This provincial election is dull but trouble is coming

Editorial by Stephen Whitworth


Is it just me or does the 2016 provincial election suck?

You don’t need to answer that question. It’s not me.

I can think of a few reasons why this going-through-the-motions exercise in democracy has been unsatisfying. For one thing, the result seems foreordained: Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party will win a huge majority. How huge? That remains to be seen, but there are no guarantees the Cam Broten’s nine-MLA Opposition will increase its seat count. That’s a problem, because governments that get huge majorities term after term have a tendency to get reckless.

Besides, governments need to face strong opposition. Keeps ’em on their toes.

This election also comes less than six months after a hyper-dramatic federal election that deeply engaged Canadians. That campaign had a real villain — Stephen Harper, a dirty-fighting ideologue who demanded his way or the highway (fortunately, Canadians told him to hit the road).

In Saskatchewan, who hates Brad Wall? Like, actually despises him? Outside tight NDP (and Progressive Conservative!) circles, I’m guessing not many people do.

Wall called a ludicrously short campaign that’s winding down when it should be getting going. It’s good strategy for the Sask. Party, because Saskatchewan is still cruising along on boom fumes and this election will be decided by the time the economy really hits the resource-price-slump skids (assuming it does).

But good political strategy and good democracy aren’t the same thing. Clouds are forming on the political horizon with a storm likely to come later this spring.

Here’s what I’m worried about.

First, it’s more than a little alarming that the Saskatchewan Party went to the polls without a budget. They’ve been in power since 2007 and presumably have some idea what they’re doing at this point. Why wouldn’t they want to bring forward a budget to run on? The obvious answer is that Saskatchewan’s finances are in trouble and their next budget is going to be ugly, and if voters knew how ugly, Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party government would lose more than a few seats.

Second, if things are really bad, how will the Sask. Party handle it? Can they handle it? Thanks partly to decent if uninspired management by previous NDP governments and partly to a magical, once-in-a-generation unicorn economy, Wall walked into maybe the best situation a Saskatchewan premier has ever had. What will he and his party do when this boom goes kaboom?

Frankly, there are a lot of warning signs the Saskatchewan Party isn’t built for rough waters. It’s led by a very skilled, very sharp and very charismatic politician who made them what they are. But a political party built on a personality has a built-in expiry date. Does the Sask. Party have bench depth?

Worse, the Sask. Party’s penchant for meaningless slogans like “Keep Saskatchewan Strong” suggests a weakness of substance. I mean, “Keep Saskatchewan Strong” is better than “Us Good, You Like”, but not by much.

Before everyone rushes out to vote for Strong Leader, Saskatchewanians might want to think about some of the things that have gone wrong under the Saskatchewan Party government. From killing the film industry to passing illegal union-bashing laws to the emerging whiffs of land scandals, mistakes have been made in a time of unprecedented prosperity.

What happens when real storms break over our economy?

We’ll probably find out in the next few months.