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ANALYSIS: Sask NDP Strengths & Weaknesses

The Western Standard breaks down the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats for the Saskatchewan NDP.

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Saskatchewan is headed to the polls October 26, 2020. Western Standard Saskatchewan correspondent Lee Harding will examine the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats each party faces in this election campaign. Our second in the series looks at the Saskatchewan NDP which has been the official opposition for the last 13 years.

READ: Saskatchewan Party Analysis

Background: Some count the roots of the Saskatchewan NDP back to the Territorial Grain Growers Association which predated the formation of the province in 1905. Since 1944, the NDP and its predecessor CCF have been the natural governing party of Saskatchewan until its hold on power was broken in in 2007 by the Saskatchewan Party. 

Strengths: Leader Ryan Meili brings fresh vigour to the party, having won the leadership in 2018 after finishing second in 2009 and 2013. Despite being just 45 years old, he was born three years earlier than previous leader Cam Broten. Meili won a by-election in 2017, taking 54 per cent of the vote following the death of Sask Party MLA Roger Parent. Meili brings obvious intelligence and rapport, having been a family physician for his career. He grew up on a farm near Courval.

The NDP have picked up three Sask Party seats in by-elections since the last general election. The party enjoys a solid base of support and runs a good ground game in the cities. The union movement is less dominant than in previous decades, but much of it remains loyal to the party, as do many indigenous voters, university graduates, and urban residents. The party’s 13 seats are in Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert and the two northern ridings.

Weakness: The NDP lack a “big idea” to advance or a devastating Saskatchewan Party weakness to exploit. Controversies over the Global Transportation Hub are largely forgotten, and ideas such as a wealth tax won’t rally many.

Tommy Douglas died in 1986 and most everyone who grew up listening to his radio broadcasts is also gone. The NDP inherited a deeply indebted province in 1991 and took drastic measures to save Saskatchewan from insolvency. Fifty-two rural hospitals were closed in one year, school budgets increasingly relied on farm property taxes, and the highways crumbled. Rural Saskatchewan has not forgotten. Some Sask Party ads focus on the NDP legacy even though it ended 13 years ago.

Opportunities: Seven Saskatchewan Party MLAs are retiring, but all are in safe rural seats. Scott Moe is not the charismatic figure that Brad Wall was, and he faces at least a nascent threat to his right, thanks to the Buffalo Party and Progressive Conservatives. There seems nowhere to go but up for the NDP, which currently sits at 13 seats.

In 2016, the Saskatchewan Party won 5 seats in Saskatoon and 7 in Regina by less than 9 per cent of the vote. Saskatoon Meewasin, Saskatoon Fairview, and Regina Northeast have since flipped to the NDP in by-elections, and more could follow. Saskatoon Eastview is also up for grabs. Sask Party MLA Cory Tochor abdicated to become a Conservative MP, and Sask Party candidate Daryl Cooper stepped down after Press Progress criticized some social media posts. 

Threats: The NDP’s greatest threat is itself. The party has some internal squabbles between old guard and new guard, and between Regina and Saskatoon. Also, the trendier versions of left-wing politics involve Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ, and other identity politics, which may leave some paleo-socialists behind. 

Ryan Meili could lose his seat. He won with 54 percent of the vote in a by-election, but that seat previously belonged to the Saskatchewan Party. In a general election, he will be all over the province as some Saskatchewan Party ads are aimed squarely at him. If he loses his seat as NDP leaders Dwayne Lingenfelter and Cam Broten did in the past two elections, Meili will complete a hat trick of humiliation for the party.

Lee Harding is the Saskatchewan Correspondent for the Western Standard

Lee Harding is the Saskatchewan Affairs Columnist for the Western Standard. He is also a Research Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and is the former Saskatchewan Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Opinion

McCOLL: Ending Alberta’s paid plasma ban is the right thing to do

Tany Yao’s private members bill would lift the NDP’s ban on people being paid for giving their own blood.

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On October 26, UCP MLA Tany Yao’s private member’s bill – Bill 204: The Voluntary Blood Donations Repeal Act – was debated in the legislature. It is now only one step away from repealing the previous NDP government’s 2017 law that banned private paid plasma clinics.

In an interview with the Western Standard, Tany Yao outlined how this issue has been important to him since he was the opposition health critic in 2017. Back then, Yao said that the law “does more harm than good.” 

