Saskatchewan Party Leader Scott Moe and provincial NDP Leader Ryan Meili faced off on Wednesday for their first debate since becoming leaders of the respective parties two years ago.
The debate — moderated by CTV's Molly Thomas — covered a lot of ground very quickly, with the hour flying by.
Moe tried to fend off attacks as his main challenger probed for soft spots in the long-governing party's record.
The early portion of the debate centred on COVID-19. Saskatchewan has had 165 new cases in the last five days.
Moe focused on the province's recovery from the pandemic. He emphasized his party's plans for home renovation tax credits and cuts to power bills.
WATCH | Moe, Meili talk about masking policy:
Meili chose to focus on his party's plans for investments in health care and education. He accused the incumbent premier of having a hidden austerity agenda.
Meili said now is the time for the province to invest in health care, education and infrastructure that will get people back to work, while Moe warned that reckless spending by the NDP would harm the province's economic recovery.
When asked, Moe said he stands by his government's choices concerning masks and gatherings throughout the pandemic.
"Where we have had challenges is when people are not following the guidelines," Moe said.
WATCH | Moe, Meili discuss the pandemic and education:
Meili countered by saying he was disappointed that Moe failed to speak out against anti-mask protesters.
He also called for clear guidance on where people should be wearing masks and when mandatory mask regulations might be put into action.
Economy recovery, suicide prevention
Meili accused Moe of planning to cut government programs to balance the budget. He says now is the time to invest in government programs to get people back to work.
Moe countered that his party only plans to cut taxes.
Moe says the NDP platform has $4 billion of spending that is unaccounted for and he says his party will balance the budget by 2024.
WATCH | Moe and Meili on the economy:
Meili attempted to pin Moe down on why he didn't meet with Indigenous protester Tristen Durocher, who walked from to Regina from Air Ronge in the summer to raise awareness about suicide.
His protest was a response to a suicide prevention bill put forward by the NDP that was voted down by the current government. Durocher fasted for several days in front of the provincial legislature.
Moe countered that two ministers met with Durocher and took his feedback back to the government.
The candidates were also asked how their governments would address Saskatchewan's growing overdose crisis.
Meili said the NDP will commit to supporting harm reduction sites and bringing dedicated mental health and addictions professionals into emergency rooms.
Moe said the Saskatchewan Party invested an extra $30 million this fiscal year into urgent care centres with mental health and addictions components. He said they will continue to invest further into support and strategy to combat the overdose crisis.
WATCH | Complete leaders' debate:
Meili said wait times for mental health and addictions services, surgeries and MRIs are an issue in Saskatchewan, and pledged the NDP will bring in hundreds of new health-care professionals if elected.
Moe shot back.
"We've brought 900 physicians into our communities to care for our family members. We've brought 4,000 nurses into our communities and into our facilities … the doctors and nurses that you have promised in your platform don't even replace the doctors and nurses that left this province the last time the NDP had the opportunity to govern," Moe said.
Meili said his government would make investments in prevention and early treatment. He said they would support safe consumption sites.
"We need to make sure that people get away from drugs, that we do everything we can to support people to stop using. But also when people are using, that they don't wind up having an overdose, or getting HIV or hepatitis."
Moe said the Saskatchewan Party would consider a safe consumption site if they form government.
Moe and Meili took questions from a panel of journalists: CBC's Adam Hunter, Global's Allison Bamford, Postmedia's Murray Mandryk and Vanier scholar Merelda Fiddler.
Saskatchewan residents head to the polls on Oct. 26.
It has been four and a half years since the last provincial election. In 2011 and 2016, the Saskatchewan Party received more than 60 per cent of the vote on their way to 80 per cent of the seats.
Moe, who moved into the premier's office when Brad Wall retired from politics in 2018, has recently faced tough questions on the campaign trail about his past.
He apologized to the family of a woman killed in a car crash that he caused in 1997, and he disclosed an impaired driving charge from 1994 that was stayed.
The debate was televised by a media consortium that includes CBC, CTV, Global and Postmedia.
The invitation to the debate was based on the criteria determined by the consortium, in which a political party needs to have representation in the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan. Two parties made the cut.