A GPS perspective on the political scene in Saskatchewan

(This item was written several years ago but  it is still of interest and validity.)

Political Change in Saskatchewan

The political landscape in Saskatchewan is clearly changing. Beginning with the election of the T.C. Douglas CCF government in 1944, the province was polarized between the CCF-NDP on the left and the Liberals on the right. This system was modified somewhat when the Conservatives under Grant Devine were elected in 1982. But the real change began after the election of the Roy Romanow's NDP government in 1991.
New Democratic Party.. Under the leadership of Romanow, the NDP moved steadily to the right. The government did not return to the social democratic principles of the Douglas, Lloyd and Blakeney governments. Instead, the Romanow government simply carried on with the neoliberal free market/free trade policies begun by the Tory government of Grant Devine.
Conservative/Saskatchewan Party. The Conservatives were defeated in 1991 and again in 1995. In 1997 the rump of the party in the legislature joined with some right-wing Liberal MLAs and Elwin Hermanson, Reform Party MP, to form the Saskatchewan Party, the new party of the right. In the 1999 election they received more votes than the NDP but because their support is concentrated in rural Saskatchewan they received fewer seats in the legislature.
Liberal Party. The provincial Liberal Party finds itself without a real base as it is no longer the party of the right. They managed to win three seats in the 1999 election, running on a platform that was slightly more progressive than that of the NDP. Well aware of their steady decline in voter support in the 1990s, the leadership in the legislature chose to form a coalition government with the NDP. From an ideologically perspective, there is little difference today between the Saskatchewan Liberal Party and the Saskatchewan NDP. However, the decision to ally with the NDP has been strongly opposed by Liberal party members and voters. Given the collapse of their support, it is unlikely that the Liberals will win a seat in the next provincial election.
Voter cynicism. Perhaps the most significant political development in the province is the rise of voter cynicism and antagonism to politics and politicians. Traditionally in Saskatchewan 80% of those enumerated vote. But the turnout fell to a record low of 63% in 1995. In the 1999 election around 63% of those enumerated voted. But the enumeration was held in August when many people were on holiday, and only around 55% of eligible Census voters actually went to the polls.
New Green Alliance. The other major development was the formation of the New Green Alliance in 1998. It is a new political party of the left, a green-left party in the European tradition, founded by social justice and anti-poverty activists, feminists and environmental activists. It hopes to build alliances in the Aboriginal community and with the trade union movement. It was able to run only 16 candidates in the 1999 provincial election; with a very limited campaign, the NGA averaged 5% of the vote in these seats. In the Wood River by-election in June 2000, with a parachute candidate, little funds, and no organization at the beginning of the campaign, the NGA won 6.4% of the vote. It finished ahead of the NDP and the Liberals in the union town of Coronach. The party plans to run a full slate in the next provincial election.
Presently, we have an NDP-Liberal coalition government, governing with a very slim majority. The NDP is in disarray as some of its key leaders are quitting politics. Support for the NDP fell to 38% in the 1999 election. The May 2000 poll done by the Community-University Institute for Social Research in Saskatoon found that support for the NDP had fallen to only 17%. In the June 2000 by-election in Wood River, the vote for the NDP was only 16%. The NDP won this seat in 1991.
There is widespread belief that the Saskatchewan Party will win the next provincial election. The NDP appears to be in a downward spiral. Dwain Lingenfelter, the heir apparent to the leadership, and their most effective leader, has quit politics to work for Occidental Petroleum, which bought Sask Oil. The NDP will have been in office for twelve years, and this usually encourages voters to seek a change, no matter what that might be.
Over the next few years there will be considerable debate over what to do in the next provincial election. This paper has been prepared to demonstrate the policy differences between the NDP government of Roy Romanow, the opposition Saskatchewan Party, and the New Green Alliance. The Liberals have been left out of this analysis as we believe they are not a real force in the province at this time and their vote will collapse in the next provincial election. Their political positions are hardly different from the NDP and the Saskatchewan Party.

