SASKATOON — The Saskatchewan Party under leader Scott Moe has won its fourth consecutive majority by overwhelming the NDP in a provincial election defined by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moe’s party was elected or leading in 45 seats in early returns Monday, needing just 31 to win a majority government in the 61-seat legislature.
This is the third provincial election held during the COVID-19 pandemic and the third to see the incumbent party triumph. Last month, Premier Blaine Higgs and the Progressive Conservatives in New Brunswick went from a minority to a majority government. John Horgan’s NDP did the same in British Columbia on Saturday.
The right-centre Saskatchewan Party has been in power since 2007 — currently the longest governing party in Canada — and is knocking on the door of historic political dominance.
The last party to lead Saskatchewan in a fourth term was the NDP in 2007, although it needed coalition help in 1999 to do so.
The record for dominance still resides with Tommy Douglas and the CCF, which held five majority governments in the middle of the last century.
The Saskatchewan Party defeated the NDP in the 2007 election under then-leader Brad Wall with 38 of 50 seats. The party’s majority has been growing ever since.
It has been the opposite for the New Democrats, who in the same period have seen their seats dwindle. At dissolution, the Saskatchewan Party held 46 seats to 13 for the NDP There were two vacancies.
The pandemic shaped not only the central ballot question, but how people would cast their ballots. Voters were asked to wear masks at polling stations. More than 185,000 ballots were cast in five days of advance polls. Election night events Monday were held under distancing guidelines.
COVID-19 cases have been on the rise. Earlier this month, the province halved to 15 the number of people allowed together at events in private households.
The campaign centred on starkly contrasting blueprints for how to steer the province, its economy, and its $2.1-billion deficit through the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.
NDP Leader Ryan Meili, 45, promised millions of dollars in increased spending for classrooms and to reduce health-care wait times, along with a $15-an-hour minimum wage and $25-a-day daycare. The NDP wouldn’t promise a balanced budget in its first term and warned that the Saskatchewan Party would try to cut its way to economic better times.
Moe promised to balance the books by the 2024-2025 fiscal year while keeping the economy going and creating jobs through tax and rebate incentives.
It’s the third election win for Moe, 47, but the first as premier. He won the leadership two years ago to replace Brad Wall who was retiring.
The NDP, if it wasn’t to win government, was seeking a stronger base as Opposition along with stability in leadership Meili, a family doctor, won a byelection in Saskatoon Meewasin in 2017 and captured the party leadership in 2018 on his third try.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 26, 2020
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press