The little guys
A look into some of the long-shot political parties of the 2011 general election
Where did the Liberals go?
A brief history of the demise of a once-dominant party in Saskatchewan politics
The Saskatchewan Liberals are in a unique position in the Prairies. Out of all the provinces in the country, Saskatchewan is the only province to have virtually no Liberal presence on the provincial level. Due to a calamity of errors, the political party that once dominated Saskatchewan provincial politics now holds no seats in the province’s legislature and has been on the steady decline to nothingness over the past 30 years.
As Liberal politics on a federal level have only recently seen themselves in hot water, the Saskatchewan Liberals have dealt with disaster after disaster and have been all but forgotten by the electorate.
The Saskatchewan Liberal party was formed in 1905, the same year as the province itself. For the first 40 years of provincial politics in the prairies, the Sask Liberals dominated the polls and produced six of the provinces premiers over that period. At that time, the party was more centre-oriented, collecting votes in both agricultural families and non-British citizens.
After 1944, the party’s dominance in parliament began to fade. Jason Zorbas, a history professor at the University of Saskatchewan, explained the beginning of the Liberal decline in his 2004 report on the 1944 election.
“The Liberals, on the other hand, simply looked tired and beat; running on their record which was mixed to say the least,” he wrote. “At the polls the electorate remembered the hardships of the Depression and the fact that neither the provincial nor federal Liberals had been able to provide them with jobs during the 1930s.”
During the Second World War, the Liberals passed a bill to postpone the upcoming election and extend their time in power, claiming that a wartime election would be burdensome to the public. However, many citizens viewed this as a Liberal ploy to slow the rate of their already declining popularity. The move had disastrous results.
In the 1944 provincial election, Tommy Douglas and his newly-formed socialist party, The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), crushed the Liberals. It was the first time any socialist party was brought to power in North America.
The Liberals, once a dominating force in Saskatchewan politics, now held a meagre five seats to the CCF’s 47. They would not regain control for another 20 years.
The Liberals took control of the province from the Saskatchewan New Democrat Party (the replacement of the CCF) in 1964, but their time at the top was short-lived. The 1971 elections saw the Liberals, once again, lose power and be relegated to official opposition status. That was only the beginning.
In 1978, the Liberals suffered another devastating blow. The NDP gobbled up most of the seats in the legislature, and the rest were awarded to the Progressive Conservative Party. After being shut out completely for the first time in the party’s history, Liberal leader Ted Malone stated, “I don’t know where we go from here. I don‘t know what the future of this party holds.” In only seven years, the Liberal party lost all of the ground it had spent the previous 34 years trying to regain, they had no seats the legislative assembly; their demise was accelerating.
After an up-and-down period during the 90s, which saw four Liberal MLAs leave the party to form the Saskatchewan Party, disagreements amongst its members began to force the Liberals into political exile.
During the 1999 elections, disputes over the a negotiated NDP-Liberal coalition government forced two of the Liberal’s MLAs, Jim Melenchuk and Jack Hillson, to leave the party and continue the coalition as independents, leaving the liberals with only two seats in parliament.
The misfortunes of the Liberals went from bad to worse, as more infighting and mismanagement led to a poorly-run political campaign in 2003 that resulted in the Liberals being shut out of government. After being shut out of legislature again in 2007, party leader David Karwacki had seen enough and resigned.
A party which had once dominated provincial politics in the prairies had been reduced to nothing, which is where is stands today.
The Saskatchewan Liberal Party is currently experiencing an unprecedented level of futility in terms of their influence on politics at the provincial level in the prairies.
Starting out with a tight grasp on political power and influence, they are now essentially out of the picture, receiving little media attention, and being completely shut out of the televised provincial debate on Oct. 25 alongside the Green Party, the Western Independence Party, and the Progressive Conservatives.
The Saskatchewan Liberals, now led by Ryan Bater, will not be running a full slate of candidates, or anything close to it, in 2011 – around 6 of 58 potential constituencies. Instead, Bater has decided to take things one step at a time, stating this year’s Liberal Party will be focusing on getting him into office in the Battlefords constituency.
“That’s our focus for this campaign,” Bater told CBC News. “To make sure that we win at least that seat. And it would be nice to win several more on top of that.”
Their strategy is clear, get our best guy in there, let his voice be heard by the Saskatchewan people, and build from there.
