the numbers guy

Can the NDP win back Saskatchewan?

Posted on: August 13, 2011

In 1944 a 40 year old former Baptist preacher named Tommy Douglas shocked the Canadian political establishment by leading the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) to victory in the 1944 Saskatchewan provincial election – and forming the very first socialist government in North America.

Tommy Douglas went on to be voted “The Greatest Canadian” by CBC voters from coast to coast while his CCF went on to win four straight provincial elections after 1944 before later evolving into the Saskatchewan NDP – in total the CCF and NDP have governed Saskatchewan for 47 of the last 67 years, winning 12 of 17 elections.

The NDP lost power in the 2007 election after a 16 year stint under premiers Roy Romanow and Lorne Calvert. The NDP achieved 37.2% of the vote in 2007 (down 7.4% from 2003) and won just 20 of the 58 seats (down 10 from 2003).

Their nemesis was the centre-right Saskatchewan Party, a centre-right grouping founded in 1997 (largely from the ashes of the provincial Tories) and led by Swift Current MLA Brad Wall. In 2007 the SKP won 50.9% (+11.6% from 2003) and 38 seats (up 10 from 2003).

Saskatchewanians go to the polls again on November 7 to pass judgement on the SKP’s first term. Polling evidence is relatively scarce (the most recent poll I could find was from Insightrix Research a month ago and showed the SKP at 58.2% to the NDPs 30.8% with Liberals on 4.2% and Greens on 5%) – numbers which are very much in line with what other polls have been saying over the past 2 years.

Numbers like these, repeated on polling day, will result in a large Sask Party victory, an increased majority and may see the NDP reduced to a hard core of urban and far north strongholds.

With opinion polling like this, the NDP may be tempted to focus on defending its existing seats, rather than spend resources on the 10 seats they’ll need to gain to take power. The NDP won 5 seats with a margin of under 10% in 2006 – these seats will be especially vulnerable to a swing to the SKP:

For the NDP to actually regain power and win an overall majority they’ll need 30 seats in the 58 seat Legislative Assembly – a gain of 10 from their current total of 20. There are 7 Sask Party seats which would be low-hanging fruit in the event of an NDP recovery – in Moose Jaw North for example the NDP lost last time by just 33 votes:

That’s where the good news for the NDP ends – after the low-hanging fruit, the going gets distinctly tougher. They’ll need to win all 7 marginals along with 3 of the following 6 of the next most vulnerable Sask Party seats:

It will also be worth watching for shifts in regional party support. As in neighbouring Manitoba, politics is quite regionally polarized in Saskatchewan, with the SKP very strong in rural areas and the NDP strong in the far north, the capital Regina (with its large public sector worker population) and, to a lesser extent, in Saskatoon and smaller urban areas like Moose Jaw.

In 2007 the Sask Party broke into the NDP urban strongholds for the first time (especially in Saskatoon) and it’ll be interesting to see whether this encroachment continues. It’s notable how many of the marginal ridings listed above are clustered around Saskatoon and Regina.

What little polling evidence there is available points unequivocally to an Saskatchewan Party victory on Nov 7. The Sask Party also have the benefit of a popular and charismatic leader in Premier Brad Wall.

The NDP on the other hand have a real mountain to climb and will need to run a hell of a campaign to win back power. It’s also worth remembering that Saskatchewanians are not in the habit of voting out provincial governments after a single term – the last time this happened was over 75 years ago in 1934.

If you’ve enjoyed this piece, be sure to check out ‘Showdown on the Prairies’ from the CBC’s Digital Archives which features some fascinating extracts from the last 50 years of CBC Saskatchewan election coverage.

As for the next chapter in Saskatchewan’s political history, after November 7 we should at least have a clearer picture of what the future has in store.

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1 Response to "Can the NDP win back Saskatchewan?"

[…] last fall’s provincial elections in Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan, this blog confined itself to setting the scene – looking at where the close contests might […]

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