It’s going to be a summer of political jostling in SK and beyond

PROVINCE by Nathan Raine


The next federal election is fixed under law for Oct. 19, and it seems like the NDP is poised for a serious run at power. According to a recent EKOS poll, the NDP is now at 33.6 per cent — nearly double the support the party had prior to the 2011 election. Meanwhile, the numbers for the Conservatives and Liberals continue to drop, with support for the two parties currently at 27 per cent and 23 per cent respectively.

In Saskatchewan, the Cons still hold a strong lead at 41 per cent, but new political boundaries could mean a different look to the election results.

Charles Smith, professor of Political Studies at St. Thomas More College, says that campaigning is going to start early this year, similar to what goes on during election time south of the border.

“We’re witnessing something new in Canadian politics: These fixed election dates now mean that campaigns unofficially start a lot earlier,” he says. “Parties know when it’s coming so we’re seeing the ramp-up of the campaigns. It’s sort of an American phenomenon.”

In Saskatchewan, the new political ridings mean the Conservatives might be in for some battles, says Smith. “Things looked different in Saskatchewan in 2011. We now have these rural ridings and urban ridings, which is more in line with how the political boundaries look in the rest of the country.

“When you break it down by riding, I think the urban centres are much more vulnerable for the Conservatives now. They’re going to have to change the narratives in cities like Saskatoon and Regina.”

Smith says that while the Harper Conservatives are unlikely to lose their stranglehold on the rural ridings, seats for some familiar faces are no longer a foregone conclusion.

“I don’t think people like Brad Trost or Lynne Yelich can just assume they’re going to win. I think they’ll have to go out there and knock on some doors in a way they haven’t always had to. They had been able to rely on rural votes putting them over the top, but they can’t do that anymore.”

Thomas Mulcair is surging, bringing lots of optimism to the prairies for his New Democrats. But the experts say it’s just too early to call, and polls can be extremely misleading.

“The polls go one way, then the other,” says David McGrane, University of Saskatchewan political studies professor. “The NDP is peaking now, but they have time to drop, peak, and drop again. I wouldn’t put much stock in any polls this early.”

Still, part of the Cons’ plan will be to shift their attacks away from the Liberals and towards the NDP, he says. “The basics for attacking the NDP: The Conservatives will definitely be saying they will tax Canadians to death and spend too much money, which will send the economy into a death spiral. A little bit of fear-mongering [will be] going on on the part of the Liberals and Conservatives, particularly with the economy. So there will be a lot of that kind of exaggeration taking place.”

The Conservatives’ goal, meanwhile, will be to keep the election focused on issues they believe they own. “They want to keep the election about terrorism, about lowering crime, about lowering taxes and about the economy,” says McGrane. “What they are trying to do is argue that it’s not time for a change.”

The Liberals sit in a slightly different position in Saskatchewan: one candidate is a near lock, but party leader Justin Trudeau isn’t showing the same strength in support.

“The Liberals have one seat, the Ralph Goodale seat [in Regina Wascana],” says Tom McIntosh, a professor in the University of Regina’s Department of Politics. “I suspect that Goodale will keep his seat. If you look at the last federal elections, he’s won handily, but it’s been by decreasing margins. But now that the rural part of that riding is gone, and he has a strictly urban riding, I would be surprised if it was anyone else.

“Trudeau was riding high for a while, but now the polling numbers are down — both his party’s and his own. It could be that people are mad about his support for Bill C-51, or a host of [other] things. But there’s still time for things to change,” says McIntosh.

One thing that both the NDP and Liberals need to be mindful of, says McIntosh, is the image of their leaders — thanks to Conservative attack ads.

“The Conservatives were remarkably successful in portraying the last two Liberal leaders in very negative ways that locked in an image in the public’s mind that they could not escape,” says McIntosh.

“[Stephane] Dion was a ‘bumbling incompetent,’ and scary with this wild-eyed environmental green shift stuff. [Michael] Ignatieff was ‘not really a Canadian, and only came back because someone said he could be PM.’ Once the Conservatives did a number on their image, there was nothing the party could do to shake that image.”

Mulcair, on the other hand, has seen an upward surge in his image. “I think people are starting to appreciate Mulcair,” says McIntosh. “He got rave reviews on how he’s performed in the House. There have been some very good news clips grilling various cabinet ministers or the PM about those horrible senators.”

With increased support and new political boundaries, Smith says that Mulcair will be taking a serious look at Saskatchewan this summer. “Don’t be surprised if you see Mulcair through Saskatchewan one or two times this summer. After the Alberta breakthrough, the NDP has some momentum. Their economic policies, unlike the Liberals’, are very straightforward. They introduced the child-care plan, will offer tax cuts for the middle class, raise taxes for corporations — simple things people can understand.”

“Relative to Saskatchewan, the NDP will have their eye on the new urban, redrawn boundaries in Regina and Saskatoon,” says McIntosh. “There’s not a lot of support in rural Saskatchewan so they will be concentrating on the two big cities.”