Conservative sweep in Saskatchewan shows rejection of Liberal policies and increased tensions

It was a strange dichotomy at Andrew Scheer’s headquarters in Regina Monday night.

On one hand, there was a historic sweep in the province for the Conservatives — a first since 1965. Michael Kram knocked off incumbent Ralph Goodale in Regina Wascana, eliciting huge cheers and ending the Liberal’s 26-year run.

On the other hand, the prospect of another Liberal mandate, with policies that were rejected by voters in Saskatchewan kept the party in check.

Justin Trudeau’s election win on Monday will be seen as a setback by thousands of people in the province that voted Conservative and sent 14 Tories to Ottawa.

The blue wave crested in the west but never made its way through to Ontario and Quebec. The reality now, more talk of western alienation from those that voted Conservative and the two provincial leaders in Saskatchewan and Alberta.

The Conservatives also nearly pulled off a sweep in Alberta, winning 33 of 34 races and shutting out the Liberals.

Not only did the Conservatives run the table in Saskatchewan, but they also increased their percentage of votes.

In 2015, the Conservatives had 49 per cent of the vote in the province, the NDP received 25 and the Liberals 24.

As of Monday night, the CPC received 64 per cent, 19 per cent went to the NDP and the Liberals cratered at 11 per cent.

“The indication from Saskatchewan is that Saskatchewan is not happy with the Liberal government and is moved more strongly into a conservative position,” said Loleen Berdahl, professor and head of political studies at the University of Saskatchewan.

“I think the message is general dissatisfaction and perhaps not the same level of anger that we’re hearing out of Alberta but certainly not happiness,” Berdahl said.

The Conservative message was received by voters out west but the party’s success also means there won’t be a federal cabinet minister from Alberta or Saskatchewan.

Trudeau’s been a constant target of criticism of Premier Scott Moe. In his first speech as party leader in January 2018, Moe aimed at Trudeau telling the crowd of his party supporters, “just watch me” while referencing his fight against a carbon tax, a line borrowed from Trudeau’s father.

Moe and his counterpart in Alberta, Jason Kenney, have maligned and launched court challenges against two pieces of federal legislation — the carbon tax and Bill C-69.

The carbon tax has reached the Supreme Court of Canada. The day the federal election was called, Saskatchewan Justice Minister Don Morgan announced the province would join Alberta’s constitutional challenge of Bill C-69. Both premiers have labelled it the “no more pipelines bill”.

Berdahl said the uncertainty in Ottawa may allow the premiers to “let things settle”.

“It’s not clear how long this government will last. It’s not clear whether or not the party leaders will stay in place,” Berdahl said.

The Liberals’ minority position means a likely informal alliance with the NDP or the Bloc Québécois. This would put the future of pipelines in further limbo. A repeal of the carbon tax would seem unlikely as well.

“The NDP has a pretty strong position on pipeline issues on climate issues. And so (the Liberals’) ability to move forward on pipeline issues is going to be constrained. And so, for a lot of the energy sector interests, that will be unwelcome news,” Berdahl said.

However, if the Liberals and NDP want to extend any sort of olive branch to those expressing western alienation, they may need to get creative on issues surrounding oil and gas on the Prairies because the rhetoric is unlikely to calm down.

Saskatchewan MLAs return to the legislature on Wednesday for the speech from the throne and the start of the fall sitting. You can expect federal politics to once again be a major focus for Premier Moe and his government.

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