Monday, September 14, 2009

The Importance of the Regina Douglas Park By-election

The Importance of the Regina Douglas Park By-election

by John W. Warnock
September 12, 2009Act Up in Saskatchewan

Premier Brad Wall has called by-elections for Regina Douglas Park and Saskatoon Riversdale, to be held on September 21. The Regina election is of particular importance because Dwaine Lingenfelter has returned from Nexen oil corporation in Calgary, has won the contest for leadership of the provincial New Democratic Party, and is now seeking a seat in the legislature. Sitting NDP MLA Harry Van Mulligan resigned his safe NDP seat hoping that Lingenfelter could take his place in the legislature.

The question of nuclear power

The biggest political issue in the province over the past year has been the proposal by the Saskatchewan Party government to build a nuclear reactor to provide electrical power to the province and the Alberta tar sands. This proposal has the support of the Saskatchewan Power Corporation.

As Lingenfelter stressed in the NDP leadership debates, NDP governments have a long history of supporting uranium mining, the processing of uranium and nuclear power development, beginning with Tommy Douglas. Leading up to the NDP leadership campaign Lingenfelter had been touring the province promoting nuclear power and tar sands development.

During the NDP leadership campaign candidates Ryan Meili and Yens Pederson, representing the youth movement in the party, strongly opposed nuclear power while advocating a shift to conservation, solar and wind power. They also urged a return to the founding principles of the party, which emphasized a commitment to expanding the welfare state and eliminating poverty.

In contrast, Lingenfelter was a member of the inner circle of Roy Romanow’s NDP government, serving as Minister of Economic Development, Minister for the Crown Investment Corporation, Minister of Agriculture, and Deputy Leader. He won in Regina Elphinstone in 1999 but then resigned his position in the government and the legislature to take a high level position with Nexen Inc. Ironically, Nexen had acquired the Crown-owned Saskatchewan Oil and Gas Corporation, privatized by the Tory government of Grant Devine and the Romanow government.

Rising inequality and poverty

Paul Gingrich’s recent research for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows the growing gap in income inequality in Saskatchewan between the top 10% of families and the bottom 50% of families. The gap expanded greatly during the period of the NDP governments of Roy Romanow and Lorne Calvert. Lingenfelter was a key player in the decisions to cut resource royalties, cut taxes on corporations, and lower the income taxes on those in the highest income brackets. Social assistance allowances were frozen and fell well below the basic needs level.

So there is a current major ideological divide in the NDP between the old guard, which has pursued a policy direction of social democratic neoliberalism, commonly associated with the UK Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and the young members on the progressive left.

Where are the environmentalists?

The past year has seen a revival of the environmental movement in the province, led by the Coalition for a Clean Green Saskatchewan. This has been spurred by the popular opposition to nuclear power. The best estimates are that a power plant will cost a minimum of $10 billion. Many studies show that the green alternatives available would be much cheaper and result in the creation of more jobs.

In the meantime, since its origin in 1998 the Green Party of Saskatchewan has been strongly opposed to nuclear power and has promoted the soft energy alternative. They are attempting to make energy policy the primary issue in the two bye elections.

This is a test for the new environmental movement. In the past the environmental organizations and their leaders have been reluctant to criticize an NDP government. For example, in 1997 the Romanow government brought into the legislature a resolution strongly opposing the Kyoto conference on global warming and climate change and demanding that major polluting industries only be assessed voluntary guidelines for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. This resolution was unanimously passed by the legislature. Environmental groups remained silent.

Part of this is due to the fact that a great many of the leaders of the environmental movement have also been members and supporters of the NDP. What will they do in these bye elections? Sit it out and not vote? Vote for Dwaine Lingenfelter? Or will they put their principles first and get out and support the Green Party? So far they are sitting on the sidelines.

Green Party policy

At their press conference on September 11, the Greens released their platform for the bye elections. Aside from energy, the party is supporting the introduction of proportional representation, health care based on prevention, a public child care system, free tuition for higher education and a new partnership with Aboriginal people. Victor Lau, the candidate in Regina Douglas Park, stressed the necessity of providing affordable housing. Tobi-Dawne Smith, the candidate in Saskatoon Riversdale, argued that the elimination of poverty is as important an issue as nuclear power.

The RCMP and Lingenfelter

One other major issue came up at the Green Party press conference. What is the status of the investigation by the RCMP Commercial Crime Division into the complaint against Lingenfelter and his campaign team for fraud in the NDP leadership campaign? The media has widely reported the use of forgery and fraud in creating 1100 new party members. The campaign manager turned in $10,000 in cash in small bills to the NDP head office. The RCMP was to determine whether or not Lingenfelter was involved in these illegal acts and whether criminal charges would be laid.

The RCMP launched their investigation on June 11. It surely must be completed by now. Yet the RCMP has yet to release the report and announce the actions it will take. The Green Party promised to raise this issue with the Premier and the RCMP. It seems only fair that the voters of this province have an answer to these serious allegations before they go to the polls on September 21.

NOTE: John W. Warnock ran against Dwaine Lingenfelter in Regia Elphinstone in 1999 as a candidate for the New Green Alliance.

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