Sask. Party seeks rare fourth straight mandate

·7 min read

The COVID-19 pandemic will make the 2020 Saskatchewan election unlike any other in the province's 115-year history, but polls suggest the result could be a familiar one.

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.

Pre-election polls are telling a similar story with the Saskatchewan Party holding on to a steady 60 per cent of decided voters.

At the dissolution of the legislature, the seat count was 46 for the Saskatchewan Party and 13 for the NDP, with two left vacant.

"There really isn't much indication in the polls that things are about to shift in a big way," said CBC polls analyst Éric Grenier.

"When that happens there are usually some other numbers that point to uncertainty for a party that is ahead in the polls — things like an unpopular leader or a big desire for change among the electorate. We're not seeing that in Saskatchewan, so for the Saskatchewan Party to lose this election, we would have to see a pretty historic swing in public opinion."

Both Saskatchewan Party Leader Scott Moe and NDP Leader Ryan Meili will guide their parties for the first time in an election, something that has not happened in the province since 1938.

Here are four storylines to follow over the next four weeks.

The pandemic effect

Elections Saskatchewan has been preparing for an election amid the COVID-19 pandemic since March.

Moe was cagey about a spring election call in the days before Saskatchewan reported its first case of the virus, ultimately ending speculation and allowing organizers to focus on Oct. 26.

Premier Scott Moe/Facebook
Premier Scott Moe/Facebook

New Brunswick was the test case for a pandemic election and British Columbia will head to the polls two days before Saskatchewan.

New Brunswick had only three active COVID-19 cases on its Sept. 13 election day and fewer than 200 total since the start of the pandemic. As of Monday, Saskatchewan had 149 active COVID-19 cases and more than 1,890 reported in total.

Grenier said that given the low spread of COVID-19 in New Brunswick, turnout was not impacted in that province's election.

"Lower turnout generally benefits the incumbent, particularly if the incumbent is supported by older voters who are much more likely to turnout," he said.

"So, a low turnout election in Saskatchewan would likely benefit the Sask. Party, whose supporters tend to be older."

Races to watch

The Saskatchewan Party is currently the longest-serving governing party in Canada and is hoping to become the fourth four-term government in provincial history.

In 2016, the Saskatchewan Party won 36 seats with more than 60 per cent of the vote, including sweeping southern and central Saskatchewan.

This fall, every Saskatchewan Party cabinet minister is seeking re-election.

"They only need 31 seats to form a majority government and there are at least that many that look very safe for the party," Grenier said.

Michael Bell/The Canadian Press
Michael Bell/The Canadian Press

There are a handful of races to watch, mostly in Regina and Saskatoon.

In 2016, Regina's three tightest margins came in Regina Coronation Park, Regina Pasqua and Regina University.

Saskatoon Westview, Saskatoon Riversdale and Saskatoon University were close in 2016 and continue to be three constituencies to watch.

Another constituency of particular interest is Saskatoon Meewasin, a seat the Saskatchewan Party won in 2011 and 2016, but lost to Meili in a byelection in 2017 by 704 votes.

Meili will attempt to break an ignominious streak which has seen the NDP's two previous leaders — Cam Broten and Dwain Lingenfelter — defeated in their first elections leading the party.

"There are five safe seats for the NDP, with the two northern ones, two in Regina and one in Saskatoon, and then about 15 or 16 seats that they're competitive in," said Jim Farney, department head of politics and international studies at the University of Regina.

"There are 21 that on a very good day they might win," he said. "Meili is not in one of those safe seats."

Losing Meili's seat would be "catastrophic" for the party, Farney said, and that result would likely come with a return to a single-digit seat count for the NDP.

Two other potential seats to watch are Prince Albert Northcote and Moose Jaw Wakamow. Northcote has traditionally been close, while Wakamow was an NDP seat for the better part of 40 years before going to the Saskatchewan Party in 2011 and 2016.

The messages

Moe spent the last couple of weeks criss-crossing the province, announcing and reannouncing school and infrastructure projects while flanked by MLAs.

He has said his party will run on its record and its plan for growth over the next decade.

This past week, Moe's focus turned to a familiar target — the federal government. Saskatchewan government lawyers were arguing the province's constitutional case against the carbon tax on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Moe called on MPs not to support the speech from the throne, which he said largely ignored Saskatchewan and economic drivers like oil and gas and agriculture.

The NDP's slogan has been "People First," and the party has already rolled out several campaign promises, from subsidized daycare to rebates for drivers and election finance reform.

Farney said the election campaign could sound familiar.

"I am worried that we may end up with a campaign about nothing new," Farney said.

"We will have the NDP taking the position that it's been taking since Mr. Meili became leader, and the Sask. Party basically saying, 'If it wasn't for the federal government, everything would be fine.'

"And we'll have a campaign where those are the options in the middle of a massive public health crisis and the biggest economic crisis since the Second World War."

The COVID-19 pandemic could become an election issue if case numbers grow, but "absent some big shock" in the campaign, the seats should not change significantly, Farney said.

"Neither leader is new. I'm not expecting any dramatically different policy from them. I don't think the NDP has built a great organization that's going to swing the tide in their favour."

Centre-right Moe-mentum

Farney said a fourth straight mandate would "cement the Sask. Party as the natural governing party of the province."

The election at this point looks to be dominated by the two parties that held seats at dissolution.

The Conservative Party sweep of federal seats in Saskatchewan in the 2019 election "bodes well" for Moe and his party, Grenier says, and is part of the changing political landscape in the province.

In the October federal vote, the Conservative Party got 64 per cent of the vote in Saskatchewan. The federal NDP went from 25 per cent of the vote and three seats in 2015 to 19 per cent in 2019, and was shut out of winning seats.

"Saskatchewan and Manitoba used to look more similar, routinely electing NDP governments and MPs from the NDP and Liberals," said Grenier.

"But increasingly Saskatchewan's politics are looking more Albertan and less Manitoban — that is to say, more conservative."

How to follow results on Saskatchewan election night

CBC Saskatchewan will be home for all your election coverage on Oct. 26.

The live program, which will be hosted by CBC's Sam Maciag, will begin at 7:30 p.m. CST.

Watch online: Live streaming online at CBC Saskatchewan and CBC Saskatoon websites, CBC Gem, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Watch on TV: Live on CBC Television beginning at 7:30 p.m. CST (check your TV service provider for channel). The program will be available on CBC News Network beginning at 8 p.m. CST.

Listen: Live on CBC Radio One (540 AM; 102.5 FM in Regina; 94.1 FM in Saskatoon) or listen online.

Follow and join the conversation by using #skvotes.

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