I’ve always found it interesting (and a little peculiar) how former Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas has a street named after him in Toronto.
The man was never elected in the city, and yet holds an almost mythical status among its many social democrats. I guess it’s understandable, considering Toronto is an NDP stronghold, and Douglas was and is a national figure.
So I was quite curious to see how the NDP was regarded in its home province of Saskatchewan.
The short answer is not very highly.
We recently asked people what they thought of the NDP leadership race, or if they cared. Most were either unsympathetic to the NDP, or didn’t even know an NDP leadership race was going on.
But one woman did say she was a supporter of Premier Brad Wall and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The Saskatchewan NDP were once a political force to be reckoned with, but it’s evident the party no longer holds the same sway over the province. In the last three years, the provincial NDP has gone through the same number of leaders. And they had their worst electoral showing in nearly 30 years in the last election, dropping to nine seats when they once held 47 out of 52 seats.
And, ironically, most of those nine seats are in the province’ urban centres, despite the fact that the party’s predecessor, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, was created to advocate for Saskatchewan’s wheat and grain growers and to make sure they got a fair price for their goods.
The political pendulum tends to swing from left to right in Canada, but I think there’s more to the NDP’s demise in Saskatchewan than that. I suspect much of it lies in their migration from farmer’s rights to union rights, which have become less and less influential in Saskatchewan in the face of rising entrepreneurship and small business ownership.
There is also the fact the NDP is often seen nowadays as a party that champions social issues relating to the environment, a pro-choice position and alternative views of marriage, rather than as the industry-focused party it once was.
They’re hoping to rebuild in Saskatchewan and new leader Cam Broten told me he is part of a new, young generation of leaders. If the NDP is hoping to restore their status as Saskatchewan’s “natural” governing party, they have their work set out for them.
For one, they have a formidable opponent in charismatic Premier Brad Wall, who can point to Saskatchewan’s balanced budget and high export profits as proof of his government’s success.
And it doesn’t help that their federal leader, Thomas Mulcair, has all but been accused of treason for railing against the Keystone XL Pipeline project.
If the NDP is hoping to rebuild in Saskatchewan, they need to make a case for their economic credentials, and perhaps focus on what made them popular in the past, such as their stewardship of the province’s vast natural resources.