Saskatchewan (Canada) 2011

Provincial elections were held in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan on November 7, 2011. All 58 members of the province’s unicameral legislature, the Legislative Assembly, were up for reelection. Saskatchewan is a landlocked prairie province in western Canada, a traditionally agrarian province which has closed the door on population decline and emigration in recent years with the commodities/natural resources boom.

Politically, Saskatchewan is the birthplace of the NDP. The province elected the first socialist government in North America in 1944 with Tommy Douglas, the father of Medicare, and the CCF – the NDP’s predecessor. An agrarian socialist movement rooted in the Canadian prairies’ interwar agrarian progressive movement which was particularly strong in Saskatchewan. However, unlike in Alberta or Manitoba, it did not result in the election of a farmers’ party to power – the Saskatchewan Liberals successfully co-opted a farmers movement which was, ultimately, not very interested by political action at a provincial level until the Depression. In 1929, the decision of the small farmers’ caucus (5 members) in the legislature to form a coalition government with the nativist Conservatives (24 members) destroyed what there was of independent farmers political action (the Tory government, which lasted until 1934, was destroyed by the Depression and Dust Bowl). This finally motivated the local farmers lobby – the UFC (SS) to enter provincial politics in 1934. In 1944, the CCF won a landslide victory over the governing Liberal with 47 out of 52 seats for Tommy Douglas’ party. Douglas, who has become a political hero for most Canadians and the founding figure of the NDP, served until 1961 and won easy reelections between then. However, the CCF government’s decision to implement universal health care in the early 1960s led to a 23-day doctors’ strike in the province in 1962 and played a part in the CCF’s defeat by the right-wing Liberals in 1964. The NDP, led by the moderate Allan Blakeney, was returned to power in 1971. In 1982, the Tories, dead since 1934 but slowly resuscitating on the ruins of Liberal decrepitude, won a landslide victory over the tired NDP government in 1982 with Grant Devine. Devine was unpopular and a victim of the economic downturn in the province which affected crop prices, the budget deficit and economic growth. Devine’s PCs were defeated by the NDP’s Roy Romanow in 1991. Romanow, to the frustration of some left-wingers, led a very moderate Third Way type policy with spending cuts, program cuts and privatizations to balance the budget. In the meantime, the opposition fell into disarray as the Saskatchewan PCs totally collapsed over a pretty huge corruption/fraud scandal from Devine’s last term. At the outset, the Liberals benefited from it and became the official opposition in 1995 as the PCs collapsed into third. Ultimately, the Liberal resurgence proved to be a fluke as the anti-NDP vote in this bipolarized province united behind the new Saskatchewan Party, a right-wing party formed by PC and Liberal MLAs but traditionally dominated by the Conservatives – hence the nickname ‘SaskaTories’. Romanow was reelected in 1999 thanks to a coalition with the four remaining Liberal MLAs, and his successor Lorne Calvert was reelected in a closely fought election in 2003 when the SaskParty fell into trouble over their leader Elwin Hermanson’s alleged policies to privatize crown corporations. The SaskParty’s defeat in 2003, or defeat pulled from the jaws of victory, reoriented the party towards the centre with the election of the younger moderate Brad Wall to the party’s leadership. Voter fatigue more than anything else claimed the life of the NDP’s government in 2007 and the election of the first SaskParty government under Brad Wall.

Brad Wall has been a phenomenally popular Premier, with most polls placing him as the most popular Premier in the country or close to that. In fact, his net approval rating in 2010 was higher than God’s net approval rating (according to a PPP poll on God’s approval rating). The SaskParty has been helped by circumstances: Saskatchewan is Canada’s booming province these days with the natural resources boom. The province’s potash industry has been behind this boom, which has boosted the province’s revenues (the province has a balanced budget) and allowed the government to cut taxes without major spending cuts (but the 2011 budget saw some pretty significant budget cuts as well as tax cuts). The RBC projects the province’s growth rate at 4.3% in 2011 – the highest in the country, even ahead of Alberta. Wall’s popularity also benefited from the provincial government’s fight with the Conservative federal government in the summer of 2010 over a hostile foreign takeover of Potash Corp, the local private potash corporation, the potential takeover by an Australian firm finally collapsed. This incident reveals that despite’s Saskatchewan conservatism, interventionism and lite social democracy is pretty popular in the province. The NDP did well in the 2003 election when it presented the election as a referendum over crown corporations. The government still owns all utility companies, the phone company and the mandatory auto-insurance business.

