Saskatchewan Election Results: Assessing the Damage (Updated Again)

The Saskatchewan Party won 37 seats with 51% of the popular vote and the NDP won 21 seats with 37% of the vote. Obviously, the Saskatchewan Party’s victory is bad news for progressives.

The provincewide figures mask significant regional variations. Outside of the main cities, the Saskatchewan Party won 27 seats with 62% of the rural vote. Two of the four seats that the NDP hung onto, with 29% of the rural vote, were the northern pair that the NDP almost always wins.

In Regina, the NDP retained a solid lead in popular vote (48% to 36%) and in seats (8 to 3). Saskatoon broke down well for the NDP, which kept a majority of seats (7 to 5) despite a tied popular vote (42% to 43%). The Saskatchewan Party was more fortunate in Moose Jaw and Prince Albert, where the seat count was tied (1 and 1 in each) despite the NDP winning the popular vote (49% to 42% in MJ and 50% to 42% in PA).

As expected, my old local MLA, Harry Van Mulligen of the NDP, won handily in Regina Douglas Park. My old university buddy, Dustin Duncan of the Saskatchewan Party, won by an even wider margin in Weyburn-Big Muddy.

Given that the Saskatchewan Party was headed for victory, the worst-case scenario was that the NDP would lose so badly as to allow the Liberals to position themselves as the main opposition party. Fortunately, the NDP held onto a respectable number of seats and the Liberal Party was again shut out.

At the campaign’s outset, I wrote that the Saskatchewan Party wanted an issue-free election. Unfortunately, it largely got one.

The Saskatchewan Party successfully neutralized several potential wedge issues by pledging not to privatize healthcare, sell Crown corporations, sign TILMA, or stop scheduled minimum-wage increases. In response to the NDP’s proposed universal prescription drug plan, the Saskatchewan Party offered a plan covering all children and most seniors. Progressives will have to hold Saskatchewan’s New Government to these commitments.

Disappointingly, the outgoing NDP government also neutralized several potential wedge issues by adopting the same positions as the Saskatchewan Party. Even as Conservative governments in Newfoundland and Alberta began raising resource royalties, the Saskatchewan government continued giving away provincial resources to accelerate development.

The 2006 provincial budget eliminated Saskatchewan’s corporate capital tax and slashed its corporate income tax from 17% to 12%. A year ago, the NDP government cut the provincial sales tax (PST) from 7% to 5%.

There is no getting around the fact that these tax cuts mirrored the Saskatchewan Party’s program and, for that matter, the federal Conservative program. The upshot is that the Saskatchewan Party is promising few further tax cuts. Its election platform pledged to exempt used cars for the PST, a tax credit for recent post-secondary graduates, and some smaller tax credits and rebates. In other words, the Saskatchewan Party is not proposing to significantly reduce the fiscal capacity available to finance provincial public services.

By contrast, industrial relations are an area in which the Saskatchewan Party will certainly make matters worse. Although the NDP did not implement most available hours, anti-scab legislation or sectoral bargaining, Saskatchewan still shines across Canada as a beacon of relatively progressive labour legislation.

The Saskatchewan Party clearly intends to move toward the employer-friendly regime present in the rest of English Canada. Its platform explicitly included essential-services legislation, “reviewing” Workers’ Compensation, an end to card-check certification, and free reign for management to oppose union organizing.

UPDATE (Nov. 9): The morning after the morning after –

Although the website that I linked to still reports that the NDP won the “rural” constituency of Meadow Lake, it emerged yesterday that the Saskatchewan Party is ahead. This seat, along with the two that the Saskatchewan Party barely won in Moose Jaw and Prince Albert, might change based on absentee ballots, recounts, etc. At this point, the provincewide seat count is 38-20, but up to three seats could ultimately shift to the NDP opposition.

On the policy front, the Alberta government has already made an overture about Saskatchewan joining TILMA.  Some CanWest pundits are pushing the Saskatchewan Party to break its promise on Crown corporations.