(1) Taxation policy. The key to any policy program is taxation policy. Programs cannot be adequately funded unless sources of taxation are found. Tax cuts have meant program cuts.
Tax cuts inevitably fall hardest on the poor, as they benefit most from social programs.

New Democrats. The Romanow government has introduced a very regressive tax policy. They have cut income taxes for those in the high income brackets, the capital gains tax, and business taxes, while expanding the PST and users fees. This system falls hardest on middle and low income earners. Overall, the tax cuts in March 2000 budget will result in the loss of an additional $260 million for social programs. The NDP is moving towards the Alberta flat tax, where everyone pays the same tax rate regardless of income, a policy long advocated by the very wealthy.

Saskatchewan Party. They want to go even farther and faster than the NDP in cutting
taxes on those in the higher income brackets. They demand the flat tax now.

New Green Alliance. The NGA is the only party which supports the Keynesian policy of taxation according to ability to pay, where those in the higher income brackets and the wealthy pay higher tax rates than those in the lower income brackets. This has been the tax system in all the advanced industrial countries in the post-World War II period.

(2) Business taxation.. The federal Tory and Liberal governments have been cutting taxes on corporations. This is a general trend of right-wing governments in North America.

New Democrats. The government proudly points to cuts in business taxes. They have also made it possible for municipal governments to remove the local business tax.

` Saskatchewan Party. They want even deeper cuts to business taxes, including the elimination of the tax on small businesses. They support the tax system found in North Dakota, where there are almost no taxes on business.

New Green Alliance. The NGA wants to eliminate the tax loopholes for businesses and make them pay their fair share. The NGA would introduce a minimum tax on all profitable corporations. In 1992 there were 3,648 profitable corporations in Saskatchewan, earning $410 million in profits, who paid no provincial income tax.

(3) Resource revenues.. The T.C. Douglas government long held that Saskatchewan could only have good social programs if it collected taxes, royalties and profits from the extraction of our natural resources. Allan Blakeney's NDP government made this a central policy focus.

New Democrats. The Romanow government continued the policy of the Grant Devine Tory government by further cutting royalties and taxes on the resource industries.

Saskatchewan Party. They have argued against increasing resource royalties or taxes.

New Green Alliance. The NGA is committed to raising the royalties and taxes on resource industries back up to the level they were during the last term of the Blakeney government (1978-82). For the March 2000 budget, this would have provided the
government with an additional $1 billion in revenues.

(4) Privatization of the resource industry. The Blakeney government moved towards gaining ownership and control over the extraction of our natural resources. The Devine government reversed this policy and began the privatization of Sask Minerals, the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, Sask Oil, Sask Mining Development Corporation and Prince Albert Pulp Mill.

New Democrats. The Romanow government sold the remainder of PCS, Sask Oil, Cameco, and the shares in the Lloydminister Heavy Upgrader. It supported MacMillan Blodell's takeover of Sask Forest Products. It removed limits on foreign ownership for the privatized corporations imposed by Grant Devine's Tory government.

Saskatchewan Party. They are committed to private ownership and control of Saskatchewan's natural resource extraction industries. Like the NDP, it has no problem with foreign ownership and control.

New Green Alliance. The NGA is committed to moving towards democratic
ownership and control of the natural resource industry by the people of Saskatchewan. Profits would be used for local development initiatives.

(5) Provincial Crown corporations. Public utilities are still owned by the Saskatchewan people as Crown corporations. The NDP government has begun an internal review by "experts" to see if they should continue to be publicly owned. There will be no public consultation.

New Democrats. The Romanow government has been privatizing the Crown utilities through a piecemeal process including contracting out.

Saskatchewan Party. Is committed to the business agenda of privatization. They have promised not to privatize any public utility without first holding a referendum.

New Green Alliance. The NGA is strongly opposed to privatizing the public utilities. They were built by the people, provide good jobs and services, and are leaders in new technologies. Their profits go to improving services and the provincial treasury. But the NGA supports democratic reform of the existing crown corporations.

