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Fraser and StarPhoenix reporter Alex MacPherson round up everything happening on the campaign trail as candidates compete to be the next leader of the Saskatchewan Party and the Saskatchewan NDP.

The Saskatchewan Party annual convention this weekend was expected to produce a clearer picture of a frontrunner, or frontrunners, in the race to replace outgoing Premier Brad Wall.

Alanna Koch and Scott Moe may have generated the loudest and longest cheers from the 800 strong crowd at TCU Place in Saskatoon, but all five candidates delivered their strongest performances since the race began.

There were a few stumbles in the long debate, but Koch, Moe, Tina Beaudry Mellor, Ken Cheveldayoff all demonstrated great improvement during the main event and in with reporters afterward.

Hard information will be available later this month when the candidates are obliged to disclose their first batch of campaign donors. Until that happens, however, divining a frontrunner is a matter of speculation.

After the convention, the consensus seems to be that Cheveldayoff has the strongest campaign machinery, Moe the deepest caucus support and Wyant the most complete policy platform.

Koch, who entered the race as a virtual unknown to anyone not familiar with the inner workings of government, has long been thought to be a serious contender but remains something of a wild card.

Beaudry Mellor, who unlike the others did not pay for a hospitality suite for party members this weekend, was among the sharpest in the debate but told reporters her campaign was comparatively under resourced.

That was evident as the candidates met with reporters after the debate. While Koch camp and Moe camp both have staffers to listen in on the other candidates scrums, Beaudry Mellor was left to record her own interview a common practice to avoid being misquoted.

In politics, money matters. Beaudry Mellor admission is a clear suggestion that she is struggling to generate the kind of support enjoyed by her competitors she herself suggested it more a symptom of recruiting new party members than courting deep pocketed cardholders.

This weekend debate followed a heartfelt tribute to Premier Brad Wall which featured a touching speech from his friend and top Sask. Party political strategist Reg Downs but the candidates for the first time seemed to look beyond the race.

That manifested as a frank discussion about the challenge of winning urban ridings which is emerging as a serious problem for the party after two by election losses in Saskatoon, seats that the Sask. Party won in the last couple of elections.

Wyant provided the sharpest views on the issue, noting that the NDP only needs to win 19 seats in 2020 and that the party should not take its recent dominance as a given. He suggested the party has too far, and proposed moving it back to the political centre.

Cheveldayoff and Beaudry Mellor who hold urban seats also admitted that the problem could become a big one, but it remains unclear what the party can and should do about closing what appears to be a widening gap between rural and urban voters in the province.

Coming back to policy, the powerful Saskatchewan Teachers Federation has encouraged its members to get involved in both parties leadership races, with the aim of ensuring understand the importance of properly funding public education. three of the five Sask. Party candidates and both Saskatchewan NDP candidates have committed to answering a series of questions about education. According to the STF, Moe camp didn respond and Koch turned down the request.

Keeping to education, Ryan Meili this week rolled out an ambitious platform for improving post secondary education that included a rollback of the Sask. Party graduate retention program (he says he use the $40 million to lower tuition) and restored funding for universities.

Trent Wotherspoon, meanwhile, had a quiet week as the Opposition mulls the results of its first leadership debate, held last weekend at the party convention in Regina.
mulberry filofax Leadership campaign notebook