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Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili arrives at the Leaders' Debate, at the Provincial Archives, in Regina, on Oct. 14, 2020.

Michael Bell/The Canadian Press

With less than a week left on the campaign trail for Monday’s provincial election, the leaders of Saskatchewan’s two main political parties are appealing to supporters to cast ballots in their favour – and to do so early.

Five days of advance polling began Tuesday. Stations will be open from noon until 8 p.m. – an hour longer than usual.

Elections Saskatchewan said it added 50 more advance polling locations than in the 2016 vote to ensure safe physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Saskatchewan Party Leader Scott Moe, who campaigned in Saskatoon on Tuesday, encouraged voters to cast their ballots early to avoid potential crowding at polls on election day.

The 15,000 people working for Elections Saskatchewan will be wearing masks and the agency strongly recommends voters do the same. It says face coverings aren’t mandatory, but some advance polling locations require they be worn.

Mr. Moe has defended the province’s mask guidelines, which aren’t widely mandatory, as the province deals with a spike in cases tied to gatherings. Health officials strongly recommend masks be worn in indoor public settings.

“The masking policy that we have in place is very clear and it works. The challenge we have is when people aren’t following the public health guidelines,” he said.

“Follow the guidelines that are in place. If you don’t, there’s a good chance that you are A) going to spread this virus as it is out in our communities and B) you are going to be fined.”

NDP Leader Ryan Meili, in a video posted to social media, started his day Tuesday by also urging supporters to vote in advance.

He broke with the tradition of political leaders casting their ballot in front of cameras on election day and opted to do so instead in Saskatoon later Tuesday afternoon.

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Mr. Meili also used the opportunity to criticize Mr. Moe’s communication around COVID-19 restrictions, including mask use.

“We’ve been getting mixed messages when it comes to masks ... [Mr. Moe] failed to distance himself from the anti-mask protestors,” he said.

“He tends to blame the public instead of taking responsibility for his own failures in leadership.”

Before voting, he travelled to Prince Albert, where his message was that the city has been failed by the Saskatchewan Party over its 13 years in government.

The NDP took particular aim at the seat belonging to Joe Hargrave, the Saskatchewan Party candidate running for re-election in the constituency of Prince Albert Carlton.

Mr. Hargrave served as the minister responsible for Crown investments when the Saskatchewan Party government shut down the Saskatchewan Transportation Company’s bus network in 2017.

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Mr. Moe, meanwhile, tried to stake a claim on what is a traditional NDP stronghold.

He appeared Tuesday at the campaign office of Marv Friesen, who’s running for a second time in hope of taking the Saskatoon Riversdale seat away from the NDP.

The Saskatchewan Party lost the seat once held by former NDP premiers Lorne Calvert and Roy Romanow by less than 300 votes in the past election.

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