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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

MORGAN: Smith’s departure a sign of talk radio’s slow death

“Media is in undergoing a huge, evolutionary transition right now. The technocrat class is playing whack-a-mole as they try to de-platform conservative and libertarian voices while new platforms keep springing up.”

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While working as an oilfield surveyor in the ’90s, talk radio was a must. Whether standing next to my tripod in a wheat field or trying to stay awake while driving across the endless plains of Kansas, the radio was always tuned to the local talk radio station. It kept me up to date on issues and let me hear from different sides.

Talk radio back then was gritty and informative. Here in Alberta, I would listen to Dave Rutherford in the morning, and Dave Taylor in the afternoon. One was conservative and one was liberal. I enjoyed both because they were entertaining and informative. They didn’t just have guests and callers – they took them on. They engaged, they questioned and they opined on everything. I didn’t always agree, but that didn’t matter. It was engaging and it made one think. Peter Warren on the weekends was legendary. Those days are gone.

The beginning of the end around here came when Dave Rutherford was fired for being critical of his own radio station over their poor coverage of the Alberta floods in 2013. One could tell that this was a final straw of sorts, as Rutherford had been increasingly chafing under increased efforts to control his show. As a veteran broadcaster, Dave simply wasn’t going to take it.

After Rutherford’s firing, the station floundered through a number of hosts and formats. Those all pretty much failed until Danielle Smith was hired and put into the prime daytime slot. Many conservative listeners were hesitant to embrace Smith after the unfortunate end of her time as Wildrose leader, but she won them over as she continued the talk radio style and tradition in much the same style as Dave Rutherford had. Like Rutherford though, the pressure from to control her content became too much.

I am only guessing here, but I think the beginning of the end for Smith came when she had former UCP candidate Caylan Ford on the show. Ford was immersed in a controversy due to a number of false allegations of racism which were released by a “progressive” NDP-front website with the intent of derailing the UCP campaign.

Smith gave Ford an entire segment to explain herself and the progressive cancel mob went wild. Demands were made for Smith’s firing. Sponsors were threatened, the station caved and even deleted the archived show. Even Mayor Nenshi and Rachel Notley got in on the dogpile. As a result, Danielle Smith was neutered as a host and the character assassination of Caylan Ford remained undefended until recently.

How humiliating it must have been as Smith to have been hung out to dry by the station for having done her job well. It was quite literally, the news of the day. It was a controversial issue and there were two sides. Smith quickly discovered the hard way that there is only one side when the risk of a cancel mob appears.

As a regular listener, I caught some serious undertones a few months ago when it was clear that Danielle Smith was upset about something. She talked around it, but made it pretty clear that she had been instructed not to talk about certain things COVID-19 related. She then put it to the callers in a small act of rebellion so that they could speak to the subject even if she couldn’t. I am just guessing here, but I suspect that this was when Smith decided that she had enough and gave notice.
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Talk radio is a dying format. It is a victim of modern times and it will not be able to beat the many new mediums which catch our attention. Streaming services, podcasts, and satellite radio have eaten up so much listenership that radio stations are broke and vulnerable. That is why they now cower in terror at the prospect of a mob complaining to their precious few remaining sponsors. Unfortunately, this move to vanilla radio is only making the inevitable demise of the platform all that much sadder.

I listened today to an afternoon host talking with an expert on the issue of child marriages in Canada. It really is happening and it really is legal. It is a concerning issue worthy of talking about and asking questions. The host and the guest took no callers though and managed to chat about the issue for the entire segment without once touching upon a giant elephant in the room, which is the religious and cultural aspects of this issue. Religious and cultural fundamentalism is behind nearly every child marriage and to pretend that this is an issue among most Albertans or Canadians is willfully blind. If you are only going to talk about 75 percent of an issue for fear of offending somebody, you may as well not talk about it at all. The use and point of talk radio here is lost.

Talk radio will continue to dwindle until it is little more than a news reading and traffic service. They can’t afford to discuss issues any longer.

Media is in undergoing a huge, evolutionary transition right now. The technocrat class is playing whack-a-mole as they try to de-platform conservative and libertarian voices while new platforms keep springing up. I am optimistic that balance and new forms of political discourse will emerge, but we are in for some tumultuous times as we find that balance.

