REGINA — Voters in Saskatchewan will cast ballots Monday in an election where the leading candidates spent the campaign casting themselves as opposites in terms of how they'll handle the COVID-19 health and economic crisis.
Saskatchewan Party Leader Scott Moe is trying to secure a fourth victory for the centre-right party, which has dominated the province's politics since his predecessor, Brad Wall, brought it to power in 2007.
Moe, 47, is promising to help the provincial economy by keeping businesses open, and offering millions in temporary rebates and tax breaks to help residents.
He's also campaigned on a message that the private sector will lead the recovery effort, and the province will manage its own finances by eliminating a projected $2.1 billion deficit by 2024-25.
By contrast, Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili says he wouldn't look at digging the province out of the red in one term.
A family doctor by trade, Meili, 45, pledges to tackle issues such as wait lists for medical procedures and classroom sizes by spending millions to hire teachers and extra health-care staff.
Ushering in a $15-an-hour minimum wage and $25-a-day-childcare is also on his list of promises.
Moe came to the premier's office in 2018 by way of a leadership contest to replace Wall, who retired from politics.
The last time the province was governed by a political party in its fourth term was the NDP before its 2007 defeat. That party, however, formed a coalition to stay in power in 1999.
The last party to win a long string of majorities in Saskatchewan without any help was the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation and its leader Tommy Douglas, who was elected for a total of five terms.
“This is hard anywhere, except Alberta, to get four in a row," said Tom McIntosh, a politics professor at the University of Regina.
In its early years under leader Elwin Hermanson, the Saskatchewan Party had difficulty gaining ground outside rural areas.
McIntosh said Wall was successful in growing the party to include voters in urban and suburban areas, and that will be put to the test this election, as city seats in Regina and Saskatoon are the main battlegrounds.
The Saskatchewan Party held 46 seats in the legislature at the time the election was called, while the NDP had 13. There were two vacant seats.
McIntosh says election success for the New Democrats means keeping the seats they have, and gaining enough ground to become a more effective opposition.
Elections Saskatchewan says more than 153,000 people have already cast their ballots in advance polls.
During the campaign, the Saskatchewan Party attacked the New Democrats for their position on oil and gas development, and cited a deleted Facebook post where one of their candidates used an expletive in calling the oilsands a "nightmare."
The NDP attacked Moe for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying he has sent mixed messages on mask use and not gone far enough to call out those who are opposed to the face coverings.
The only candidate not to make it through the four-week campaign was one from the Saskatchewan Party. Saskatoon businessman Daryl Cooper resigned after he was found to have made social media posts featuring conspiracy theories about the pandemic.
Other revelations on the campaign trail surrounded the Saskatchewan Party leader himself. The sons of the woman killed in a 1997 fatal collision Moe was involved in as a young man came forward for the first time.
And he also disclosed that in 1994 he was charged with impaired driving and leaving the scene of an accident, but both charges were stayed.
McIntosh said he hasn't seen either case have much of an impact on how voters see Moe, but believes the campaign has put a spotlight back on the province's high rates of impaired driving.
“How many provinces do you know where both major parties when they release their list of candidates have a footnote about how many of them have drunk driving charges. Both parties did this."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 25, 2020.
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press