New leader says Sask.'s Buffalo Party hasn't hit 1,000 members yet, but confident for next election

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Phil Zajac, left, is shown with Clint Arnason, whom he defeated to win the Buffalo Party of Saskatchewan's first leadership race on March 25. (Buffalo Party of Saskatchewan/Facebook  - image credit)
Phil Zajac, left, is shown with Clint Arnason, whom he defeated to win the Buffalo Party of Saskatchewan's first leadership race on March 25. (Buffalo Party of Saskatchewan/Facebook - image credit)

The new leader of the Buffalo Party of Saskatchewan said that party membership has not yet reached 1,000, but he has confidence that the party can make significant gains in the next election.

"None of us are politicians by profession," said Phil Zajac, who won the party's first leadership race on March 25.

"We're ranchers and farmers and businesspeople who have some really good ideas about how to fix things in the province. And I think that as a group right now, with our core base of people that we have, we're going to do an outstanding job in the next election."

Prior to winning the provincial party's leadership, Zajac sat on its board as secretary.

In the 2020 provincial election, the Buffalo Party — formerly Wexit Saskatchewan — ran candidates in 17 of Saskatchewan's 61 constituencies. They garnered 2.5 per cent of the total vote, putting the party third behind the Saskatchewan Party (with 61 per cent of the vote) and the NDP (32 per cent).

The Buffalo Party, which describes itself as a western independence party, didn't win any seats, but finished second in four ridings in Saskatchewan's southwest and southeast.

Zajac ran for the party in the Estevan constituency, finishing second behind incumbent Saskatchewan Party MLA Lori Carr.

Zajac received just under 26 per cent of the vote, the most of any Buffalo Party candidate.

Howard Leeson, professor emeritus at the University of Regina's department of politics and international studies, said he is surprised the Buffalo Party has not surpassed 1,000 members, given how well they did in the 2020 election.

"I really thought the Buffalo Party might take off and I was quite surprised that it didn't. And it could be the internal problems that have prevented this," said Leeson.

"I thought we would hear a lot more from them. I thought that they would attempt to push the Saskatchewan Party even further than than they have."

Trevor Hopkin/U of R Photography
Trevor Hopkin/U of R Photography

The" internal problems" Leeson referred came with the ousting of the party's interim leader, Wade Sira, in September.

Zajac said the board had asked Sira to step down as interim leader as he was planning on running in the official leadership race, but he refused.

Zajac said Sira was blocked from running for leader after violating the party's code of conduct.

However, Zajac said Sira's ousting barely affected the membership, with about 20 members in total lost due to situation. Thousands of people receive party emails right now and Facebook follows are high, according to Zajac. That, he said, is what matters.

"Membership sales take time," he said, noting Saskatchewan isn't in an election cycle right now and money is currently "tight for everybody in the province."

Party stances on autonomy

Leeson said the Buffalo Party, at its core, is about western alienation.

Zajac said the party wants the province to be more autonomous, particularly when it comes to taxation and immigration, and wants Saskatchewan to have some of the same autonomy Quebec has.

If it gains power, the party will look at ways of minimizing government and minimizing taxes, he said.

Meanwhile, October's throne speech indicated Premier Scott Moe's Saskatchewan Party government wants to "build a stronger, more independent Saskatchewan within Confederation."

In November, the premier said he was "not talking about separation," but about "a Saskatchewan cultural identity within the nation of Canada … being a nation within a nation."

Leeson said the Saskatchewan Party's recent "nation within a nation" talk lines up with some sentiments expressed by the Buffalo Party and the anti-vaccine mandate group Unified Grassroots.

"We see the Saskatchewan Party trying to, if you will, steal some ground from both of these parties. So as a rule of thumb, the more parties that you have on the same ground, the less ability there is for one of them to get a majority," Leeson said.

"I think that the Saskatchewan Party got just a bit of a just a bit of a scare … with the Buffalo Party doing so well just in the last two weeks of the election campaign," and Moe's party is now "moving deliberately to try and steal some of that ground from the Buffalo Party in the future."

Leeson said the Saskatchewan Party recently accomplished just that in the Athabasca riding byelection in northern Saskatchewan.

Buffalo Party candidate Clint Arnason, who received 12 votes, placed last in the byelection.

"The Buffalo Party candidate didn't do well in the north at all," said Leeson. "So the initial readings, if you will, is that the Buffalo Party isn't much of a threat yet, but we'll have to see how that goes."

Shared philosophy with Unified Grassroots

Unified Grassroots is not yet a registered party. Zajac said that group and the Buffalo Party share the same philosophy.

"We have a policy convention coming up. That's the perfect time to come and join the team. I think that competing with us … on a provincial level as a party will be difficult."

Buffalo Party of Saskatchewan/Twitter
Buffalo Party of Saskatchewan/Twitter

The Buffalo Party and the Saskatchewan Party are different, Zajac said, due largely to their stances on taxation. He is vocal about his disapproval of the governing party's 2022 budget and tax hikes it included, and says his party wants to end the "tax and spend philosophy" of government.

"The way to create stimulus in the economy is to reduce taxes," Zajac said.

"As soon as you start tightening up the belts of everybody in the province, people tend to hold on to their money because they don't know what's coming next, and they don't feel secure about the leadership that they have."

The Buffalo Party's policy and governance convention is on May 28 and 29 in Regina.

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