Premier Scott Moe visited Lieutenant Governor Russ Mirasty today to dissolve the legislative assembly and trigger a provincial election in Saskatchewan – Election Day is Monday, October 26, 2020. Saskatchewan’s 28-day campaign will make it the third jurisdiction in Canada to hold an election during the COVID-19 pandemic, after the recent election in New Brunswick and the snap election call in BC.
As has been the case in the last number of years, the two major parties, the Saskatchewan New Democrats (NDP) and the Saskatchewan Party (Sask Party), are the only parties with serious aspirations of forming government. In a recent twist and with just weeks to go before the election call, the Saskatchewan Liberal leader resigned, and, unlike in 2016 where they ran a full slate of candidates, only three candidates have been nominated. They have appointed an interim leader, but it is unlikely that they will be able to win any seats in the province. The other three registered political parties, the PC Party of Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Green Party, and the Buffalo Party have had a difficult time gaining status and becoming a viable option for voters.
A party will need to secure a win in 31 seats to form government in the province. Before dissolution of the legislature, the NDP held 13 of the 61 seats, and thus would need to win 18 seats in order to form government. Battleground constituencies from the last election which are possible for the NDP to win include four seats in Regina (Coronation Park, Pasqua, University, and Walsh Acres), three seats in Saskatoon (Westview, University, and Churchill-Wildwood) and one seat in each Moose Jaw (Wakamow) and Prince Albert (Carlton). The NDP does not typically do well with rural voters and for any change to occur, they would need to make major inroads in the rural areas of the province. While a NDP victory is unlikely, winning a few more seats in the cities would definitely help bolster the NDP benches in the legislature.
There will be some renewal in the legislature as 11 MLAs decided not to run again. Seven Sask Party members and four NDP members are not seeking re-election. Retiring members from the Sask Party include: Dan D’Autremont (Cannington), Nancy Heppner (Martensville-Warman), Greg Brkich (Arm River), Glen Hart (Last Mountain-Touchwood), Herb Cox (The Battlefords), Larry Doke (Cutknife-Turtleford) and Warren Michelson (Moose Jaw North). The NDP members not running are Warren McCall (Regina Elphinstone-Centre), David Forbes (Saskatoon Centre), Danielle Chartier (Saskatoon Riversdale) and Cathy Sproule (Saskatoon Nutuna).
Since inheriting the mantle from Brad Wall, Premier Moe and the Sask Party have continued to ride high in recent polls. Premier Moe polls high when considering the most popular premiers in Canada and the voting intention polls see him presiding over a party with an astonishing 30-percentage-point lead among decided voters. Given these numbers, it is unlikely that the Saskatchewan Party will lose the election, though it is possible that the NDP may win back some of the historic NDP strongholds in the province’s major cities.
The issues that will most certainly be top of mind for voters in this election will be related to the current COVID situation in the province. Whether that is health care, education, or the economic recovery, it will all be looked at through the lens of who voters want to see get them through the pandemic and prosper in the recovery. The NDP have been releasing snippets of their platform over the past few weeks, including plans for $25 per day childcare and the reduction of auto insurance premiums by seven per cent and a $100 rebate for every policyholder in the province. The Sask Party government have been making numerous announcements over the past number of weeks, including new schools and funding for municipality projects, and have been accused of campaigning with government dollars.
Campaigning during the COVID pandemic will be anything but normal. Campaigns that have been in the planning stages for the past three to four years have had to make drastic changes to how they plan to get out the vote. Large events such as rallies or meet the candidate events will need to take place digitally, if at all. Additionally, only time will tell if voter turnout will be affected drastically by the pandemic.
In preparation for conducting an election during a pandemic, the Chief Electoral Officer has been planning for a safe election process by including the introduction of voting by mail for any eligible voter. This will be an interesting twist in the 2020 election. Voters can register to vote by mail, or they can vote in person at physically distanced polls, either in advance or on election day. People who want to vote by mail must register by October 15.
More information on the 2020 Saskatchewan election can be found here: https://www.elections.sk.ca/