By Marcia Love
The votes have been counted, and Doug Steele has been given the nod.
The Reeve of the RM of Gull Lake received the Saskatchewan Party nomination as the candidate for the Cypress Hills Constituency at the nomination meeting Tuesday night.
About 400 people attended the meeting at the Maple Creek Arena, with both Steele and Elaine Anderson seeking votes after Cypress Hills MLA Wayne Elhard announced he will not be running in the election expected in April 2016.
It was a close race. Steele won the nomination by just 16 votes. He received 180 votes and Anderson had 164, with no spoiled ballots.
“It’s a little overwhelming,” Steele said after the ballots were counted and the announcement made. “We were represented by a real strong individual that I have a lot of respect for, Wayne. And I just feel fortunate that I get the chance to step into his boots and work with a leader like we have, Premier Wall.”
Born and raised in southwestern Saskatchewan, Steele raised his own family on his fourth-generation family farm with his wife Phyllis. He has been a councillor with the RM of Gull Lake for 19 years, currently serving as reeve. He has spent 12 years as the elected director of Division 3 for the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities and is now the elected vice-president.
At the meeting, Steele was nominated by RM of Piapot Reeve John Wagner and the nomination seconded by Shaunavon Mayor Sharon Dickie. She noted he played a big role in the drive to develop the new dangerous goods/heavy truck route at Gull Lake that was recently announced.
Addressing the membership, Steele discussed his priorities of infrastructure development, regional growth and education. He stated a centralized bureaucracy has created problems in both the areas of health care and education for rural communities. He wants to see Highway 37 from Climax to the U.S. border rebuilt and the hours of operation at the Port of Climax extended.
Steele touched on problems faced by rural Saskatchewan such as declining school enrolments, health services and services for seniors. The agriculture sector is high on his priorities as well.
“We need someone with personal knowledge and experience when it comes to the concerns and the needs of our farmers and ranchers, and I am confident I can handle that task on your behalf,” Steele said. “While agriculture continues to be a primary driver of our local economies, we must continue in our efforts to diversify our economic base and to continue to make new business and employment opportunities.”
Anderson wished Steele well, and expressed her thanks to those who came out to support her.
“It was rewarding to get to know so many people who care about the future of rural Saskatchewan,” she said, adding her work in the community continues on the public school board.
Anderson was nominated by Brad Nelson, the general manager of Honey Bee Manufacturing who also farms in the Frontier area. His nomination was seconded by Dr. Shane Andrus of Burstall, who has worked with Anderson as a trustee for Chinook School Division.
Growing up in Eastend, Anderson has spent the last 17 years farming near Frontier with her husband Lance. Since 2002, she has been a practicing and non-practicing lawyer. She currently serves as an elected trustee for Chinook School Division, and has also been a board member for the Cypress Regional Health Authority.
She highlighted concerns specific to rural Saskatchewan in the areas of health care, business and education.
After the 344 members present cast their votes, Elhard offered his thanks to the constituency he has served for the past 16 years.
“This has been the greatest honour of my life,” he said. “I have nothing but good memories over the past 16 years. That doesn’t mean that everything was easy, but it means that I believe in you, and I think you believed in me.”
After being elected in a by-election in 1999, Elhard was re-elected in the general election later that year and re-elected again in 2003, 2007 and 2011 – each time with an increased share of the popular vote. In 2011, he earned nearly 83 per cent of the vote in Cypress Hills – the second-highest popular vote percentage ever received by any Saskatchewan Party MLA.
The MLA highlighted the many projects that have been completed in the Southwest since the Saskatchewan Party was elected, including numerous highways being repaved and rebuilt, renovations to MCCS and the integrated health care facility projects in Maple Creek and Leader.
“This constituency has been well served by the Government of Saskatchewan, and I’m very proud of the work that has been undertaken here,” he said, adding it was thanks to the leadership of local communities working with the provincial government.
Elhard acknowledged the strength and support he has received from his wife Marilyn. As she joined him on stage, he spoke on her health problems of the past year and told the constituents she has thankfully recovered from her cancer. She received a standing ovation from the crowd.
The MLA thanked constituents for their loyalty and friendship.
“When I leave this job, I will take with me many, many fond memories,” he said.
Premier Brad Wall shared a few words on working with Elhard over the years.
He noted the significance of Elhard being the first MLA elected under the Saskatchewan Party banner when he won the by-election in June 1999.
“You in this constituency helped transform Saskatchewan,” he stated.
He comically highlighted the day in Legislature when Elhard was advocating to have work done to Highway 32, holding in his hand “a certain calendar that lives now in infamy in the province.” It was the 2007 Highway 32 Pothole Calendar, featuring Leader residents in various states of undress to draw attention to the neglect of the highway. The Speaker had the calendar taken away as there are no props allowed.
Wall encouraged members to come behind the individual nominated “to ensure that this constituency continues to move forward.”
Steel thanked the voters of the constituency for the opportunity he has been given.
“I’m hoping to do, and I will do, the best I can,” he said.
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