As predicted, rural Saskatchewan is having a bigger role in picking who our next premier will be. In fact, many argue that rural Saskatchewan, or more specifically, Saskatchewan Party members living there, are having a disproportional say.
Of course, many in rural Saskatchewan will simply argue it’s about time, citing years of frustration over its increasingly sparse population having no discernable effect on how governments – especially federal governments – are chosen. Others will more accurately argue that it’s simply the nature of our parliamentary democracy where we don’t get to vote directly for our premier or prime minister. Partisan party members have always had control over this process and because of this reality there are always times when a certain demographic is going to have a disproportional impact on who becomes the leader of any given party.
Clearly, the larger percentage of NDP members in the cities would mean city and union voters had a larger influence on picking NDP leaders. That applied to the 2001 contest when only New Democrats got to pick Lorne Calvert as Roy Romanow’s successor as premier. With that said, so powerful a force is rural Saskatchewan that the Sask. Party government now has to be careful to avoid reverting back to a rural-based party. With three of the five candidates sitting MLAs in city seats, one might not think this would be an overwhelming problem. Moreover, by taking the majority of city seats in both the 2011 and 2016 general elections, one might also think the Sask. Party has established a pretty solid urban foothold.
While the last provincial budget hit everyone in the province hard, it seems to have caused more backlash in the cities. Or at least, the results of last month’s Saskatoon Fairview byelection – coming less than a year after NDP leadership hopeful Ryan Meili’s byelection win in Saskatoon Meewasin – certainly says something. What’s also obvious is the Sask. Party leadership hopefuls are going where they think the votes are.
Saskatoon blogger and Saskatchewan Maclean’s correspondent Tammy Robert has been monitoring the movement of the Sask. Party leadership candidates based on their social media postings and announcement locations. She noted the following: Alanna Koch – Indian Head, Wolseley, Redvers, Weyburn, North Battleford, Beechy; Scott Moe – Regina, Swift Current, Fox Valley, Estevan, Moose Jaw; Ken Cheveldayoff – Moose Jaw, Rosetown, Kindersley, Saskatoon, Regina; Gord Wyant – Regina, Saskatoon, Regina and Rosetown, and; Tina Beaudry-Mellor – Regina.
She noted the following: Alanna Koch – Indian Head, Wolseley, Redvers, Weyburn, North Battleford, Beechy; Scott Moe – Regina, Swift Current, Fox Valley, Estevan, Moose Jaw; Ken Cheveldayoff – Moose Jaw, Rosetown, Kindersley, Saskatoon, Regina; Gord Wyant – Regina, Saskatoon, Regina and Rosetown, and; Tina Beaudry-Mellor – Regina.
While perhaps not a definitive itinerary, it does reflect candidates’ desires to tell the public where they are and what they doing. And the overwhelming message from many – especially Koch and Moe – is that they are spending most of their time in the country. But one doesn’t necessarily have to see whether candidates are going to see rural Saskatchewan’s influence on this race. All one really has to do is look at their policies.
Frankly, there really hasn’t been much policy debate of any kind in the Sask. Party race. But what debate there has been seems to be focused on rural-related issues. Consider the emphasis Koch, Moe, and Cheveldayoff in particular have made on opposing the federal carbon tax and proposed changes to income taxes as they potentially impact small business and farms.
Admittedly, this is not necessarily exclusively a rural issue. But that candidates like Moe are running under slogans like “a tractor cab is not a tax shelter” says much about how Sask. Party leadership hopefuls are framing such issues and to whom they are making their appeals.
Similarly, Koch’s online profile is chockfull of references to her agricultural credentials. Make no mistake that rural Saskatchewan is having a big say in selecting the next premier.