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Canada Mandryk: NDP might need twist of fate to alter upcoming campaign

19:01  26 september  2020
19:01  26 september  2020 Source:   leaderpost.com

Mandryk: Meili needs to make the case for a strong opposition

  Mandryk: Meili needs to make the case for a strong opposition The problem for Saskatchewan New Democrat Leader Ryan Meili is that he can’t undo most of the things now contributing to what seems likely will be a big loss for his party on Oct. 26 — some things that have occurred on his watch, but many that go back decades. He can’t go back in time and reappoint his 2020 slate of candidates earlier so each could make a more viable run in their respective ridings and at least put the NDP in better stead for the next election.

The election call for the Oct. 26 Saskatchewan vote may come any time now. © Provided by Leader Post The election call for the Oct. 26 Saskatchewan vote may come any time now.

By the third term, the NDP was supposed to have “unmasked” the Saskatchewan Party, convincing the electorate it is something voters shouldn’t want.

That clearly hasn’t happened … notwithstanding the argument by New Democrats or simply policy realities that say the Sask. Party government’s third-term record hasn’t been great.

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Public debt due has soared past a record $24 billion to pay for projects like the Saskatchewan Hospital in North Battleford plagued with public-private partnership (P3) build problems . The Global Transportation Hub (GTH) and the Regina bypass are, arguably, far bigger overspending messes.

For whatever successes the government can point to — and for many those include the bypass and the North Battleford hospital and certainly the Children’s Hospital in Saskatoon — its third term never produced a single balanced budget. But it did produce a record deficit and a hiked provincial sales tax , and may soon add to its list of controversies by giving an expected  go-ahead to the 70,000-square-foot Brandt-CNIB office complex in Wascana Park.

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Add to the mix the recent plummeting job numbers caused by COVID-19 economic shutdowns and one might think New Democrats have the Sask. Party right where they want them mere hours before the start of the campaign leading to the Oct. 26 vote.

Yet both the polls and historic statistic analysis show that an NDP win is nearly hopeless. Worse for New Democrats, there is a realistic possibility they will (at best) only gain a handful of city seats or (at worst) stagnate and even possibly lose members from its current 13-member caucus.

Some of this should be attributed to Leader Ryan Meili’s perceived push away from the centre in a province that’s been on a decades-long march to the right. Right now, Meili has clearly struggled to even get his own party’s affairs in order, as per the sorry saga of former cabinet minister and former NDP Regina Walsh Acres candidate Sandra Morin, who is now running as an independent.

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That said, one senses that there’s little Meili and the NDP could have done to change the course of this upcoming campaign — largely for the aforementioned reason that this province has simply changed.

The turning point was likely 13 years ago when the NDP election advertisements portraying Brad Wall as a wolf in sheep’s clothing (read: a prodigy of Grant Devine whose Progressive Conservative government plagued the province with debt and scandal during a time of stagnating economy) failed to capture the public’s imagination.

What did capture the Saskatchewan voters’ imagination at the time was ending the reign of a four-term social democratic government overseeing a stagnant economy that had mostly seen young people fleeing the province.

Wall’s first words as premier designate were “and now for something completely different.” Whatever that was, voters still want it in 2020 … even if just now means Scott Moe promising more of the same.

So is all lost for the NDP when it comes to even small gains? Quite likely.

But there is at least one wild card: This global pandemic, making the electorate more volatile.

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There so far seems little evidence of this in Moe’s own polling that indicates his pandemic leadership has allowed him to maintain his popularity. But there is a sense of vulnerability in a stressed-out electorate worried about the potential for rising cases in schools or just generally frustrated.

In other words, maybe the NDP has failed to “unmask” the Sask. Party, but might a government slip-up on issues like masks become a rallying point?

Consider the recent controversy emerging from a Facebook page set up by anti-maskers claiming they had the tacit support of cabinet minister and Saskatoon MLA Ken Cheveldayoff. (Cheveldayoff denies he left that impression, but would there be any controversy had he been adamant with the anti-maskers that he didn’t support their cause?)

Whatever the case, it surely shows how such pandemic issues might at least slightly alter the course of this campaign.

The problem for New Democrats, however, is a last-minute twist of fate may be be their only hope.

Mandryk is the political columnist for the Regina Leader-Post and Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

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