UPDATE (Nov. 10): I flew into Regina this morning. John Baird was also on the flight. I wonder whether he is advising Saskatchewan’s New Government.

UPDATE (Nov. 16): Joe Kuchta has posted some useful information about the Saskatchewan Party’s policies and the political right’s reaction to its victory.

4 comments

  • The lowest popular vote for the CCF-NDP since 1938, and nearly two points lower than the Monday Night Massacre of 1982.

    Unfortunately, too many people in the institutional leadership of the Saskatchewan NDP will see winning 20 seats as “not bad” after a 16 year run in government. These will doubtless be the same people who believed that the NDP won the 2003 election when, in fact, the Saskatchewan Party lost it.

    The time has come for a root and branch renewal of the Saskatchewan NDP, including a thoroughgoing generational change of the political and institutional leadership.

    Unfortunately, the next generation of New Democrats may not be ready to lead, in no small part due to the foolishness of Roy Romanow who, despite having been deoputy premier and attorney general at 29, declined to appoint anyone to Cabinet under the age of 39. (39-1/2 actually. The irony is that the young Roy Romanow would never have made it into a Roy Romanow Cabinet and the Tommy Douglas who led the CCF to power in 1944 would have been a long shot.)

    The generational junta at the heart of the Romanow government was succeeded by a dithering Calvert ministry that was both feckless and feart. Columnist Murray Mandryk once claimed they lurched from crisis to crisis. He was wrong. They lurched from panic to panic.

    The problem is that neither Romanow nor Calvert made any meaningful attempt to groom the next generation of leadership.

    However, given the weaknesses of both Romanow and Calvert as leaders, that may not be entirely a bad thing.

  • Good point regarding the low popular vote. The NDP’s current share of seats (34%) nearly equals its share of votes (37%), which is pretty fortunate for the loser of a first-past-the-post race. In 1999, Romanow hung onto a minority government despite losing the popular vote. In both cases, overwhelming Saskatchewan Party support in rural areas had more impact on the popular vote than on the seat count. Also, the two sparsely-populated northern seats bump-up the NDP’s seat total without adding much to the popular vote.

  • The Sask. NDP has been moving to the right for years. You mention some of the evidence in that they adopted virtually a Sask. Party policy on taxation and are to the right of Ed Stelmach on royalties.
    What you do not mention is the fact that party has abandoned any attempt to reverse the privatisation policy of the Devine years. In this he follows in the footsteps of Romanow. Not only that but he sold the NDP interest in an oil upgrader. Public ownership provides competition and an alternative investment medium when private companies balk at taxes etc. Not only that they provide income for the province.
    The NDP government no long has uranium, potash, oil and natural gas companies.
    I noticed that during the campaign Calvert said zilch about the Wheat Board. The party seems to have no strategy to win back rural support.

  • Ken attributes the current state of the Saskatchewan NDP to having “been moving to the right for years.” I think this is inaccurate.

    Regardless of whether “moving to the right” is deemed to be a good or bad thing, it would have required a sense of direction. I would argue that the Romanow Calvert NDP never had any direction at all. One may credibly argue that the party drifted to the right, but I fail to see that there was ever any course laid in. The NDP had been a purely reactive political culture for at least a decade, lurching from panic to panic based entirely on external events.

    On the substantive matter of crown ownership, I believe the NDP has locked it into a false dichotomy and Ken has focussed on the wrong question. Crown investment is a tool. It is one tool among many for exerting influence and / or control over the economy. But it is certainly not the only tool. The fact that Saskatchewan has fewer Crowns at the end of the Romanow Calvert ministry than it did at the beginning is, in and of itself, neither here nor there. The question, rather is whether or not the Romanow Calvert government was effectively using the range of tools at its disposal to exert influence or control.

    Acknowledging the very real fiscal constraints in the early Romanow years, I am personally inclined that the later Romanow years and the Calvert years demonstrate the same sense of directionless drift in this area as in others.

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