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#In Saskatchewan election, four Moe years was a foregone conclusion

#In Saskatchewan election, four Moe years was a foregone conclusion

Canada has a new one-party province, the NDP’s vital signs have returned and other takeaways from voting day on the Prairie
The Saskatchewan Party’s fourth straight majority seemed a safe bet from the moment Premier Scott Moe dropped the writ, and voting-day results confirmed the inevitable.

At publication time, Moe’s party was ahead or leading in 47 seats, to the New Democrats’ 15, easily surpassing the 31 required for a majority. The governing party had, for the third straight time, more than 60 per cent of total votes and double the total of its rivals.

Moe’s NDP rival Ryan Meili claimed he was gunning to replace Moe, but polls had always shown a blowout as clear as Saskatchewan is flat. Media outlets only waited only 38 minutes after the polls closed to declare the outcome. At that point, just one seventh of ballot boxes had been counted.

Some takeaways from the historic win:

Saskatchewan is Canada’s one-party province

Alberta’s Tories ruled for 44 years; Ontario’s led for 41. The Saskatchewan Party have a mighty long way to get that far—they’ll be in power 17 years by the end of their newly secured fourth term—but Monday’s victory shows the party belongs in the conversation about right-leaning dynasties in Canadian provincial politics. This was Scott Moe’s first try at the helm of the group that Brad Wall led to three straight majorities, and the unremarkable Moe picked up right where his charismatic predecessor left off, with another no-doubter landslide, and by far the longest current win streak of any Canadian government.

Even if this is a slightly reduced majority—the NDP was poised to gain two seats—Moe and company will still have more than twice as many seats as the Opposition. That party (and its previous incarnation, Tommy Douglas’ Co-operative Commonwealth Federation) ruled Saskatchewan for 47 of 63 years—until Wall, Moe and their fellow party members started their own dynasty. They have established themselves as the provincial ruling class and a donor magnet (corporate and even out-of-province giving is still allowed), while reducing the NDP to perennial opposition thanks to the Sask Party’s utter dominance of rural and small-town ridings. Those constituencies comprise 35 of the legislature’s 61 seats, compared to only 26 for Regina and Saskatoon combined.

The Sask Party, whose colour is the same green as the province’s much-worshipped CFL Roughriders, has proven its stranglehold over provincial politics can easily outlive Wall. This contest was never in doubt; nor was the expectation that whatever Moe promised was bound to become government policy. So it goes in a one-party province.

Moe’s ho-hum, and that will do

Brad Wall’s follow-up act had impossibly big shoes to fill. The three-term premier blended an aww-shucks charm, boosterish zeal and a dazzling rhetorical style; Moe has the aww-shucks demeanour down, but the comparisons end there. The current leader, a former farm equipment salesman, has attempted to talk tough with his campaign monotone: he once warned Justin Trudeau to “just watch me” on the carbon tax, and peppered his election speeches with constant references to a “strong” economy, “strong” party and “strong” province.

Thus far, Moe has shown little interest in governing differently from Wall, and largely offered a keep-the-momentum going suite of campaign promises, including some populist middle-class offerings like an electricity bill rate cut and home renovation tax credit, as well as new urgent-care facilities in Regina and Saskatoon, to keep cities in the Saskatchewan Party’s corner.

That’s a decent amount of spending for a province already facing high deficits, but Moe’s program looks tightfisted compared to that of the NDP. He faced heat during the campaign when a 1994 impaired driving charge came to light—the second unearthed from a past that also includes involvement in a 1997 car crash that killed a woman (Moe has said he was not drinking before the fatal collision). But with some contrition, he weathered that storm.

He also took heat for tweeting a picture of himself shopping without a mask on (contrary to public health advice), but his NDP rival had been unmasked in a store, too.

Moe doesn’t seem to aspire to greatness. With the Saskatchewan Party, being good enough is more than sufficient to win.

The NDP was not obliterated

Yes, this was another rout. Yes, the party of titans like Douglas, Allan Blakeney and Roy Romanow has featured a rotating cast of also-rans during the Saskatchewan Party’s reign. And Meili was the fourth NDP leader in as many elections. But if early numbers hold, he’ll be the first leader in three tries to actually win his own seat. It means that the opposition party doesn’t have to start yet again at square one.

With Meili, the party was trying something different, something bolder. Its past leaders took a centrist, gentler line of attack against the popular Wall; Meili, a former doctor who was arrested at the 2001 anti-globalization protests in Québec, came from the NDP’s activist wing. He swung hard by alleging Moe had a hidden agenda for “austerity” cuts, and played to his side’s base by pledging a wealth tax and $15 minimum wage, alongside various spending hikes. Yet he came across as more of a steady Opposition leader than a political firebrand, and voters seem to be rewarding him by slightly expanding his caucus. For Meili to get from here to government, though, will prove a vastly more daunting task.

Ghosts of the past can’t haunt Saskatchewan forever

Meili spent much of the campaign attacking the Saskatchewan Party’s record, and Moe repeatedly returned fire, even if the NDP government the premier was slagging lost power 13 years ago. This was a mainstay of Wall’s campaign rhetoric, warning about the days of a sluggish provincial economy and past rural hospital closures. The criticism came across as stale, especially given that the once-dominant Saskatchewan NDP government wasn’t some kind of one-and-done experiment like the oft-reviled Ontario NDP of 1990. Fearmongering about the bad old Roy Romanow days may not faze new voters come the next election in 2024: they were in diapers the last time the NDP ran Saskatchewan.

The alarm bells don’t ring as loudly here

Although Saskatchewan is partially exposed to the oil price crash that has ravaged Alberta’s economy, Moe’s province actually isn’t doing too badly—it now boasts Canada’s lowest provincial unemployment rate, at 6.8 per cent. That’s in part thanks to the strength of Saskatchewan’s trusty old farming sector, but also because the province was among the first to reopen during the coronavirus crisis, and hasn’t been hit as hard as other provinces, with only 25 deaths and cities that have largely avoided outbreaks.

Moe didn’t necessarily enjoy a COVID bump, but nor did he suffer from crisis mismanagement complaints or economic doldrums. And nobody could accuse him of an opportunistic election call (as was the case in New Brunswick or British Columbia): Moe dropped his writ on Saskatchewan’s fixed-election timetable.

This was as neutral-state an election as you could possibly ask for in 2020, when the only campaign rallies on either side were drive-in, horn-honking car-and-truck affairs.

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