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Session, Leadership Will Impact Votes

by Murray Mandryk

There isn’t much equivalency in the divide between urban and rural Saskatchewan. Clearly, the Saskatchewan Party has a far tighter grip on rural Saskatchewan right now than the NDP has on the cities. Yet what is happening in the Saskatchewan politics right now could go long ways in determining whether that changes down the road.

The makeup of the 61-seat Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly that resumed sitting last week includes what most often described as the 29 rural seats.

It is just under half and some of these seats like Yorkton, Swift Current and The Battlefords are really more urban than rural.

That said, these seats are generally bonded by their large tracks of farmland and ties to rural issues that extend beyond agriculture oil, natural gas and potash mining and small businesses that tends to dominated local economies.

This is not to say there isn’t far more diversity in the 29 rural seats than city dwellers think. But because these ridings are still dominated by tight-knit small farming communities and slightly larger ones dominated by smaller businesses that depend on the agriculture and resource sectors, it is often easier to come to a consensus on some issues.

For most of the past 40 years – and certainly, most of the last 20 years – the political consensus is the NDP simply does not address their needs.

Conversely, the Sask. Party has easily won all these seats in the last two elections by two-thirds to three-quarters of the vote. This is also why the Sask. Party fought hard prior to maintain the complement of 29 rural seats, even though declining population in rural seats likely merited having less of them.

The remaining 32 seats consistent of the two massive and also under-populated north riding (one supposes if there is demographic argument that there are too many rural seats, the same can be said for the north) that have almost always gone NDP and 14 seats in Saskatoon (counting Saskatoon Stonebridge-Dakota), 12 seats in Regina and two seats in each Prince Albert and Moose Jaw.

Notwithstanding two consecutive by-election wins in Saskatoon, the Sask. Party still holds 19 of the 29 “urban seats.”

Admittedly, this is a rarity not seen since the Grant Devine sweep of 1982. It will not unlikely be repeated by the Sask. Party in 2020. But it’s also difficult to see how New Democrats will completely wipe out the Sask. Party in all four major cities – something they would have to do to if they want to win even a razor-thin majority win.

So why are we talking about this today, a good three years away from the next election?

Well, last week saw the re-opening of the Saskatchewan Legislature for the fall sitting that happens to occur smack dab in the middle of simultaneous NDP and the Sask. Party leadership.

Both events will have a large say on the current status quo in Saskatchewan politics. And even small moves could alter opinions.

For example, even before last week’s throne speech, Wall announced on FaceBook his government would repeal Bill 40 that defines public ownership of a Crown corporation as they own more than 50 percent. Essentially, this allowed government to sell off 49 percent of any Crown.

This was a big deal in Regina where the major Crown headquarters are located. Undoubtedly, it would have cost the Sask. Party some city votes. But Wall’s deft handling of the matter may have prevented that from happening.

Will the next Sask. Party leader be quite so nimble? Will the next NDP leader capitalize, while still making in-roads in rural Saskatchewan?

Questions like this are why the current goings-on in Saskatchewan may make a difference three years from now.

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