The road back will not be easy. The Liberals are generally forgotten by the public and ignored by the media. Reclaiming the pieces of their shattered glory will undoubtedly be a Herculean task.
If the Liberals in Saskatchewan want to gain some ground, a reconstruction of their image is needed, and a change in polarized views of the electorate. Bater is literally starting from scratch to reconstruct a party that has historically been unstable and to try to make Saskatchewan residents remember who the Liberals are.
It’s no easy feat, but getting one seat in the legislature this year would be a great way to start.
The Saskatchewan Liberals did not return our calls by press time.
Saskatchewan Green Party taking it one step at a time
Victor Lau is looking to gain ground where the other parties are falling behind
The Saskatchewan Green Party is relativity young when compared to its counterparts running in the 2011 general election. As the name suggests, the Green Party takes its roots in environmental preservation, center-left philosophies, and democracy.
Since the party’s inception in 1998, the Greens have made slow but steady strides in both support from the electorate and the number of candidates in their slate. However, the Saskatchewan Green Party is still far from making an impact on the political landscape in the prairies. Even though its support is growing, the Green Party, like the Liberals, PCs, and the WIP, have been shut out of the televised provincial debate on Oct 25.
Initially called the New Green Alliance (NGA) when it formed in 1998, the Green Party was born in Saskatchewan out of social justice, and environmental activists who were concerned about the provinces move to an NDP government under premiere Ray Romanow.
The NGA in 1998 was also quick to dissociate themselves from other Green political movements around Canada at the time, citing differences in political ideologies on issues surrounding income tax and the privatization of Crown corporations.
The NGA did not win a single seat in the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan during the 1999 general elections, and only ran candidates in 27 ridings throughout the province.
After being shut out of the legislature again in 2003, members of the NGA voted to change the name of the party to the Saskatchewan Green Party, despite being described, by some, as much more left-wing oriented than its famous federal counterparts.
The party has continued to grow, albeit slowly. The Greens have doubled their percentage of the popular vote since they formed in 1998 – but that was only a move from 1.01 per cent to 2.01 per cent over their first three provincial election campaigns.
Although the growth is slow, members of the Green Party, including its newly-elected leader, Victor Lau, are positive about the small but steady gains the party has made during its short existence.
Lau believes that a push into the rural areas of the province will work in his party’s favour. According to Lau, the Saskatchewan Party, and the NDP, has fallen out of touch with rural Saskatchewan. It is a mistake he is hoping to capitalize on.
“We are quite excited that the more we reach out, in terms of the rural areas of Saskatchewan, the more we see that we can find some local candidates.,” Lau said.
With the Sask Party and the NDP dominating provincial politics in Saskatchewan, parties like the Greens are now forced to find any holes in its opposition’s strategies they can capitalize on.
The plan could very well make a positive impact on the Green Party, which has traditionally had problems drumming up support in the rural areas of Saskatchewan, despite their support of local agriculture.
A push into rural Saskatchewan does line up well with the Green Party platform, as Lau pointed out.
“We believe in local agricultural control,” he said. “We believe in participatory budget making, participatory democracy. We would bring that right into the communities.”
For small farming communities who often feel overlooked and forgotten by their governments, the Greens are providing some solutions that voters could very well stand behind.
Being ignored and viewed as insignificant by a larger entity is nothing new to a party consistently shut out of televised debates.
“We are disappointed but not surprised,” Lau said.
The private media consortium consisting of CTV, Global, and CBC have decided to shut out all but the NDP and the Sask Party. Supporters of the consortium’s decision claim that the debate should be between the parties who have a legitimate shot of forming government. Given that this year’s general election is looking to already be solidified as generating another Sask Party government with NDP opposition, the claims might be justified.
However, advocates of grassroots democracy, such as Lau and the Green Party, claim that this is an undemocratic process that needs to be taken out of the private consortium’s handsand turned into a political forum for all registered parties.
When considering that one of cornerstones of democracy is free and fair elections – part of which contends that every person matters equally – the assertion that including all registered parties in the televised debate is more democratic does seem plausible.
Lau also believes that the Greens can gain ground through the youth vote. In addition to providing solutions to issues that they believe are important to youth, such as the environment and affordable housing, the Saskatchewan Green Party has plans to outright eliminate tuition costs if it were elected to government.
“If education is an important tool for young people to prosper in our province, why are we not making tuition free?” Lau said. “Education should be a right. We are one of the richest provinces in the country, we are full of resources, and we will be brining in billions upon billions of dollars over the next 20 years.”
