Opposition Parties Take a Pounding in BC, Saskatchewan Elections

Opposition Parties Take a Pounding in BC, Saskatchewan Elections
Saskatchewan Party Leader Scott Moe makes his victory speech to media at the party’s campaign event in Saskatoon on Oct. 26, 2020. (The Canadian Press/Liam Richards)
Lee Harding

Provincial elections in British Columbia and Saskatchewan have returned the ruling parties to power and left the opposition parties with new questions about leadership and direction.

In B.C., Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson resigned following a resounding defeat at the hands of Premier John Horgan and the NDP on Oct. 24. The Liberals lost their vote share in every region of the province, especially Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. They dropped to 29 seats, while the Greens took 3, and the NDP won a party record of 55.

Paul Rowe, professor of political science at Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C., told The Epoch Times that neither Wilkinson’s electoral defeat nor his resignation were surprising.

“The NDP entered the race with the upper hand. They are the incumbent government currently handling the pandemic and they got to choose the date of the election. Low turnout amid pandemic restrictions, with people thinking about other priorities, benefited the incumbent government,” Rowe said.

“The Liberals did not offer a compelling reason why they should take leadership from the NDP, in spite of the opportunistic timing of the election. They took a defensive strategy of catering to their usual base while the NDP targeted marginal ridings in Langley they had never won, especially with promises about expanding public transit.”

The Liberal party could change substantially over the next few years. Incumbent Liberal MLA Laurie Throness resigned from the party after he drew parallels between an NDP policy of free contraceptives to historic eugenics practices. This prompted defeated Liberal MLA Jas Johal to say the party must embrace diversity. Meanwhile MLA Mike Bernier says the Liberal name is a barrier to many voters and the party would benefit from a new name.
Further east, the Saskatchewan Party won its fourth straight majority government on Oct. 26, ahead in 50 of 61 seats with mail-in votes left to be counted. With Premier Scott Moe leading the party, its victory was only one seat shy of the 51 won under Brad Wall in 2016.
The NDP took 11 seats, but for the third-straight general election, the polls closed with its leader unable to win a seat. In the Saskatoon Meewasin district, NDP leader Ryan Meili finished election night 83 votes behind the Saskatchewan Party’s Ryland Hunter. The final result lies with 1,656 mail-in ballots that remain.

NDP wins were confined to Regina, Saskatoon, and the north of the province.

“It seems like the NDP is just not listening to people in the rural areas,” said James Pitsula, history professor emeritus at the University of Regina.

“I was almost shocked at how small their vote was through rural Saskatchewan. It was just astonishing when you think of the history of the province.”

The election also offered a chance to see what kind of following the Wexit movement has attracted. The Buffalo Party received official status in March under its initial name of Wexit Saskatchewan and ran candidates in 17 ridings.

The party placed third in votes, and four candidates placed second in southeast and southwest parts of the province.

Pitsula said a push for independence is new for Saskatchewan, but the sentiment behind it is not.

“There’s always been this regionalism, and this fight against Ottawa, and fight against central Canada and the banks and the railroads and the grain companies and the tariffs and the federal government. And you can even link that to [Louis] Riel, because Riel was anti-Ottawa also,” he said.

Looking ahead, University of Saskatchewan professor Greg Poelzer said Moe will be challenged to appease both right-wing and centrist voters and to address western alienation while staying committed to Canada.

The NDP faces even tougher battles.

“They’ve got to do a serious retool if they're going to be viable, but I'm not sure that the activist left part of the party will let any water mix with their wine,” Poelzer said. “They've got some serious structural policy and ideological issues that they’re going to [have to] sort out to come up with a new vision.”