Some time after the Saskatchewan Roughriders finish playing on Monday, Brad Wall will meet with the province’s Lieutenant-Governor and request that an election be called for Nov. 7.
In doing so, he will kick off the seventh provincial and territorial election in 2011 in a year that has been particularly kind to incumbents like Mr. Wall himself, who is seeking a second term as Saskatchewan premier.
“It doesn’t really make a lot of sense to change horses in midstream, especially if that stream is flowing a little more rapidly than it has,” Mr. Wall said in an interview Sunday, referring to the troubled economic times that have appeared to weigh heavily on voters across the country. “Certainly, that’s part of our message.”
Voters in other parts of the country have appeared to agree. So far this year, Ontario, Manitoba and PEI have held on to their governing parties. On Tuesday, voters in Yukon and Newfoundland and Labrador are also expected to maintain the political status quo, after a spring federal election that saw Prime Minister Stephen Harper maintain, and strengthen, his grip on Ottawa.
In Saskatchewan, the expectation of a similar result has set the stage for an election where Mr. Wall’s governing Saskatchewan Party has assembled a campaign deliberately short on big ideas and big promises.
“If our opponents want to make this a bidding war for the votes of Saskatchewan people, we’re simply not participating,” Mr. Wall said. “We want to build on the growth agenda we’ve already put in place in the province. But there is not a lot of very big expensive promises in our platform.”
The Saskatchewan election comes amid a period of unprecedented prosperity for a province whose oil, potash and uranium reserves have attracted tens of billions in investment. Its unemployment rate has been the lowest in Canada for seven straight months. Its population is growing, its children returning to find work in a place where work is now plentiful.
That has given a natural advantage to Mr. Wall, the charismatic conservative whose forceful opposition to the BHP Billiton buyout of Potash Corp. last year led some to call him “Captain Saskatchewan.” While he rode that crest of popularity, his party also maintained a lengthy negative advertising campaign aimed at vilifying his chief opponent, Dwain Lingenfelter, Leader of the provincial NDP.
The politics of personality have come to dominate the discussion so thoroughly that David McGrane, an assistant professor of political studies at the University of Saskatchewan, questions how prominent a role provincial problems will actually play in the election.
“Are we just going to talk about leadership and how much people like Brad Wall or seem not to like [Mr. Lingenfelter] Or are there going to be issues talked about?” he said. “From the outside, it does have sort of a feeling of a coronation [for Mr. Wall]in some ways.”
Yet Mr. McGrane says the province is contending with serious issues – and to the NDP, the election presents a chance to question how Saskatchewan has managed its good times.
“There’s just a lot of people saying ‘yeah, it looks like the Saskatchewan Party has a lot of money and the rich are getting fabulously rich. But in my household, I have less to spend on things than I did four years ago,’ ” Mr. Lingenfelter said.
The NDP has proposed a series of changes that would include rent control, affordable housing, better rural health care, increases in renewable energy and increased royalties on some of the province’s resource industries. Mr. Lingenfelter points to Potash Corp., which has projected $2.9- to $3.2-billion in profits this year.
Mr. Wall has argued that boosting the government take would scare away investment at the exact time it is pouring in. Mr. Lingenfelter, whose résumé includes years as a vice-president at Nexen Inc., a major Calgary energy company, disagrees. If new royalties were to decrease those profits to $2-billion, he said, “nobody’s going to leave $2-billion on the table and walk away from it.”