Dave Rutherford has retired while Danielle Smith is already seeking new platforms to work from. I am looking forward to the new age of unfettered political discourse when it gets here. It can’t remain bottled up forever.

The heyday of talk radio is gone though. There are a few good, gritty voices still working the airwaves out there but they are fading. It’s the sad end of an era.

Cory Morgan is the Podcast Editor and a columnist for the Western Standard

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Opinion

MORGAN: The media sure shut up fast once Nenshi got caught up in the Snowbird Scandal

“But how are we supposed to trust a mainstream media that attacks Kenney with fury, while it gives a complete pass to Nenshi over the same issue?”

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I am old enough to remember when the Great Snowbird Scandal was the top of the news in Alberta. For well over a week it burned white hot. You couldn’t turn on your radio, TV or read a publication without seeing headlines on the issue. The hypocrisy was unbearable. Albertans on all sides of the spectrum were furious as they saw jet-setting MLAs & staffers travelling to tropical just as the locked their constituents down over Christmas.

The questions kept coming.

“Did Premier Kenney do enough?”

“Should Kenney kick all of the offending MLAs out of caucus?”

“What did Kenney know, and when did he know it?”

“Did Kenney lie?”

“Should Kenney resign?”

A major publication even wrote an entire story on how the Twitter hashtag ‘#ResignKenney’ was trending. The social media mob was swarming and they wanted blood. They would not rest without more heads on more pikes. Kenney went underground, but with every day he was missing, the scandal only seemed to burn hotter.

And then suddenly…. poof! It all disappeared.

It was as if a switch was tripped. The entire issue was suddenly something that was behind us. It was time to move on to other issues. The media was reporting on new stories and the mob – at least the mob on the left – was gone. Poof!

So what happened?

Naheed Nenshi is what happened.

The Calgary mayor was found to have pulled off the same hypocritical stunt that Premier Jason Kenney had. Nenshi’s handpicked Chief of Staff had travelled to Hawaii over the holidays with the Mayor’s knowledge and blessing. Nenshi gave a short statement saying that civil servants should not be held responsible in the same way as elected officials and that he would not fire his chief of staff, as Premier Kenney had. Now that the scandal had touched one of their progressive darlings, the mainstream media decided that it was no longer a story worth covering and slinked away. No follow-up questions, no demands for blood. It was time to move on.

Let’s be clear. A chief of staff is not a civil servant. We are not talking about a bus driver or administrative worker at city hall. A chief of staff is the right-hand man or woman of the elected official they were chosen by. They are political staff. A chief of staff works directly with their boss on the messaging and implementation of policy.

Nenshi’s chief of staff was right in the thick of things when Nenshi demanded that the provincial government lock us all down. Nenshi’s chief of staff helped communicate all of Nenhi’s chiding “stay home, save lives” statements and the chief of staff is privy to meetings where it is decided that police should crack down on kids playing hockey. The chief of staff was surely right behind Mayor Nenshi when he called on Calgarians to snitch upon their neighbours. The chief of staff should be held accountable for his or her actions.

There will be no accountability in Calgary over the hypocrisy. Nenshi is feeling no pressure from this and the media has given him a pass.

For all Kenney’s hypocrisy in this during his government’s own lockdown, Nenshi was even more militant in demanding draconian closures with draconian punishments.

The gross double-standard being practiced by the mainstream media should be noted and remembered. Have no doubt, Premier Jason Kenney has been the architect of much of his own misery. He deserves what he got, and the media should continue to ask questions about his truthfulness in the matter.

But how are we supposed to trust a mainstream media that attacks Kenney with fury, while it gives a complete pass to Nenshi over the same issue?

Calgary is going into a municipal election year and we can be assured that Mayor Nenshi will yet again get an easy ride from the mainstream media. It is going to be tough for up and comers to challenge an incumbent with the government-funded press on his side.

Thankfully, new media outlets like the Western Standard and others are allowing citizens to bypass the establishment media who feel that they are the gatekeepers of information. With each act of hypocrisy, the mainstream media loses a little more credibility and loses another part of their audience.