(6) Deregulation of private enterprise. The business community in Saskatchewan is pushing hard for further deregulation of private enterprise and the contracting out of government services. Since 1982 the number of government employees has fallen from 12,000 to 9,000.

New Democrats. They have continued to downsize the provincial government and to expand contracting out of government services and the work of Crown corporations.

Saskatchewan Party. The Sask Party supports more contracting out and further downsizing of the provincial civil service.

New Green Alliance. The NGA opposes contracting out as it eliminates jobs that pay a living wage with good benefits. It strongly supports the regulation of businesses and Crown corporations to protect consumers, the environment, health and safety.

(7) Northern development. Succeeding Saskatchewan governments have implemented a colonial model for the development of Northern Saskatchewan: resource extraction by trans- national corporations, aided by the provincial government, with northerners having no control over the development in their own communities and not sharing in resource revenues.

New Democrats. The Romanow government has continued this policy.

Saskatchewan Party. Its policy is similar to that of the NDP.

New Green Alliance. The NGA calls for the phasing out of the uranium industry through a "just transition" program, opposes monopoly control of the forest industry by Weyerhauser, and supports a sustainable development policy controlled by northerners. The NGA opposes clear-cut logging, supported by the NDP and the Sask Party.

(8) Rural development policy. Recent provincial governments have all stressed diversification into value added food processing and small business development with provincial government assistance. State financial assistance goes primarily to private investors.

New Democrats. The NDP has forged close links to the management of the Wheat Pool and its policies of centralization of grain handling facilities, corporate pig factories and corporate feed lots, with no assistance to rural people trying to save the RR branch lines.

Saskatchewan Party. With close links to the Western Canada Wheat Growers Association and the large U.S. corporations (Cargill, ConAgra and ADM), the Sask Party has a similar strategy to that of the NDP, strong support for centralization.

New Green Alliance. The NGA wants a moratorium on branch line abandonment and the destruction of grain elevators, the creation of Regional Transportation Authorities, and provincial government support for locally owned elevators and branch lines. The NGA would provide support to local co-operative developments and is opposed to using tax money to support transnational corporations.

(9) Farm policy. The NDP and the Sask Party argue that low farm prices are due to high subsidies by U.S. and European governments. The New Green Alliance, like the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and the National Farmers Union, believes low farm income is due to corporate domination of the food system and farm supply sector. The imbalance in power results in the farm sector getting an ever-shrinking share of the consumer dollar and declining income.

New Democrats. The Romanow government provides subsidies to agribusiness and has undermined co-operatives and local producer-controlled marketing boards. They have been strong supporters of the huge transnational chemical corporations and their development of genetically engineered crops.

Saskatchewan Party. The Sask Party generally supports a more free market approach to agriculture and less support for marketing boards. It prefers federal assistance to farmers on an acreage basis, which is advocated by larger farmers.

New Green Alliance. Its platform calls for support of family farms, co-operative farms, community-shared agriculture, producer co-operatives, and producer controlled marketing boards. Following the European practice, the NGA would support ecological, sustainable and organic agriculture and actively promote an alternative food processing and distribution system controlled in Saskatchewan. The NGA supports legislation to ban
corporate farming similar to that being implemented in the United States.

(10) Energy policy. Global warming is a reality, and scientists argue that it will have a devastating impact on Saskatchewan. The boreal forests are already experiencing the effects. Dry land farming will be much more difficult with the predicted drop in moisture levels.

New Democrats. Roy Romanow and the political leaders of the NDP have refused to admit that global warming is a problem. They did not even send a delegation to the Kyoto world conference in 1998. They do not want to accept the reductions in release of greenhouse gases agreed to by the Canadian government at Kyoto in 1998.

Saskatchewan Party. The SP has strongly supported the NDP on this policy.

