Up Against the Wall No. 5
BY Jim Harding, Ph. D.
It doesn’t seem like we’ve even had an election; things remain pretty much the same. Wall’s Sask Party maintains firm control and the NDP remains a weak opposition.
The Sask Party ran on the slogan “Keep Saskatchewan Strong” and there’s no doubt that it has a strong grip on power. But is this really what makes Saskatchewan, its communities and environment, strong?
Their door to door leaflets talked about a “strong economy” and we know what this means. They are not talking about a healthy provincial democracy or a resilient environment! They aren’t really talking about “strong” communities.
Their narrative tries to tie a “strong economy” with “quality of life” but the connection is elusive. The wealth from non-renewable resources simply hasn’t been trickling down to communities, including the rural ones that continued to give the Sask Party so many votes. After so many boom years, just why does the province have such a high debt and a growing infrastructure and social deficit?
PROUD OF OIL AND GAS
It was very revealing in Wall’s victory speech when he emphasized that Saskatchewan had “a government that is proud of oil and gas”. He didn’t say he was proud of Saskatchewan having the highest per capita carbon footprint in Canada and one of the highest in the world! Or that he was proud that our drinking water and wastewater treatment infrastructure was so antiquated that our capital city was dumping untreated sewage into the downstream waterway. Nor was he saying he was proud that there was a shortage of affordable housing or that more and more families had to use food banks. He didn’t say he was proud of our extremely high aboriginal incarceration and domestic homicide rates.
And Wall is not going after $156 million dollars of federal infrastructure money to try to solve pressing environmental and social problems, but to help clean up abandoned oil and gas wells, something that was to be done and paid for by the industry.
It was no surprise that the Harper Conservatives held most of their Saskatchewan seats in October’s federal election. Saskatchewan is pretty much in the same situation under Wall that Canada was heading under Harper.Wall holds on to his version of a Petro State and with his “strong mandate” he’ll continue to push his non-renewable resource agenda. This will continue to tie us to fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal, and the environmental chaos that comes with global warming.
The media always makes things simpler than they are, so Wall’s victory was reported as a landslide. (In the natural world landslides are not good for us.) Leader Post columnist Murray Mandryk even called Wall’s rule a “dynasty”. The dumbed-down commentary we saw from the CBC panel simply reflected the dumbed-down politics in the province.
With 27 rural and 24 urban seats the Sask Party will certainly be able to control the Legislature. With only 8 urban and 2 northern seats the NDP will continue struggling to be an inspirational opposition.
However, to understand what happened we need to consider all the electorate and not just those who voted Sask Party. And Sask Party supporters remain a minority. Yes, the Sask Party got 63% of the votes, but only 57% of the registered voters cast a vote. That means that slightly over one-third (36%) of registered voters selected Wall’s majority government. And if you add in Saskatchewan residents who weren’t registered the percentage drops.
The seats in the Legislature are therefore unrepresentative of Saskatchewan people. The Sask Party got 2 votes for every 1 that went NDP, yet the Sask Party got 5 seats for every 1 going to the NDP. Under a fair PR system the Sask Party would have 41 not 51 seats and the NDP would have 20 not 10. The NDP would then be much more able to launch an effective opposition, which is going to be necessary with Wall’s government now sliding into deficit and the high probability of service cuts.
An effective opposition would make Saskatchewan a much stronger province, but that’s clearly not what Wall’s Sask Party means by “Keeping Saskatchewan Strong”.
Opposition leadership always matters and with such a small caucus, leadership probably matters even more. However NDP leader Cam Broten couldn’t even win his Saskatoon seat. This is the second election in a row where this has happened; NDP leader Lingenfelter also lost his seat in 2011.
The NDP’s popular vote went to an all-time low of 30%. And that’s 30% of 57% or only 17% of registered voters. Clearly, the play-it-safe NDP approaches are not resonating. Saskatchewan voters have not been given a reason to seriously consider returning the NDP to power. And the Sask NDP opposition probably could not effectively challenge Wall’s narrative because it isn’t free of it, itself.
A new leader is clearly required, but a new leader won’t make any difference if the party doesn’t make a big “leap” in their thinking. If they don’t present a coherent, sincere alternative vision and program, then in 2020 there will be a similar result. Mandryk could then be right that there is a political dynasty here.
THE NEW SASKATCHEWAN
But this isn’t likely. The Sask Party likes to brag about the “new Saskatchewan”, and not going back to the days of the NDP. However, going into a third term of Sask Party rule, our province feels a lot like it’s going back to the Old Alberta. With the bias of the voting system, it even feels a little like a one-party state, which doesn’t feel good. That may make the Sask Party feel “strong” and even powerful but it certainly won’t make Saskatchewan a better place to live.
The NDP is finding it hard to make a clean break with the toxic economy, including ending its support for uranium mining, coal plants and environmentally-destructive corporate farming. Perhaps that is why it never talked about protecting our water and waterways. The task of building a new vision, something around which voters could rally, still falls on progressive grass-roots organizations throughout the province. The NDP needs to start listening.
The Sask Party will continue to promote the toxic non-renewable economy and try to keep it strong. The “new Saskatchewan”, an ecologically-sustainable Saskatchewan, has yet to be born.