History has proven him right, as the NDP law made it illegal for pharmaceutical companies to make plasma medicines in Alberta by paying donors like they do in the United States and Saskatchewan. Proposals to build paid plasma clinics and laboratories to manufacture plasma medicines in Alberta were cancelled.

Yao stated that the goal of his bill is to “attract those companies to develop these life saving medications right here in Alberta.” When it came to objections from the NDP, Yao lamented: “I do find it unfortunate that only labour groups are fighting this. Their arguments are from the 1980s and from the tainted blood scandal.” When asked to explain the opposition from public sector unions and Canadian Blood Services (CBS) – even though CBS imports paid plasma products from the United States and has testified that paid plasma products are perfectly safe Yao said, “Labour is trying to protect their monopoly given to them by the NDP. [CBS] admits they cost more versus private companies.”

Over seventy per cent of global plasma comes from paid donors in the United States. It’s a $26 billion (USD) industrythat should grow to $40 billion by 2040. Plasma medicines make up a greater share of US exports than steel or aluminium. This is a high-tech growth industry that saves lives, creates high paying jobs, and could attract billions of dollars in pharmaceutical company investment to Alberta. 

During Monday’s debate, UCP MLAs Jackie Lovely, Mark Smith, Devinder Toor, Michaela Glasgo, Ronald Orr, and Richard Gotfried all spoke in support of bill 204. As Yao predicted, NDP MLAs Richard Feehan, Marie Renaud, Lorne Dach, and Shannon Phillips spoke against the bill voicing debunked public safety concerns. NDP MLA Marie Renaud argued that it would be morally wrong to allow low income Albertans to be paid for their blood. She didn’t say how rich you had to be for it to be moral to earn an extra $2000 per year for weekly donations of life saving plasma.

One NDP critique of the bill was that all paid plasma donations made in Alberta would be exported to other countries. If the NDP MLAs had paid attention to Dr. Peter Jaworski’s July testimony to the Standing Committee on Private Bills, they would know that Canadian plasma is exported because CBS refuses to buy it – even when offered lower prices!

“Canadian Plasma Resources was only Health Canada-certified when they first opened… It is only when Canadian Blood Services rejected their offer of all of their plasma in 2016 at $166 per litre, which was 20 per cent less than the price in the United States, that Canadian Plasma Resources sought to get European Medicines Agency approval, which means that they are allowed to sell their plasma within the European market… Canadian Plasma Resources has made two subsequent offers to Canadian Blood Services. In 2018 they offered all of their plasma at $195 a litre for a term of seven years and then most recently in 2019, $220 per litre for a term of 20 years.”

CBS unpaid plasma donation centres cost the taxpayer about $412 dollars per litre. The answer to this problem is clear: first pass Bill 204, then open paid plasma centres in Alberta, and finally shame CBS and Ottawa into ending the irrational policy of importing American paid plasma instead of buying Canadian paid plasma.

Alex McColl is the National Defence Columnist with the Western Standard and a Canadian military analyst

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Opinion

Sask PCs Say “no” to merger with Buffalo Party

With 17 candidates, the BP won 2.9 per cent of the vote. The PCs with 31 candidates won 2 per cent. In ridings in which they ran, the BP averaged 10 per cent, and the PCs 4 per cent.

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A recent column in the Western Standard proposed the idea of uniting Saskatchewan’s Buffalo and PC parties. Progressive Conservative candidates and leadership responded quickly with a hard ‘no.’ 

“Won’t happen Lee,” PC leader Ken Grey posted on Facebook below the article. “We will welcome ex-Buffalo members but merger is a no go. We are a federalist party and from what I see Buffalo wants to broker left and right wing ideologies. We are different parties with different mandates.”

Grey cited the Buffalo Party’s approach of reaching out to both left and right policy goals. “That’s distasteful to me,” said Grey, whose party slogan is “True Conservative.”

The Buffalo Party – despite being just a few months old and running in a handful of ridings – finished as Saskatchewan’s third-place party on October 26th. With 17 candidates, the BP won 2.9 per cent of the vote. The PCs with 31 candidates won 2 per cent. In ridings in which they ran, the BP averaged 10 per cent, and the PCs 4 per cent. 

Frank Serfas, a founding signatory of the Western Independence Party and its interim leader in 2015, placed third as the PC candidate in Moosemin. He commented on my Facebook post, “Any talk of PCs and Buffalo merging are completely [p]remature and [h]alf [b]aked.”

