The surface results might not have shown it, but there was change in the provincial election results on Monday night.
Sure the Saskatchewan Party won a majority government – the fourth consecutive majority for the party. They collected more than 60 per cent of the popular vote for the third consecutive election.
And every member of the Sask. Party cabinet has been re-elected or was leading at the end of election night.
The New Democratic Party (NDP) will still be the Official Opposition. They won 11 of the 61 seats available in the Saskatchewan Legislature, one more than they won four years ago, but two fewer than they had when the election was called.
There were some close races on election night, and many people opted for mail-in voting, so the NDP might pick up a few seats in which they were a close runner-up, but still, they’re looking at around 15 or 16 seats – not the result the party wanted.
If they do ultimately see an improvement, it might be enough to save NDP Leader Ryan Meili’s job for now, but we’ll see whether the NDP will enter the next election in 2024 with a new leader – for the fifth consecutive election.
But there were some changes on election night, and it appears the Buffalo Party was the source of that change.
Critics will be quick to point out the party’s separatist roots; they were known as the Wexit (or Western Exit) Party until a few months ago.
But they finished second in both Estevan and Cannington, and two other constituencies in the province. Voters who feel like they’ve been taken for granted by the Sask. Party after 20 years of dominance in rural Saskatchewan found an alternative in the Buffalo. It wasn’t enough to get them a seat in the legislature, but it was enough to get them results that few expected.
In the case of Estevan, MLA Lori Carr received 64.1 per cent of the popular vote, the lowest share for the Sask. Party since 2003, when former MLA Doreen eagles barely had 50 per cent support.
(Note: Carr’s share could change based on the mail-in ballots, but there likely won’t be a major swing).
Local Buffalo Party candidate Phil Zajac deserves a lot of credit for his performance in Estevan’s pre-election candidates’ forum, and the ideas he articulated resonated with a lot of people. It’s also not a coincidence that the party had its best results in ridings hit hard by the federal Liberals’ policies.
In recent elections, the NDP has finished a distant second to the Sask. Party in rural ridings. In this election, they finished behind a party that didn’t exist a year ago. Seth Lendrum, the NDP hopeful for Estevan, had the fewest votes of any NDP candidate in the province.
Rural voters have been rejecting the NDP’s message en masse for more than 20 years, but in this election, the lack of support for the NDP plummeted to record levels.
We know the NDP will never gain votes in rural Saskatchewan when they voice support for a carbon tax, but the disdain rural voters showed for the NDP isn’t just a one-issue matter.
It’s time for the NDP to take a long, hard look at how they handle rural ridings, because they won’t get elected again until they pick up a few of these constituencies.
One thing that nobody should be happy about is voter turnout. Yes, we know we’re in the midst of a pandemic, and a lot of people are skittish about going out, especially as we see a rise in cases.
But voter turnout was less than 50 per cent, which is inexcusable. You have to wonder how much the lack of turnout is due to the pandemic, and how much of it is due to people taking the results for granted, since everyone knew the Saskatchewan Party was going to win handily.
As for the Estevan constituency, nobody should be surprised with Carr’s victory. Despite the support for the Buffalos, this is still a Sask. Party riding.
But we need progress on a new nursing home for Estevan, and we need to see carbon capture and storage moving forward on the Shand Power Station and Unit 6 at the Boundary Dam Power Station.
If we don’t, she’ll find the next election even tougher.