The Saskatchewan Party was re-elected to its historic fourth majority government on Oct. 26, taking 50 of 61 seats as of late Monday night, and giving Scott Moe his first “big honkin’ election win,” as he put it, as leader of the Saskatchewan Party and now premier-elect. It was a gain of four seats for the Saskatchewan Party. The New Democratic Party, led by Ryan Meili, won 11 seats, a decline of two.
The 2016 election had the Saskatchewan Party winning 51 seats and the New Democratic Party winning 10, but by dissolution, due to byelections and vacancies, the Saskatchewan Party had 46 seats, the NDP had 13, and there were two vacant seats.
Late into the night it looked like not much at all had changed, with similar the seat counts and leaders of both of the major parties retaining their seats. But that changed late into the night, after the TV stations shut down their coverage. The Saskatchewan Party kept picking up additional seats, and an upset came in for New Democratic Party (NDP) Leader Ryan Meili. With 50 of 50 polls reporting in in Saskatoon Meewasin, he was behind the Saskatchewan Party’s Rylund Hunter by 83 votes.
However, that could change in the coming days, as there were 1,656 vote by mail ballots issued by Elections Saskatchewan for Saskatoon Meewasin. Due to the pandemic, votes by mail received by 8 p.m. on election day will be counted by Elections Saskatchewan will count on Oct. 28, instead of on the date of the final count.
Even then, the final result may not be known until the final election count, Nov. 7, 12 days after the election. That’s because votes received in the mail from Oct. 27 to Nov. 5 won’t be counted until the final count. Additionally, some voters may have chosen to vote in person instead of by mail, or have chosen not to vote at all, so how many of those vote by mail ballots issued are actually in play is an open question.
Usually not an important factor, the COVID-19 pandemic led to an extraordinary increase in both requests for mail-in ballots and participation in advanced polls. Advance voting was up substantially compared to 2016, with 185,061 votes cast this year compared to 110,716 cast four years ago.
Those vote by mail ballots could be the deciding factor in several races. There were 61,412 vote by mail ballot kits sent out by Elections Saskatchewan, a record number by a factor of more than 13. Most of the seats in the closest races had substantial numbers of vote by mail ballots issued – ranging from 568 to 2,674, easily enough to sway the final numbers.
Meili’s seat wasn’t the only race which could be impacted by the extraordinarily high number of mail-in ballots. Saskatoon University had the NDP’s Jennifer Bowes leading the Sask. Party’s Eric Olausen by 105 votes, with 1,296 vote by mail ballots issued. Saskatoon Eastview saw NDP candidate Matt Love ahead of Sask. Party candidate Chris Guérette by 102. That riding had 1,555 vote by mail ballots issued.
An upset came in Saskatoon Riversdale, where the Sask. Party’s Marv Friesen beat the NDP’s Ashlee Hicks by 274 votes. Saskatoon Riversdale has long been an NDP stronghold, represented by past NDP Premiers Roy Romanow and Lorne Calvert. But that riding also had 920 vote by mail ballots issued.
Awash in with Sask. Party green
The map was awash with Sask. Party green across all of rural Saskatchewan save the two northern seats of Athabasca and Cumberland. Other than the north, only the more central and western portions of both Saskatoon and Regina went NDP orange.
While there were six parties running and three independents, it was really a two-party race. As of midnight on election night with 99.88 of ballot boxes reporting, the Saskatchewan Party improved its share of the popular vote by 0.6 per cent, from 62.4 per cent in 2016, to 63 per cent. The NDP’s share of the popular vote declined, from 30.2 per cent in 2016, to 29 per cent. That makes the third time the Sask. Party had received over 60 per cent of the vote.
The brand-new Buffalo Party of Saskatchewan outdid all other minor parties, scoring 11,050 votes for a 2.9 per cent share. That was accomplished with just 17 candidates running. They beat out the Saskatchewan Green Party, which fielded 60 candidates but only gained 9,091 votes, or 2.4 per cent. The Progressive Conservatives had 31 candidates, and garnered 7,935 votes, or 2 per cent. The Liberals, with just three candidates, received 338 votes, or 0.09 per cent.
Incumbents keep winning
This is the third provincial election since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and in each case, the incumbent government won, with a stronger showing either in seats or vote share. New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative government under Blaine Higgs was the first, moving from a minority to a majority government. A similar pattern happened just days ago in British Columbia, where a minority NDP government lead by John Horgan won a majority. In each case, the voters trusted the incumbents to continue on.
That was the central theme of Saskatchewan Party Leader Scott Moe’s campaign. He started the election by asking “Who do you trust?” and it was his mantra throughout the campaign, asking who the voters would trust to lead Saskatchewan through the recovery from the pandemic. Moe consistently brought up the NDP’s record of cuts during its 16 years in power from 1991-2007 under austerity budgets to eliminate a deficit in the earlier years. He said the NDP were a party of decline, while the Sask. Party was one of growth.
Conversely, NDP Leader Ryan Meili often focused on what they said the Sask. Party would do – make severe cuts to social programs under austerity budgets. Meili’s repeated phrase that such cuts, during uncertain times, were “downright dangerous.” Their campaign focused on “People first,” and included a “Sask. First” procurement strategy, smaller class sizes in schools, and a restoration of STC bus service.