New Green Alliance. The NGA is pledged to implement a major energy conservation policy (there is none in Saskatchewan). It will put a high priority on the development of wind, solar and other renewable energy sources, now totally neglected in Saskatchewan.

(11) Trade union policy. Under Tommy Douglas' government, Saskatchewan implemented the first progressive trade union act in North America. There was general labour peace.

New Democrats. The Romanow government improved on Grant Devine's Trade Union Act and Labour Standards Act, but the results were not as complete as previous NDP legislation. They refused to implement pay equity legislation, rights for part-time workers, anti-scab legislation, and the Workers Compensation Board has remained anti- labour. They used back-to-work legislation against Sask Power workers and nurses.

Saskatchewan Party. It has pledged pro-business changes to the Trade Union Act to make it more difficult for workers to form trade unions.

New Green Alliance. Existing policy includes support for anti-scab legislation, the overhaul of the WCB, improvements in the Trade Union Act and Labour Standards Act, implementation of Pay Equity legislation, and providing labour rights and benefits for part time, temporary, casual and contract workers.

(12) Medicare policy. The Romanow government has radically changed medicare by closing the Plains Hospital and 52 rural hospitals, creating the new system of health districts, and cutting the health budget and the Prescription Drug Plan. This was all done in an authoritarian manner.

New Democrats. The Romanow government appointed the one-man Fyke Commission to decide which health services will be covered by medicare. Those not funded will be in an expanded private health sector. Only three public meetings are to be held.

Saskatchewan Party. Policy pledges no additional cuts to medicare funding. But no re-funding is promised. Individual MLAs, and the leader, Elwin Hermanson, have supported more contracting out and privatization of health services.

New Green Alliance. The NGA argues that despite cuts in federal grants, adequate revenues were available for health care from the resource sector. The NGA calls for a democratic participatory process for community evaluation of health policy and opposes the Fyke Commission approach. Adequate funding will be provided for prescription drugs, dental care and home care. But in the long run, only a program of illness prevention will result in expenditure reductions.

(13) Minimum wage. During the NDP government of Allan Blakeney, Saskatchewan had the highest minimum wage in Canada and the lowest unemployment rate.

New Democrats. The Romanow government has deliberately allowed the minimum wage to fall behind inflation so it is now one of the lowest in Canada at $6 per hour.

Saskatchewan Party. The Sask Party has no official policy, but in the legislature its MLAs have advocated no minimum wage, as exists in several U.S. states.

New Green Alliance. Policy calls for the minimum wage to be raised to $8 per hour and indexed to the cost of living.

(14) Education. The governments of Grant Devine and Roy Romanow have cut provincial grants to education and municipalities, which has forced local officials to raise property taxes. Per-pupil spending is now one of the lowest in North America, well below the Canadian average.

New Democrats. With its first priority on balancing the budget, and cutting royalties and taxes to resource corporations, funding for education has been given a low priority. The Romanow government cut over $400 million from the education budget.

Saskatchewan Party. Opposes more cuts to education and off loading on the local school boards. But it has no program for raising additional funds.

New Green Alliance. The NGA is committed to raising provincial grants from 40% of the local budgets at present to the 60% level it was during the Blakeney government and restoring adequate funding to post-secondary education. The NGA is committed to moving towards a tuition-free post secondary education, as exists today in Mexico.

(15) Child Care. In 1974 the Blakeney government brought in the first support legislation and promised to create 13,500 childcare spaces within five years. But in 1997 there were only 7,548. The province has the lowest number of spaces per working parents of any province in Canada.

New Democrats. Child care has remained a low priority. The average provincial subsidy for low income parents is only $235 per child and has not been raised since 1982.

Saskatchewan Party. The Sask Party has no official policy. Party spokespersons have called for support for private for-profit child care services.

New Green Alliance. The NGA is committed to a free publicly funded child care system and an increase in the number of spaces to at least the Canadian average.

