SASKATOON — Right-wing, pro-independence candidates had a stronger showing in Saskatchewan’s election than the Opposition NDP in some rural ridings and experts say that means Premier Scott Moe’s Saskatchewan Party can’t rest easy in victory.
The Buffalo party ran candidates in 17 of 61 constituencies and captured nearly three per cent of the votes cast on Monday, excluding mail-in ballots that have yet to be counted.
While they didn’t manage to snatch any seats, Buffalo candidates outdid the NDP by considerable margins in the ridings of Estevan, Cannington, Cypress Hills and Kindersley.
“We accomplished more in the last three months than anybody ever gave us credit for and everyone is extremely happy and pleased,” said Wade Sira, who was a distant third in his constituency north of Saskatoon.
In July, the Buffalo party changed its name from Wexit Saskatchewan — an apparent play on the U.K. Brexit movement — and chose Sira, a municipal reeve, as leader.
Sira said his party wants a Quebec-like relationship with the federal government that would have Saskatchewan take control of immigration, policing, pensions and firearms.
Many platform ideas echo proposals Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative government has been examining to get what it calls a “fair deal” from Confederation.
“As Buffalo, we see ourselves not as separatists. We see ourselves as sovereigntists,” Sira said in an interview Tuesday.
“We need to be treated equal in Canada and not like a colony.”
Moe’s Saskatchewan Party was decisively re-elected in Monday’s vote, although some seats are too close to call until mail-in ballots are counted.
Moe acknowledged in his victory speech that some people voted for the Buffalo party to express their frustration with Ottawa.
“And to those voters I want to say: I hear you. And I want to say this government hears you,” Moe said.
“We share your frustrations and we share many of your objectives. We are not happy with the federal government either.”
A brand of conservative populism fuelled by anger at Ottawa and hatred of big government has been simmering in Saskatchewan and Alberta since Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s re-election last fall.
Lisa Young, a professor at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, said it’s a challenge for both Moe and Kenney — the Alberta premier more so because of the strength of Alberta’s NDP under Rachel Notley.
“But if the NDP in Saskatchewan is able to recover and be more popular, it will be the same issue for Moe,” Young said.
“There’s a danger that the votes on the right split, and that’s where conservative governments can run into electoral trouble.”
Alberta’s Freedom Conservative Party and Wexit Alberta combined into the Wildrose Independence Party earlier this year.
Kenney replied with an emphatic no when asked during the UCP’s annual general meeting last weekend whether he would support separation.
“We’re likely to see Moe take some pages out of Jason Kenney’s playbook,” said Young, who pointed to the Kenney government’s “fair deal” panel as a way to show alienated westerners their provincial government is listening.
Greg Poelzer, a University of Saskatchewan political scientist, said Moe is at a crossroads where he can either chose to be — in Reform Party founder Preston Manning’s words — a “little westerner” or a “big westerner.”
The former turn inward and protect their own interests, while the latter build bridges and play a constructive role in federation, Poelzer said.
“If the Buffalo party wasn’t here, didn’t exist at all, I think the premier would have more room to manoeuvre.”
Poelzer said Moe would be wise to differentiate his party from Buffalo and not get pulled to the right — both for the public good and as a way to prevent a centrist challenger from rising on the left.
“That takes a lot of courage because it’s a lot easier, especially after a massive win and a very decisive win, to go the other route.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published October 27, 2020.
By Lauren Krugel in Calgary. With files from Stephanie Taylor in Regina
The Canadian Press