Scott Moe led his Saskatchewan Party into rare territory Monday winning a fourth straight majority for the longest-serving government in the country.
The centre-right party was elected or leading in more than 45 constituencies, comfortably more than the 31 needed to control the 61-seat legislature.
There was no applause or crowds to welcome Moe, who made his victory speech after winning his first public mandate as premier. Instead, he addressed supporters who gathered virtually, because of limits in place around the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This has been an election like no other in our lifetimes,” the 47-year-old said, standing next to his wife, Krista.
“It was challenging for all of the candidates and the campaign volunteers who had to find new ways to reach their voters and to reach them safely,” he said.
“We’re humbled by the task that lies before us and we’re ready to go to work on your behalf,” he added.
“We’re eager to build a strong economy, strong communities, strong families, and a strong Saskatchewan for everyone.”
Moe was re-elected in his rural riding of Rosthern-Shellbrook, while NDP Leader Ryan Meili was in a fight to retain his Saskatoon Meewasin seat against Rylund Hunter of the Saskatchewan Party. Meili trailed by 83 votes by night’s end, with as many as 1,600 mail-in ballots to be counted in the coming days.
It’s possible all of Moe’s 17 cabinet ministers will hold onto their seats. Only Advanced Education Minister Tina Beaudry-Mellor was in jeopardy. She led her Regina University seat by fewer than 200 votes with mail-in ballots to come.
“I know it’s nerve-racking waiting for just a few hours for those results,” Moe said. “I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like waiting for a couple of days.”
Meili, a 45-year-old medical doctor, is trying to arrest a dubious trend. The last two NDP leaders, Dwain Lingenfelter in 2011 and Cam Broten in 2016, lost their seats in the general election.
“It wasn’t enough this time,” said Meili in his concession speech.
“My message tonight is for those who voted for change, because there are thousands upon thousands of people across Saskatchewan who voted for change today.
“This is not the end. This is the beginning. Do not give up, because in Saskatchewan we can do so much better than what we’ve seen.”
Moe and Meili spoke by phone about an hour after polls closed.
In his victory speech, Moe said he would govern for all residents, including those who didn’t vote for him.
He spoke in particular to the three per cent of voters — largely in rural areas — who cast ballots for the Buffalo Party of Saskatchewan, which believes people should be allowed to vote on independence from Canada.
“To those voters I want to say: I hear you. And I want to say this government hears you. We share your frustrations, and we share many of your objectives. We are not happy with the federal government either,” Moe said.
“There is no government in Canada that has advocated more strongly against a federally imposed carbon tax than the government of Saskatchewan.”
It was the third provincial election held during the COVID-19 pandemic and the third to see the incumbent party triumph. Last month, Premier Blaine Higgs and the Progressive Conservatives in New Brunswick went from a minority to a majority government. John Horgan’s NDP did the same in British Columbia on Saturday.
At dissolution, the Saskatchewan Party held 46 seats to 13 for the NDP. There were two vacancies.
The Saskatchewan Party has been in power since 2007 — currently the longest governing party in Canada — and is knocking on the door of historic political dominance. The last party to lead Saskatchewan to a fourth term was the NDP in 2007, although it needed coalition help in 1999 to do so.
The record still resides with Tommy Douglas and the CCF, which held five majority governments in the middle of the last century.
The pandemic shaped not only the central ballot question, but how people would cast their ballots. Voters were asked to wear masks at polling stations. More than 185,000 ballots were cast in five days of advance polls.
COVID-19 cases have been on the rise. Earlier this month, the province halved to 15 the number of people allowed together at events in private households.
The campaign centred on starkly contrasting blueprints for how to steer the province, its economy and its $2.1-billion deficit through the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.
Meili promised millions of dollars in increased spending for classrooms and to reduce health-care wait times, along with a $15-an-hour minimum wage and $25-a-day daycare. The NDP wouldn’t promise a balanced budget in its first term and warned that the Saskatchewan Party would try to cut its way to better economic times.
Moe promised to balance the books by the 2024-2025 fiscal year, while keeping the economy going and creating jobs through tax and rebate incentives.
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press
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