The following is a question and answer with Dustin Duncan, Sask Party Candidate in the Weyburn-Big Muddy Constituency
Duncan is seeking his second full term in the legislature. He was first elected in the 2006 byelection, which was required to fill a vacancy.
Catch us up on your family life.
Amanda and I live in Weyburn. Amanda’s doing well. She is pursuing music full time. She released her first album this past year, as well as her first single to Canadian radio. She has travelled quite a bit this year, including a couple of trips to Nashville for some writing and recording opportunities.
What positions you have held since becoming an MLA?
Previously served first as Chair of Crowns and Central Agencies Committee, then as Minister of Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport. Most recently as Minister of Environment, and Minister responsible for the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority, SaskWater and SaskEnergy.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Biggest challenges have come with being named to cabinet. First, learning new portfolios and being prepared to discuss governments positions and plans to media, the opposition in question period, people across Saskatchewan. There is so much to learn and you must always be prepared and ready. A cabinet role also means more time away from home - in Regina, across the province, and outside of the province. It creates a challenge in balancing cabinet with constituency responsibilities.
The biggest challenge this year has been the excess moisture. Being responsible for the Watershed Authority has proved to be very challenging, yet very rewarding this year. During the spring flooding event, there were some very tense times, and some difficult decisions that had to be made. As well, the historic volumes of water put significant pressure
on infrastructure, including a number of our dams. We’re doing work to assess what damage might have happened and what repairs are needed to ensure they are capable of operating into the future as designed. But so far nothing significant as a result of 2011.
What are you proudest of?
Being a part of a government that has paid off $3 billion dollars of debt, as well as implementing the largest income reduction in provincial history.
As MLA, being able to help constituents with their personal issues. The most rewarding experiences are generally the ones people and the media never hear about because they are an individuals personal issue. To you or me, it may not be a huge issue, but to that constituent, it may very well be the biggest thing they are dealing with in their life at that time.
What is your goal for the next term if you are re-elected?
Continue to see our province grow - we should be at 1.1 million people by the end of the next term of government. Continue to see the debt be paid off.
If fortunate to be re-elected and to remain as Environment Minister, continue to work with federal and provincial partners on important environmental issues like clean coal - a very important file for our province and Weyburn - Big Muddy and one that clearly distinguishes the Saskatchewan Party from the NDP. Unlike the NDP, who want to move down the path of phasing out coal, we believe coal can continue to be an important part of our electricity supply for many years to come, and clean coal will position Saskatchewan as a world leader in new innovation and technology, and will allow us to continue to use coal for power production well into the future.
What is your party proudest of?
Seeing our province’s population grow after years of decline. The financial achievements - debt reduction, tax reduction, balanced budgets.
The focus we have put on those most disadvantaged - historic support to persons with disabilities, low income seniors. The gains we have made on health care files - lower waits for surgeries, more doctors and nurses since 2007. But of course there still is more work to be done.
What is your party most challenged by?
One of the biggest challenges is infrastructure. The NDP spent $1 billion less on highways than they took in on fuel taxes. On highways, we have spent $2.2 billion - a substantial increase over previous 4 years but there is more to do. As well, one third of Saskatchewan schools have been renovated, repaired or replaced.
Health is always a challenge, but we have seen real progress, especially on wait times for surgeries.
Number of people waiting for surgery longer than 18 months is down 75%, number of people waiting a year and longer is down over 50%.
What has changed since you have entered politics? In your approach or thoughts?
The time committment has certainly changed - when first elected, it was to a position in opposition.
Since that time, I have gone from opposition to government, but first as a backbencher, and then to cabinet.
What has changed in the political climate in our riding and in the province?
I think the attitude of Saskatchewan people has also changed - people seem to be more optimistic about the future.
I think the political climate of both the riding and the province is the same - people see a growing Saskatchewan, and more prosperous province full of opportunity, and want to see Saskatchewan continue to move forward
What issues are most important to you?
Ensuring our growth continues with a responsible, affordable platform, as well as continuing our strength in resources by ensuring we have a stable environment that will continue to create jobs. I got involved in politics largely because far too many of my friends were forced to leave Saskatchewan because of a lack of jobs and opportunity. That isn’t the case today.
What issues do you believe are most important to the constituents?
For a constituency like Weyburn - Big Muddy, two key areas are resources and agriculture. Our position on resources is clear - now is not the time for ill-advised changes to the taxation system. This industry is providing jobs, investment and government revenue. We saw what happened when Alberta did so a few years ago. Saskatchewan benefitted from the uncertainty caused by the Alberta government as many people were forced to leave Alberta to find work in Saskatchewan.
On agriculture, we have demonstrated our support for farm families, with enhanced crop insurance coverage, assistance for times of excess moisture, and a historic reduction in the amount of education property tax paid on farmland.
Health care is also a concern. Aside from our new committments, we have already made significant changes. We have increased the physician training seats from 60 to 100, and the residency positions from 60 to 120. We have gone away from the CAPE assessment for foreign doctors, and are implementing a made in Saskatchewan assessment. We are moving residency positions from the two major cities into smaller rural cities to encourage doctors to choose rural Saskatchewan.
To Saskatchewan as a whole?
Province wide, I think the main issue of the campaign is - do we continue to move forward under Brad Wall, or move backwards with Dwain Lingenfelter. Today in Saskatchewan, our population is at an all time high, the number of people working full time is an all time high, and Saskatchewan has the lowest unemployment rate in Canada. All during a world wide recession.
What is the party’s vision for going forward?
On infrastructure, more of the same, including a committment to a further $2.2 billion on highways.
On wait times, through the surgical initiative, setting a goal of no one waiting longer than 3 months for surgery by 2014.
On rural health care, providing up to $120,000 student loan forgiveness for doctors who work in rural communities, and $20,000 student loan forgiveness for nurses and nurse practitioners who work in rural Saskatchewan. As well, we are partnering with a number of companies to bring the STARS helicopter ambulance service to Saskatchewan. The launch date is next spring.
How is the campaign going?
Campaign is going well - a mix of door knocking, and attending community events. By the time the election day arrives, we will have touched every corner of the constituency.
The last five years have gone by so fast. Its been very rewarding - an incredible opportunity, and an honour I will always be grateful for having.