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Thursday, 16 August 2012 09:30

SaskParty keeping the hope alive after 15 years

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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While the party now bills itself as being in the politics of hope, the eight founding members of the Saskatchewan Party had little else but hope to hold on to when they decided to create a new political party on Aug. 8, 1997.

The members of the Liberal Party of Saskatchewan and the Progressive Conservative Party of Saskatchewan had little to celebrate after the 1995 provincial election.
The New Democratic Party’s Roy Romanow was re-elected to a second term with a solid majority of 42 seats against the 11 seats of the Liberals and only five seats for the Progressive Conservatives.
For the Liberals there was some consolation in that they actually added nine seats to their previous two in the legislature, which made them the official opposition. That was quite a change from their situation not too long before, when they held no seats in the legislature between 1978 and 1986.
But their new status as the official opposition had more to do with the continuing woes of the Progressive Conservatives and the long shadow cast by the Grant Devine era.
The four Liberals and four Progressive Conservatives, all from rural Saskatchewan, were therefore hoping a new party named after the province would find resonance with voters. Their numbers were sufficient to allow the party to be declared the official opposition on Sept. 10, 1997 and in June 1999 Wayne Elhard became the first MLA to be elected under the new party banner during a by-election in the Cypress Hills constituency.
The party used its strong rural base to win 25 seats in the 1999 provincial election, thereby reducing the NDP government to a minority. In 2003, the NDP was able to win a slender two-seat majority, largely due to its success in portraying the SaskParty as having a hidden agenda on privatization.
Both parties continue to talk in stereotypes about each other.
The New Democratic Caucus website has an entire section dealing with the SaskParty’s “true agenda” and it asks what the party is hiding from voters.
“Brad Wall closes the political circle for the Saskatchewan Party and their predecessors, the Devine government,” it claims. “His leadership and policy direction proves they are the same old party only with a new name.”
The SaskParty will refer to the NDP’s social democratic roots as evidence of pro-union bias and a predilection for overspending. During the 2011 provincial election, which gave the SaskParty its second term in government and a landslide victory, the NDP leader Dwain Lingenfelter was accused of hiding the cost of his party’s election platform that will result in a “reckless spending spree” and higher taxes.
In reality, both parties are looking for the support of centrist voters for whom economic prosperity and concerns over key issues such as health are more important than traditional left-right divisions.
A study of the 2011 provincial election results by the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the universities of Regina and Saskatoon indicated it is not so easy to distinguish typical SaskParty or NDP voters.
While the SaskParty was popular in rural areas and among self-employed and higher income voters, the study indicated the party was dominant in almost every demographic group. Even union members and public sector workers, who are usually seen as NDP supporters, voted with a slight majority for the SaskParty.
The study highlighted the popularity of Premier Brad Wall as a key part of the SaskParty’s victory. In addition to the party’s move towards the mainstream under his leadership, he established a discourse that associated the party with Saskatchewan as a province of hope. His speeches include frequent references to people returning home from Alberta and to residents from other provinces and from across the world finding a new home here.
“The only day better than today in Saskatchewan, is tomorrow in Saskatchewan,” he said during his 2011 election victory speech in Swift Current.
Challenging the SaskParty’s vision about being the one delivering that hope for the province presents the biggest test for the NDP’s own dreams for the future, of which the election of a new leader in March 2013 will be an important step.
Matthew Liebenberg is a reporter with the Prairie Post. Contact him with your comments about this opinion piece at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Read 795 times Last modified on Thursday, 16 August 2012 09:54