Saskatoon Meewasin byelection first test for new Opposition Leader Beck, prof says

The Saskatoon Meewasin byelection will be the first vote since Carla Beck took over as Saskatchewan Opposition NDP Leader. The party has held the seat since March 2017. (Heywood Yu/The Canadian Press - image credit)
The Saskatoon Meewasin byelection will be the first vote since Carla Beck took over as Saskatchewan Opposition NDP Leader. The party has held the seat since March 2017. (Heywood Yu/The Canadian Press - image credit)

A Saskatchewan political studies professor says the Saskatoon Meewasin byelection will garner more interest and could have a higher turnout because of who is running and what is at stake.

Four parties have already selected candidates, including one party leader.

Former Opposition NDP Leader Ryan Meili officially resigned the seat on July 1. The government has six months from that date to hold the vote.

University of Regina professor of politics and international studies Tom McIntosh said he expects this byelection to receive more attention a typical one, in part because four candidates are ready weeks before a vote.

"I think the four name candidates now create a much higher level of interest, which may drive up overall turnout."

The NDP was the first to choose a candidate, with Nathaniel Teed winning the nomination on Aug. 3. Teed, a Saskatoon small business owner, has not run for the party in the past.

Kim Groff, also a business owner in Saskatoon, won the Saskatchewan Party nomination one night later. Groff lost to the NDP's Betty Nippi-Albright in the 2020 provincial election in Saskatoon Centre.

Last week, Saskatchewan Liberal Leader Jeff Walters joined the race. Walters is an instructor at the University of Regina in the department of sociology and justice studies.

On Sunday, the Buffalo Party announced Mark Friesen would be its candidate in the byelection.

Friesen ran twice for the People's Party of Canada in federal elections, finishing fifth in Saskatoon Grasswood in 2019, and fourth in 2021 with 4.6 per cent of the vote.

During the pandemic, Friesen became a vocal opponent of health measures and vaccinations. He later became one of the COVID-19 patients airlifted to Ontario when Saskatchewan's hospitals were over capacity.

Beck with most at stake, prof. says

McIntosh said the byelection will be more interesting "because it is a bit of a test for everyone."

He said the governing Saskatchewan Party will see how much voters are concerned about the states of health care and the economy.

McIntosh said it is also the first real test for new NDP Leader Carla Beck. Meanwhile, the Liberals are trying to make a splash and the Buffalo Party is looking to make a mark in an urban race.

"The stakes for Beck are the biggest. This is their former leader's riding. [Meili] won it in a byelection and held it in the election. And they need all the seats in the legislature they can get to be an effective opposition," McIntosh said.

"This is really her first test and if it doesn't work out well that sets them back."

McIntosh said the stakes are considerably lower for Walters, another new party leader, because of the Liberal Party's status in the province.

"The Liberal Party hasn't been a force in the province since the Romanow coalition in 1999, and it was that coalition that blew up and killed the Liberal Party as an electoral force."

When it comes to the Buffalo Party, McIntosh said he thinks Friesen is most likely to steal votes from the Saskatchewan Party, while also gaining votes from people that do not typically vote.

Liberal Leader's impact

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and Regina Leader-Post political columnist Murray Mandryk told CBC's Saskatoon Morning that Walters and the Liberals have a lot of ground to gain to make an impact in the byelection.

"With no offence to Jeff Walters, they had less than 400 votes province-wide last time. I don't know if he is going to magically transform the party," Mandryk said

The Liberal Party received 355 total votes in the 2020 provincial election, 0.08 per cent of the vote.

Theresa Kliem/CBC Saskatchewan
Theresa Kliem/CBC Saskatchewan

"I don't know if anybody, beyond a few people on Twitter, takes the Liberals in this province seriously. I think that's the real big challenge [Walters] faces right now," Mandryk said.

"I'm suspecting he would take votes away from the NDP. We saw during the NDP leadership [convention] that Kaitlyn Harvey endorsed Walters' position on a petition, which I found a little odd."

In April, Walters launched a petition to try and force a plebiscite on launching an independent inquiry into the province's COVID-19 response.

At the NDP leadership convention in June, runner-up Kaitlyn Harvey endorsed Walters's petition.

Harvey initially indicated she would seek the NDP nomination in Saskatoon Meewasin, but announced on social media on July 4 that she decided not to put her name forward.