Tuesday, 20 February 2018 00:21

NDP's Swift Current candidate wants to hear voter concerns

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Stefan Rumpel, the Saskatchewan NDP candidate in the Swift Current by-election, wants to be a strong local voice for the community and he is eager to meet voters during his campaign.


Voters will go to the polls in Swift Current on March 1. He spoke to supporters during the official opening party for his campaign office, Feb. 7.
He noted that he will be knocking on many doors during his campaign to talk to people.
“I hope that when they get a chance to talk to me, they’ll see that I’m the type of person who just wants to listen,” he said. “I’m the type of person who wants to be a voice for people who are feeling vulnerable, for people who are feeling frustrated.”
He urged his supporters to start conversations with others about why they have voted for the Saskatchewan Party in the previous election. He referred to the cuts in last year's provincial budget and how some of those decisions were reversed by the government when people expressed unhappiness about the cuts, for example the restoring of library funding.
“Now education, the same thing is happening,” he said. “Why did you take it in the first place, why wouldn’t you think that was important to people? I’m just worried and frustrated about losing the things that make this community great, that make me want to raise a family here.”
Rumpel's priority after the calling of the by-election was to get out into the community and to gather support.
“We rely on volunteers, we rely on that real grassroots people walking in and wanting to help,” he told the Prairie Post after his speech to supporters. “So our first step has been just getting out there and getting to the doors and meeting people. ... I’ve been out there, knocking on doors since it’s been called, trying to get face to face with people and hearing the real concerns in the community and let them know that I’m willing to listen and I’m willing to be their voice.”
People have been raising a variety of issues with him, including one that is very specific to Swift Current and that concerns the current construction of the new Chinook Power Station, a combined cycle natural gas facility, northwest of the city.
“There are quite a few people who have been raising concerns that in a time where people are struggling economically, we’re watching a lot of out of country, out of province workers coming in to do the work in these buildings, where we have people in our community with the skills to do the work that aren’t being employed on these projects,” he said. “So that’s one concern we’re looking into. ... Obviously if we’re going to be in a difficult economic time, the best way you can support people get out of it is give them jobs, give them things to do so that they can thrive and generate that income.”
He is also hearing concerns on the doorsteps about staffing shortages in health care and people have concerns about funding for education.
Last week the provincial government announced $7.5 million in mid-year school funding to school divisions, but Rumpel felt that only starts the conversation about the funding needs for education. Premier Scott Moe has also made a commitment of $30 million in the 2018-19 provincial budget for additional supports in the classroom.
“If he says we’ll get to $30 million on the next budget, that doesn’t help the fact that jobs have already been lost in support services for students, that doesn’t help the fact that we have a $55 million initial cut,” Rumpel said. “Our school divisions have been working hard to have students protected from that. We have great hardworking individuals involved in this school division in this community, and they were smart planners. They put in contingency funds, and the problem is, the next budget doesn’t help the fact that they had to go through those funds now.”
He is concerned that Premier Moe's funding commitment will not address a broader issue with the funding formula used to allocate funds to school divisions.
“We’re supposedly overfunded for things that before were just normal,” Rumpel said.
He was born and raised in Swift Current and after university he returned to the city, where he has been a teacher for the past eight years. Cuts to education is therefore at the forefront of his mind, but not only because he is a teacher.
“I have family in this community that goes through our education system and I really truly believe that every dollar you invest in early childhood education is only going to pay dividends down the line when these people are taking on employment in your communities and they’re skilled and intelligent and informed,” he said. “All of these pieces just fall into place to help you build and to help you grow, and the big thing though is just student voice. They’re the ones that are affected. Teachers and jobs, that’s important, but what’s more important to me – students. How are they being affected? Their supports are what we’re seeing drop away, they’re the ones who are losing out.”
Another issue of concern to him is the impact that a reduction in provincial revenue sharing with municipalities will have on local residents.
“We have amazing hard-working people that have contributed to our economy, have done these amazing things, yet our cost of living right now keeps going up because of cuts to municipalities, possible funding changes for municipalities,” he said.
He is also worried about the impact that budget cuts will have in other areas, such as the provision of health care to Saskatchewan residents.
“We’ve lost out on funding pieces because of amalgamations of the health region,” he said. “We are now looking at staffing shortages within our health care system.”
The Saskatchewan Party government revised some decisions that were made in last year's provincial budget, but he felt those initial budget decisions could have been avoided.
“If you’re really listening to people, you don’t do it in the first place, and that’s what we need,” he said. “We need somebody who will listen. I want to be that local voice who makes the right decision the first time, and really fights for the current government to make those right decisions that don’t hurt our most vulnerable.”
The issue of a federal carbon tax has been a prominent feature of recent political discussion in Saskatchewan. Rumpel noted that the Saskatchewan NDP is against a federal carbon tax.
“What we are for is consulting with industry leaders in agriculture and oil to make sure we have a plan in place where those industries are feeling less impact, because those are the industries our province right now relies on,” he said. “So what we need is a comprehensive, made in Saskatchewan plan that shelters our current industries, but allows us to invest in new, diversified opportunities while meeting our targets, and if we can work with those industry leaders to make that plan that Ottawa will then check off, then we won’t be forced to have a carbon tax.”
He believes the Saskatchewan Party government has been dragging its heels in coming up with a plan that will enable the province to meet carbon emission targets.
“Now they’re talking about suing the federal government and I ask with what money,” he said. “Supposedly we don’t have money for all of these different things, but we have it to sue the federal government to stop the carbon tax? I don’t want the carbon tax either, but suing them isn’t going to stop it. Making a plan that will be accepted is going to stop it. ... There are other options and it’s a matter of consulting those experts about putting in that plan that protects Saskatchewan industries but also doesn’t waste our money fighting a legal battle that by precedent we pretty much could lose.”
Four parties have nominated candidates for the by-election in Swift Current. The Swift Current & District Chamber of Commerce is hosting an all-candidates forum to give residents an opportunity to hear from the candidates. The forum will take place at the Living Sky Casino event centre on Feb. 26. for the upcoming by-elections. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the forum starts at 7 p.m.

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Matthew Liebenberg

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