While I will call the mainstream media out on it, I don’t want them to stop. They are dinosaurs of a dying and obsolete information medium. Let’s just keep giving them rope and let them finish the job themselves. Eventually, no government subsidies will matter as there will no longer be an audience

Cory Morgan is the Podcast Editor and a columnist for the Western Standard

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Opinion

WAGNER: Is support for Alberta independence ‘disloyal’ as the Toronto Star claims?

“If advocating Alberta independence through a referendum is somehow disloyal, then the ringleader of this disloyalty is the Supreme Court of Canada.”

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Toronto Star columnist Gillian Steward wrote a critical piece on the Buffalo Declaration, mocking it as “riding the hobby horse of victimhood.” There are many responses that quickly come to mind for her run-of-the-mill, pro-centralist claims, but there’s one that needs special attention. 

She writes that the four Conservative MPs who signed the Buffalo Declaration, “must have forgotten that they took an oath of loyalty to The Crown and Canada because the Buffalo Declaration warns that if the federal government doesn’t give Alberta exactly what it wants then a referendum on independence is ‘inevitable.’”

This is an accusation that has been made before: people who support Alberta independence are “disloyal.” Let’s take a closer look at that.

First of all, the Oath of Allegiance every MP takes is as follows: “I A.B. do swear, That I will be faithful and bear true Allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Victoria. Note. — The Name of the King or Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland for the Time being is to be substituted from Time to Time, with proper Terms of Reference thereto.” It’s very important to note, however, that this is not understood to be an oath to the monarch as a particular individual but as a figure representing the country, its constitution and political system. The oath is essentially a promise to uphold the constitution.

The MPs who signed the Buffalo Declaration do not advocate Alberta independence, despite what Steward suggests. However, supposing she was correct, the question becomes: does an MP violate his or her Oath of Allegiance by supporting Alberta independence? Is support for Alberta independence through a referendum a violation of the Constitution? 

According to the Supreme Court of Canada, the answer to that question is a clear ‘no’. So long as someone advocates the process for achieving independence outlined by the Supreme Court of Canada, he or she cannot be accurately accused of disloyalty. How can advocating Canadian constitutional law – as delineated by the Supreme Court of Canada – be disloyal to the Constitution? 

The key point is this: in a 1998 ruling known as Reference Re Secession of Quebec, the Supreme Court of Canada laid out a legal and constitutional process whereby a province could become independent. It established certain constitutional principles that provide the foundation for the legitimacy of secession. The Court ruled on this issue because Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government had formally asked it about the legality of Quebec seceding unilaterally from Canada after that province’s 1995 independence referendum. 

In its decision, the Supreme Court referred at least twice to a provincial “right” to pursue secession. In the first instance it stated, “The rights of other provinces and the federal government cannot deny the right of the government of Quebec to pursue secession, should a clear majority of the people of Quebec choose that goal, so long as in doing so, Quebec respects the rights of others.”

Later, it essentially made the same point: “The other provinces and the federal government would have no basis to deny the right of the government of Quebec to pursue secession, should a clear majority of the people of Quebec choose that goal, so long as in doing so, Quebec respects the rights of others.”


Ultimately, however, the key conclusion reached by the court was that, “a clear majority vote in Quebec on a clear question in favour of secession would confer democratic legitimacy on the secession initiative which all of the other participants in Confederation would have to recognize.” 

That is, if a “clear majority” votes “on a clear question in favour of secession,” a province has the “democratic legitimacy” necessary to leave confederation, although the details must be negotiated with other key parties, especially the federal government.

Clearly, the Supreme Court of Canada has stated that there is a legitimate constitutional path to independence for Canadian provinces. Provided that someone advocates the path outlined by the Supreme Court, an accusation of “disloyalty” is false because he or she is following Canada’s established constitutional law. How could Canada’s constitutional law be considered “disloyal” to the constitution? 

If advocating Alberta independence through a referendum is somehow disloyal, then the ringleader of this disloyalty is the Supreme Court of Canada. It was that court that determined and legitimized the constitutional process for pursuing independence. Federalists who consider a referendum on independence to be disloyal have a quarrel with the Supreme Court of Canada.

Michael Wagner is a columnist for the Western Standard

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