Wall’s reelection was never in jeopardy. His government has never trailed the NDP in any poll since 2007, and as I said, the guy’s apparently more popular than God. The NDP also chose a pretty weak leader: Dwain Lingenfelter, who is uninspiring and unpopular. Running on an agenda of fiscal prudence, tax cuts and economic growth the SaskParty was never in much trouble. The Liberals, who had again failed to win seats in the 2007 election when they won 9% of the vote, were taken over in an amusing case of entryism by classical liberals/libertarians. The Liberals attacked the SaskParty from its right: their platform talked about ‘rein in Regina’s spending spree’, ‘pay off the debt’ and to ‘open up the crowns’. In all, the decrepit Liberals ran only 9 candidates, compared to a full slate for the Greens.

SaskParty 64.21% (+13.29%) winning 49 seats (+11)
NDP 31.99% (-5.25%) winning 9 seats (-11)
Greens 2.89% (+0.88%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Liberal 0.55% (-8.85%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PC 0.33% (+0.15%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 0.03% (-0.11%) winning 0 seats (nc)

What a landslide it was. Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party won 64%, by far the highest vote share won by any party in Saskatchewan’s electoral history. It did not win a grand sweep victory (such support would give a party in the less polarized Maritimes), but it did reduce the NDP to its core seats. In rural areas, the SaskParty won margins upwards of 40% in most seats and well over 70% in a lot of seats there (Wall won 80.7% in Cypress Hills). It is ironic that the NDP, a party born out of agrarian socialism and rooted for most of its history in the rural areas is now massively trounced in rural areas and concentrated in urban areas and in sparsely populated northern Saskatchewan. This phenomenon is not new, given that in 2003 the NDP won very few seats outside the province’s two main cities and smaller urban areas. But it is still rather recent, given that the NDP still did pretty well in rural areas in the Prince Albert area and eastern Saskatchewan as recently as 1995.

The SaskParty was hurt in 2003 by its inability to break through in urban Saskatoon and Regina (1 seat out of 23). In 2007, it did better in urban areas and won 5/12 seats in Saskatoon and 3/11 seats in Regina. This year, the Wallslide carried a majority of seats in both urban areas – limiting the NDP to 3/11 seats in its old Regina stronghold and 4/12 seats in Saskatoon. The SaskParty even won 74.6% in Saskatoon Silver Springs, admittedly the most conservative of all seats in the city and an affluent suburban constituency won in 2003, but still impressive. The NDP has been relegated to a rump of support in Saskatoon’s working-class low income southwest, the artsy-trendy downtown Nutana (University of Saskatchewan) and the low income neighborhoods of north central Regina.

The NDP’s case, however, is not all that dire. It was the victim of an unpopular government, not of its unpopularity or any problems for which it is entirely responsible for. The limited success of the Greens, who would have done well if the NDP had major problems of its own making, indicates that. It is possible that Wall and the SaskParty will win a third term if they remain as popular and the economy keeps doing well (it is predicted to slow down a bit, but still do well). But the NDP isn’t in bad shape. Its lack of support in rural areas is not a big deal as it can still win government by winning back urban areas and small town seats (Moose Jaw, Prince Albert, The Battlefords).

The Liberals, or rather the Liberaltarians, did very poorly. They only ran in 9 seats against 58 for the Greens, so it was to be expected that they would be outpolled pretty big by the Greens. But I think the Liberal vote in the ridings they ran in is still lower than the Green vote, and I also think it’s actually smaller than the PC vote in the ridings those guys ran in even though the PC’s only purpose nowadays is to get money and annoy the SaskParty by remaining alive. Liberal leader Ryan Bater won 11.8% in The Battlefords, which is not all that bad but probably pretty bad if you assume that the Liberal campaign was basically focused entirely on their leader’s seat. The Liberal Party is, of course, very much dead in Saskatchewan and Saskatchewan is not the place where a classical liberal-oriented Liberal Party has any chance.

Posted on November 9, 2011, in Canada, Regional and local elections, Saskatchewan. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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