A new political party called Saskatchewan United has had its name accepted by Elections Saskatchewan, and people involved say they are in the process of gathering the signatures needed to register as an official party.
A steering committee for the new party was formed in December.
"People no longer want to vote for the lesser of two evils and they are more concerned about splitting the province than splitting the vote," said Ken Rutherford, one of the members of the steering committee, in a news release.
The movement includes former federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz, who was an MP for Battlefords—Lloydminster, and independent MLA Nadine Wilson.
Wilson resigned from the Saskatchewan Party's caucus in late September after it was revealed she had misrepresented her COVID-19 vaccination status.
The MLA said at the time she no longer supported the direction of the Saskatchewan Party in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"People are exhausted with playing left-right politics and they are beginning to realize that we are all citizens of this province and we are going to need to unleash the power of this province by uniting its greatest resource: the people,'' said Wilson in the news release.
Ritz said he is currently an advisor for Saskatchewan United. He said the group hopes to have all 2,500 signatures needed by the end of May.
Ritz said he joined the movement out of frustration.
"There's a lot of angst out there about the way COVID was handled."
Ritz said a lot of that angst is aimed at the federal government, but that the provincial government also went along with what the federal government was doing during the pandemic.
"We're looking at lots of money that has been spent with no accountability really attached to it yet," Ritz said. "We're looking at a health-care system that is still overburdened with backup surgeries and so on that were never taken into account."
Ritz also said there should be an audit of the Saskatchewan health-care system.
He is against COVID-19 mandates, and said people want Saskatchewan to speak up in the federal conversation about vaccine travel mandates.
'At the end of the day, it's the lack of a plan," Ritz said. "Saskatchewan has a lot of autonomy within this confederation we call Canada that I don't think they're exercising the way that they could."
Is the right crowded?
There has been a surge of right-wing groups in the province in recent years, with the Buffalo Party and the anti-vaccine mandate group Unified Grassroots, the latter of which is not yet a registered party. Meanwhile, Ritz said there has been a series of Sask. United town halls.
"The vast majority of people that came out were Sask. Party people, [there] were actually a lot of NDP and Liberal supporters as well at one point. So I don't think that vote split thing will be a problem. The NDP in the province are very much in a tailspin … The Liberals really have nobody of record," Ritz said.
"I think it's a matter of getting people that didn't vote last time out. It's about, you know, galvanizing people. There's got to be a better way than not having a plan and just stumbling along here."
Ritz said the Sask. United movement has had "good" discussions with the Buffalo Party about putting everyone "under one roof," but that ultimately that will come down to what Sask. United's policies look like.
"We want to win this race and it's a matter of getting the right people. It's a relay. It's not a sprint."
How it will affect Sask. Party
Dale Eisler, a former political journalist and author of From Left to Right: Saskatchewan's Political and Economic Transformation, said the formations of these new parties on the right present a significant threat to the Saskatchewan Party and its hold on power.
"If you look at the governing choices of the Sask. Party, clearly some of their policies are designed to prevent losing that right flank that they currently hold. And so this new party would be a splintering of that along with the Buffalo Party," Eisler said.
"Should the two parties form, then I think they become a real electoral threat. I don't believe that could win government at all, but they certainly could weaken the Saskatchewan Party's electoral hold and in a kind of a perverse sense, create significant electoral opportunity for the NDP."
Eisler said he sees the majority of support for Sask. United coming from former Sask. Party voters. He said Sask. United may be able to win over some NDP voters, but not in large numbers.
He also said he is not convinced the new party will make significant inroads in urban areas of the province. Instead, he thinks it will erode the Sask. Party's hold on rural Saskatchewan.
When it comes to the question of COVID-19 being a galvanizing enough issue for Sask. United, Eisler said the majority of the province are not anti-vaxxers.
"The anti-vax people have very strong opinions and express them vociferously and can occupy a lot of space in that sense. I believe that the significant majority of Saskatchewan people are not of that persuasion."
When asked about Sask. United on Thursday, Deputy Premier Donna Harpauer said she hasn't been following it closely.
"We'll see where it goes, see what momentum it presents."
Meanwhile, Eisler said if the Sask. Party perceives Sask. United as a threat, he assumes they will try to prevent the loss of support.
"It'll be interesting to watch, assuming this all goes forward, how the Saskatchewan Party will respond politically and in a policy sense to this."