Sask. Party candidates making this race a closed-ranks affair
For much of the past decade, Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party feasted on a remark from former NDP economy minister Eldon Lautermilch justifying Saskatchewan’s lack of population growth.
In his clumsy attempt to justify ongoing population loss in the province, Lautermilch argued this could be a good thing because the government’s then-growing riches would be less dispersed. Forever and a day, Wall pinned Lautermilch as the “more for the rest of us” minister. However, here’s the two-fold irony today:
The Saskatchewan Party government’s foremost excuse for many of its current problems (i.e. overcrowded elementary and high school classes) is that it doesn’t have the resources to meet the demands of population increase. This would be the same party that has decried for the past 10 years that it has been left with an infrastructure deficit. If ever there was a party now demonstrating it has little interest growing from its own white, middle-class and largely rural/ business demographics, it’s the Sask. Party during this leadership race.
This was a Sask. Party problem long before Education Minister Bronwyn Eyre’s bizarre reply to the throne speech and her ensuing non-apology for misleading the legislature and public on the nature of the First Nations/treaty curriculum that many see as nothing more than a dog whistle to the right wing.
It is a party that seems to have forgotten its massive 2011 election victory was achieved by reaching beyond the base and even beyond the soccer-mom suburbs into inner-city seats like Regina Douglas Park.
Last Friday’s Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) conference — admittedly, traditional hostile territory for the Sask. Party — was literally an invitation for current Sask. Party hopefuls to demonstrate they could still be that party of 2011.
Only Saskatoon contenders Ken Cheveldayoff and Gord Wyant bothered to show up to an event where members of a huge, provincewide organization were requested to consider taking out party memberships.
The rest? Well, we know Alanna Koch was at the Canadian Agri Marketing Awards in Regina the previous day. Tina Beaudry-Mellor wasn’t there, but did acknowledge the event on social media. Scott Moe was silent.
Of course, both NDP leadership hopefuls Ryan Meili and Trent Wotherspoon made the most of their invite, taking their shots at Eyre and the government.
Sure, the STF was likely making a bit of political mischief for a governing Sask. Party that proclaimed teachers and every other public servant were meritorious of 3.5-per-cent wage rollback. But party memberships were there for the taking.
That the perceived leaders weren’t there fits the ongoing narrative. After tightly reined leadership debates where controversial issues and questions are exceedingly limited, this will only increase the volume on the no-longer-so-quiet grumbling that there is a tacit effort by the party and government hierarchy to keep ranks closed, thus giving Koch a better shot at winning.
It is the duty of any party executive and staff to seize any opportunity to draw in new members as a potential source of cash and foot soldiers.
That said, leadership candidates with everything to gain by attracting new members don’t seem to be doing much, either.
Only Beaudry-Mellor has actively raised the need to reach out to new members — again, something that’s just Politics 101 for parties in constant need of donation cash and loyal soldiers to spread the word.
Despite the fact that the hallmark of this Sask. Party government has been the province’s growing population, we just aren’t seeing signs of any camp making a concerted effort to sell memberships to the province’s newer arrivals ... or anyone who hasn’t held a Sask. Party membership before.
And even if the STF or First Nations communities aren’t exactly a lucrative source of Sask. Party memberships, reaching out to them makes a powerful statement to those that gave you big wins in 2011 and 2016 that this is still a big-tent party.
Instead, Sask. Party hopefuls seem to be making a big statement that they fear their own party and base and fear growth.