Sticking to their left-wing roots, the Green Party also wants to see less corporate influence in university funding, claiming that post-secondary education facilities are forced to slant their course options towards programs that will produce graduates who could potentially move on to benefit the corporations that are putting money into the education system in the first place.
“There is so much corporate influence directing where the universities should go,” Lau stated. “This is a public institution, and they should be the ones to call the shots.”
Lau understands that the odds of the Saskatchewan Green Party forming government are slim to none in the upcoming election. But as he puts it, that is not the goal – continuing their progress is.
“We are hoping that there can be some kind of political shift,” he said. “Our issues are real and key, and we want to offer communities another option, other than what they have known in the past.”
An independent Saskatchewan
WIP calls for less government interference, more free-market potential
Aside from the particularly politically savvy, few Saskatchewan residents know a whole lot about the Western Independence Party (WIP). The WIP is quick to distinguish itself from other western separatist parties such as the Separation Party of Alberta, and the Western Party of Canada. However, the basic premise is the same – independence from the rest of Canada and the formation of a new country.
The party is one of the youngest in Saskatchewan political history, forming in 2003, just in time for the general election that same year. The WIP put forth 17 candidates in 2003, but were unable to secure any seats in the assembly.
In 2007, the party had eight candidates, and again won no seats. To make matters worse, the party’s percentage of the popular vote dropped significantly over that time.
The low vote count isn’t surprising. Outside of Quebec’s sovereignist movement, independence and separatist movements of all kinds have historically been greeted with animosity. However, as WIP leader Dana Arnason points out, the underlying reasons for independence movements are founded in a desire for more provincial autonomy.
“We are not the Western Separatist Party, we are the Western Independence Party,” he said in an interview. “My goal is to put Saskatchewan first, always.
Arnason believes that government interference in provincial matters is holding the Saskatchewan back.
He points to the Federal Government’s involvement in the 2010 debate, over BHP Billiton’s 40 billion dollar bid to buy the Saskatoon based Potash Corp, as an example of provincial matters being taken out of Saskatchewan’s hands.
“We all sat around and waited for Mr. Harper to make a decision on a resource question that they are actually not constitutionally responsible for,” he said.
The Federal Government eventually blocked the BHP bid, claiming that it was not “of net benefit to Canada.” Arnason believes, however, that the matter should never have left the hands of the provincial government.
The WIP opposition of government interference extends beyond provincial/federal debates, and into the realm of tuition. While the NDP are purposing a tuition freeze, and the Greens want to do away with tuition altogether, the Western Independence Party would like to see the government stay out of the issue as much as possible.
“No, I don’t think the government should be interfering with the delivery of education, in terms of who gets money and who doesn’t,” Arnason stated. “Our party believes that the decisions should be brought as close to where the services are delivered as possible.”
While many believe that government influence on tuition is necessary, Arnason stated that this takes critical decisions – what services universities provide, how much they charge for them, and so on – out of the education system’s hands.
The position is not surprising given the libertarian nature of the WIP. Libertarian philosophies often lean towards laissez-fare economic systems, in which the transactions between individuals or corporations are free from government intervention.
The Western Independence Party has never publicly stated that it wishes to privatize post-secondary education. However, removing government influence and giving more power to the free-market would certainly move things in that direction.
While the debates over tuition are prominent in the minds of students, affordable housing is another issue that has students making noise.
With vacancy rates under one per cent and rent on the rise, people all over Regina, not simply students, are demanding that governments do something to curb rent increases and provide more living spaces.
The WIP looks at the housing situation from a different perspective. Arnason believes that high rental rates are the sign of a good economy.
“When I moved out here in 1997, I was impressed with the affordable housing, but that is the sign of a poor economy,” Arnason stated. “We now have a booming economy. We’re having workers move in from all over Canada, they have to live somewhere, and the law of supply and demand stays in place no matter who is in government. When you have a high demand and a short supply, something has got to give, and that would be the price.”
That will be small comfort to students, who have been publicly protesting the housing crisis for well over a year.
Time will tell if the Western Independence Party can make up some of the ground that they lost in the last election. Arnason’s aspirations are lofty. When asked about his goals for the 2011 election, he quickly responded, “The independence of Saskatchewan.”
It will be a tall order for a party that collected just 0.13 per cent of the popular vote in the 2007 election.