By Joel van der Veen
DAVIDSON — With two weeks to go till the Saskatchewan Party chooses its next leader, Ken Cheveldayoff has a good feeling about the outcome.
“I feel the momentum is with my campaign,” he told the Leader in a Jan. 8 phone interview.
Cheveldayoff, one of five candidates running to replace Brad Wall as both party leader and premier, has attracted significant support from his fellow MLAs, including Arm River’s Greg Brkich.
He also pointed to informal online polls taken in recent weeks, a couple of which have placed his campaign in the lead.
“I’m very encouraged by the polls,” he said, adding that he doesn’t want to take anything for granted at this point. “I just want to work like I’m five points behind.”
Cheveldayoff was first elected to the legislature in 2003 and has been re-elected three times since then. He currently represents Saskatoon Willowgrove, and has also served in multiple cabinet positions.
A recent endorsement came from former Conservative MP and RCMP officer Rob Clarke, who was briefly a candidate for the party leadership.
Clarke dropped out of the race in December, less than a month after announcing his candidacy, and endorsed Cheveldayoff’s campaign.
“It was a real boost to my campaign, a real shot in the arm,” said Cheveldayoff, adding that Clarke’s support is helping him reach out to First Nations and northern voters.
Still, he added, he needs to go out and earn those votes.
Cheveldayoff said he has maintained a busy schedule as the campaign winds up, including stops in Rosetown and Kindersley last Monday.
He also visited Kenaston just before the Christmas break, where he toured the village school and the Distance Learning Centre (DLC) operated by Sun West School Division.
He said it was a good opportunity to observe the groundbreaking work done at the DLC, which he called “a centre of excellence.” He also said he believes the Ministry of Education should look at contributing and investing more towards such development.
(The DLC facility, completed in late 2015 at a cost of $2.3 million, was funded entirely by the school division.)
Cheveldayoff also remarked on the move to a single provincial health authority, saying he understands the transition is proceeding smoothly.
The existing 12 health regions were formally dissolved on Dec. 4, replaced by the Saskatchewan Health Authority.
He said he believes the change will achieve its stated goals of reducing administration and associated costs, as well as allowing savings in the procurement of supplies.
“It’s one way we can do more with the vast resources that go into health care right now,” he said.
On Jan. 8 the provincial government announced some details on how the legalization of marijuana would be administered here.
Cannabis sales will be regulated by the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) and conducted through private retailers, with plans to issue roughly 60 licenses in communities throughout the province.
(Davidson was not one of the municipalities named. Up to seven licenses will be granted in Saskatoon, along with smaller numbers in Regina and Moose Jaw. The Town of Outlook will also be eligible, though municipalities are free to opt out if they so choose.)
Cheveldayoff said he agrees with private retail sales, adding he doesn’t believe distribution through a Crown corporation would be a responsible use of government resources.
He said he still has concerns about the process. The province has not yet announced a minimum age for cannabis use, but Cheveldayoff said he believes it should be set at 25 years.
He spoke to the Leader about some of his own campaign initiatives, including a proposed mandate to SaskTel to provide improved Internet access to users in small towns and rural areas.
“I think that’ll be very well received in areas around here,” he said.
Asked about rural crime, Cheveldayoff said he believes addressing these concerns should be a top priority for the new premier and cabinet.
He said new technology could play a major role in this, including drones and other devices that would allow instant reporting of a crime in progress.
“We’ve challenged the technology industry to come up with solutions to this problem,” he said. “I hear they’re working on it as we speak.”
Cheveldayoff also said he wants to revive the Community Rink Affordability Grant program.
The program ran for about five years, offering annual grants of $2,500 for indoor ice surfaces, to offset the costs of rink operations and fund minor capital upgrades.
The province suspended the program in late 2016, one of the casualties of the looming deficit.
Cheveldayoff — who was minister of parks, culture and sport at that time — said that he knows “lots of rinks” in the Arm River constituency would be able to take advantage of a revived program.
The leadership vote will be held Jan. 27 during the party’s convention in Saskatoon.