. Later I talked to the Cut Knife-Turtleford NDP campaign manager who called the Liberals complaint “frivolous.”
The big event of the day, though, was at Len Taylor’s campaign office where one of the federal NDP leadership contenders was in the city. Romeo Saganash was there to speak to reporters about his national campaign, and also was lending support to the local NDP candidates. I was able to get some good quotes from Saganash about how Jack Layton persuaded him to run in northern Quebec in the 2011 federal election.
Wednesday, Oct. 26: The Chamber of Commerce held an all-candidates forum at the Western Development Museum. Pretty standard stuff. The forum touches on the usual important issues – the Maple Leaf closure, Saskatchewan Hospital, and the like. I got all the usual quotes from all the candidates after it was over. I also collected all the campaign materials that I usually like to collect from all the parties during a campaign.
It seemed like the audience consisted mostly of partisans for all four campaigns — not too many undecided voters were in the room.
Friday, Oct. 28: Another big day. Ralph Goodale was in the city to join Ryan Bater for a meet and greet event and a news conference at their campaign office. Finally, a big name shows up in town for the Liberals. Bater tells me plans are in the works to also bring in Justin Trudeau, which is bound to get the locals excited.
Thursday, Nov. 3: A setback for the Liberal campaign. Justin Trudeau announced yesterday he has cancelled his visit to North Battleford.
His appearance was supposed to be at John Paul II Collegiate, but apparently there was a sudden vote he had to appear for in the House of Commons. It’s too bad the Trudeau visit is off, but it frees me up to go to a noon event at the Tropical Inn for what was a major show of force by the Saskatchewan Party.
Premier Brad Wall gave a speech to the party faithful at a packed luncheon. It seems like every mover and shaker in the Battlefords business community is in the audience. All the area candidates are there: Herb Cox, Larry Doke, Scott Moe and Randy Weekes. Also there were Bill Boyd, Jim Reiter, Don Morgan and Ken Cheveldayoff.
They’re all here for one reason: to finish off the NDP. Wall didn’t mention the Liberals even once during his speech. “If you live here it is a choice between Herb Cox and Len Taylor,” said Wall.
The Liberals’ Ryan Bater would later put out a statement claiming the race was actually between himself and Cox. We’ll see. The moment of truth arrives for all the campaigns Monday.
Monday, Nov. 7: I am really glad to make it to election day. It is nice to finally be done with all the stress of covering a campaign.
After I spent the entire election following the Liberals, on election night we leave the task of covering Bater’s concession speech (so we think) to reporter Alex McPhail and I go to the Tropical Inn for Len Taylor’s gathering.
I am fully expecting to see a concession speech and a lot of emotion, given the dismal provincial poll numbers for the NDP that have come in the last few days. Emotion, though, was not what I found when I got there around 8:30 p.m. It was a quiet scene of people staring blankly at the televisions at the front of the room, which were showing the NDP getting hammered everywhere. Results were coming in from the Battlefords showing Len Taylor trailing Herb Cox, with Bater far behind.
Not all the results are in when Taylor and his wife Cheryl arrive, but it was clear by this point the result is going the other way. People are sitting quietly looking at the stunning returns as big names including Dwain Lingenfelter are going down to defeat. Around 9:30 p.m., Taylor makes his concession speech, which includes a long list of thanks for his campaign team. At the end of it one supporter calls out “thank you Len for all that you’ve done,” and they give him a standing ovation.
I later make my way to the Herb Cox headquarters to get an interview with the new MLA for the Battlefords. It was a party atmosphere there, with people all celebrating. Herb was taking phone calls from people calling from as far as the United States to congratulate him on winning.
Len Taylor and his team soon show up at the office and in a classy move, Taylor personally congratulates Cox. So it’s official. There is a transfer of power in the Battlefords. I had covered a few elections before during my time in the Battlefords, but I had never seen this before: a sitting politician losing his office to another candidate. All that’s left for me now is to go back to the office and write my stories for the newspapers.
It is a relief to be done with the hard work of covering the provincial election, and I’ll miss having my regular provincial political fix every day. But it’s not as if I’ll miss it for too long.
After all – the American presidential primaries are around the corner, and that’s something I’ll definitely be watching, this time from the sidelines, for a change.