In an interview, Serfas said that he joined the PCs in 2018 to support Ken Grey’s leadership bid, but also bought a membership in Wexit Saskatchewan (the Buffalo Party’s original name). He said the Buffalo Party lacks the needed foundation to last.

“No constitution, no membership-adopted platform. There is no elected executive, no elected leader,” Serfas said. “I’ve been watching this a long time, since the early 80s. The only time western separatist parties or independence parties had any traction is when their leaders were legitimately elected by the grassroots.”

Serfas said the party initially indicated they would do these things, then gave reasons why it did not. “Covid. Not enough people. Oh, and my favorite one was not enough time,” he said.

“They’re two different parties in two different places, organization wise, leadership wise, stuff like that. Things still need to be settled in both camps before you can even start dialogue.”

Ironically, a PC press release on August 13 already called it a “merger” when former Wexit candidates such as Harry Frank decided to run as PC candidates. “This merger comes after complaints of top down decisions, candidate removals without reason, and dictatorial style leadership within the Buffalo Party.”

The press release quoted Frank saying, “By uniting the right we have a greater chance of being in a position to challenge this liberal leaning SaskParty and pushing for the changes the residents of this province have been needing.”

The two parties share common policy ground in supporting MLA recall, a provincial police force, and a referendum on equalization to trigger a constitutional convention, all welcomed by Serfas.

“They’re willing to explore other avenues of autonomy. That’s a good start. But the thing you have to remember is that the PCs are a party with one foot in the past and one foot trying to reach into the future,” Serfas said.

Serfas said the PC Party trust fund was one example of control by legacy PCs.

“The party leader does not control that. The party executive does not control it. There is a trust executive that is basically made up of PC luminaries of the past, and they control it.”

PC candidate Tony Ollenberger was a founding member of the Alberta First Party and ran as a candidate in 2001. His former party eventually was refounded in 2018 as the Freedom Conservative Party of Alberta. The FCP would later merge with Wexit Alberta to form the Wildrose Independence Party. 

Ollenberger does not want the Saskatchewan PCs to follow suit. 

“Buffalo is a flash in the pan. This is exactly what happened with the Alberta Independence Party in 2001,” Ollenberger said. “When they come onto the scene, and not even as a registered party, immediately the media just jumped all over them because they were just the next great thing. And you know after the election in 2001 they went nowhere.”

Ollenberg said his decades of observing independence movements in both provinces suggests some Buffalo Party members will eventually challenge interim leader Wade Sira’s position of “secession if necessary, but not necessarily secession.”

“He’s going to find someone come along and saying, ‘Well we need to separate now,’ and they’ll factionalize, and then they’ll refractionalize… until there’s six parties that need to get registered,” Ollenberger said.

“I’ve seen this movie before and I’ve seen exactly how it ends,” said Ollenberger. “We’d be shooing ourselves in the foot if we wanted to hitch our wagon to the Buffalo Party because I see the same fate unfolding again.”

Ollenberger, who placed third in Saskatoon Fairview, said the party’s message of balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility had a positive response at the doors.

“We certainly need to do more to get our main track on the political radar, get our messaging out there, and make sure that people understand that there is a difference – that when people hear the word ‘Conservative’ they think of us again and not the Sask Party.”

Lee Harding is the Saskatchewan Correspondent for the Western Standard

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Opinion

LETTER: Canada’s electoral system is broken

“There is more than one good reason for getting rid of this destructive and un-democratic FPTP electoral system beginning with the ballot that makes voting extremely challenging and unfair, because voters are forced to chose between party or candidate.”

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RE: Horgan leads NDP to majority government in B.C.

Another election, producing another fake-majority government most of the people do not want, and conducted a year before it was mandated, by law.

Our system of government is called parliamentary democracy, because the party or coalition with the greatest number of elected Members, will form a majority government while it only represents a minority of the people.

That is very different from the true democratic governments they have in Scandinavian and European countries, where the political power is vested and exercised by the people directly or indirectly through the elected Members of government.

There is more than one good reason for getting rid of this destructive and un-democratic FPTP electoral system beginning with the ballot that makes voting extremely challenging and unfair, because voters are forced to chose between party or candidate.

Canada has a very dysfunctional multi-party system, that continues to erode any semblance of democracy.

Andy Thomsen
Kelowna

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