(16) Poverty. Poverty and low incomes remain serious problems in Saskatchewan, particularly among Aboriginal peoples. 58,000 children live in poverty, twice the 1980 level. A high percentage of women, youth and rural residents live on incomes of less than $14,000 per year, the low income cut off set by Statistics Canada. Basic social assistance rates have not been raised since 1982 and provide incomes well below the LICO. Affordable, good housing is in short supply. Food bank use steadily increases to cover increased housing costs. Saskatchewan has the highest infant mortality rate in Canada, a world wide standard used to measure poverty.

New Democrats. The Romanow government promised to eliminate poverty and food bank use during their first term of office. Some new programs have been introduced, but
poverty and low income remain as high as ever.

Saskatchewan Party. They have promised to cut funding to social services. They are pledged to introduce a workfare program to force the fully employable to take any job available, at any wage.

New Green Alliance. The NGA is committed to raising social assistance rates to the basic needs level. A high priority would be put on affordable, quality housing through rent controls and inspection systems, social housing, home ownership and co-operative housing. Emphasis would be on community economic development programs that provide jobs which pay a living wage.

(17) Law and order. Of all provinces, Saskatchewan has the highest percentage of its population in jail, the highest percentage of its jail population that is Aboriginal (76%), and the highest percentage of youth in jail. It costs $45,000 a year to keep a person in jail in Saskatchewan. The trend towards increased incarceration began in 1975.

New Democrats. The 1999 NDP platform called for putting even more youth in jail and hiring more police. At the same time, it has staunchly opposed federal gun control legislation and has stated it will not enforce the legislation in Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan Party. The Sask Party wants even more people put in jail than the NDP, with much tougher young offenders legislation and even more police. It strongly opposes the federal gun registration legislation.

New Green Alliance. The NGA argues that the present approach of more jails and police does not work. If it did, the United States would have the lowest crime rate instead of the highest. Crime is directly related to poverty. A better solution, and a much cheaper one, is to provide people with good jobs that pay a living wage. We need good education and training programs for youth with good jobs at the end of the process.

(18) Government-sponsored gambling. Historically, social democratic parties, including the CCF and the NDP, opposed government-sponsored gambling. It is widely known that low income people are more attracted to gambling, and revenues from gambling were considered a regressive form of taxation, falling heaviest on those who could least afford it.

New Democrats. In the search for additional revenues, in 1993 the Romanow government introduced a major gambling program. By making it a co-operative venture with the Saskatchewan Indian Federated Nations, the NDP hoped to lessen public criticism. The NDP government blocked proposed referendums on the issue.

Saskatchewan Party. The Sask Party has pledged to implement a comprehensive social impact study of gambling and allow communities to opt out of VLTs by referendum. It has not pledged to end the collection of provincial revenues from gambling.

New Green Alliance. The NGA opposes government-sponsored gambling as socially destructive and promises to hold a province-wide referendum on the issue. If the people decide to eliminate VLTs and casinos, First Nations governments will be compensated through other provincial revenues.


(1) On the major policy issues, the NDP and the Saskatchewan party are very close. The policies and principles of the New Green Alliance are quite different from the main parties.

(2) The New Green Alliance is the only party committed to the elimination of poverty, the gross inequality that exists today, and the creation of good jobs that pay a living wage.

(3) Many trade unions remain allied with the NDP despite the Romanow government's hostile actions and pro-business policies. The Sask Party is very hostile to the trade unions. In contrast, the NGA strongly supports the the trade union movement and strengthening the rights of all workers through the Trade Union Act and the Labour Standards Act.

(3) The New Green Alliance is the only party in the province which is opposed to the corporate agenda of the free trade agreements and foreign ownership. The NGA advocates an alternative development strategy which stresses Saskatchewan and local ownership and control in order to develop a truly sustainable economy and social policy.

(4) The New Green Alliance is the only party in the province which is committed to participatory democracy and maximizing local, community control.

(5) The New Green Alliance is the only party in the province that sees environmental
degradation as a central problem which requires serious political attention.