The Saskparty Is Under Threat
I was born and bred in Saskatchewan and seeing Brad Wall make history in 2007 was one of the best days I remember. The Roughriders went on to win the Grey Cup that year too, which lifted everyone's spirits and made it look like the province had finally turned a new leaf. It kind of did, but in some ways it also stayed the same. We won't get into the negatives of the last decade under Brad Wall's Saskparty, but we'll get into the dangers that face the party as it heads into its leadership election on January 27. If the party's grassroots members aren't careful, the Saskparty might fall into the hands of those who'd either like to see the party fail or would like to transform it into something unrecognizable.
The problem with any party leadership—especially when the party holds government—is that hostile forces will try to infiltrate and infect the party's core. It happened to Alberta's Progressive Conservatives and it could happen to the Saskatchewan Party. What elevates the risk to the Saskparty's grassroots core is the fact that it currently holds government—meaning that voters aren't just electing a party leader, they're electing the next premier. This compels everyone and their dogs to get involved and to help transform the governing party, even people who don't identify with the Saskparty's platform or its right-leaning ideology.
In December, the Saskparty boasted that its membership had tripled since the beginning of the leadership race. Since Brad Wall made his announcement, the party grew from just under 10,000 members to just shy of 30,000 members. To the ordinary political wonk, this sounds good, but to the wise Saskparty strategist with real conservative principles, this should be sounding some alarm bells and raising some concerns.
Growing a party is good, but with radical growth comes risks. A 300% increase in memberships is an obvious sign that not all of the new memberships belong to true blue conservatives or moderately right-leaning voters. Even if only a quarter of the new memberships happen to belong to left-leaning voters, it could be enough to drastically alter the outcome of the leadership race.
The Saskatchewan Party is the result of a union between conservatives, progressive conservatives and centrist liberals. The party has never been a left-wing party and its very purpose was to counter the province's socialist, NDP hegemony. The Saskparty was designed to be the answer to decades of backward socialism in Saskatchewan, but if grassroots members aren't careful, that could all change in a heartbeat.
Wyant has quickly become a favourite among NDP supporters and Liberals. The Twitter-verse has been rumbling with praise for Wyant as the “most reasonable” and “most moderate” among the leadership candidates. However, the profiles that are tweeting these blush-worthy heaps of praise reveal what's really happening.
As with any leadership race, whether its a conservative race or a socialist race, opposing forces will come in with differing strategies. In Alberta, those opposing forces helped elevate Allison Redford to the PC leadership, which inevitably pushed the party to the left and created a fatal fracture that resulted in a strong Wildrose and an eventual electoral collapse.
Redford's win had all the hallmarks of leftist coersion. Opponents of the Progressive Conservative agenda masqueraded as allies and helped pump up a candidate that would drive a wedge into the cracks and eventually cause the party to implode. The mission was a short-term success that eventually led to an NDP government, but the long-term ramifications will probably prove to be disasterous for Alberta's left. No other force has done more to unify Alberta's conservative factions than Rachel Notley's NDP government.
Gord Wyant's popularity as an underdog bears all the markings of a similar coup d'etat. Among most grassroots members, Wyant doesn't even register as a viable candidate. It's the leftist saboteurs and interlopers who are trying to elevate him. To the party's true base, Wyant is too moderate, too flaky and too eager to capitulate and yield to the whims of activists and unions. Without an influx of leftist voters, Gord Wyant wouldn't have a chance at winning the Saskparty leadership.
This doesn't mean Wyant is a willing participant in the attempted destruction of the Saskparty, it just means he's an unwitting pawn of the Saskparty's enemies. However, if you haven't been paying attention, Gord Wyant is a full-fledged Liberal. He allegedly tore up his Liberal Party membership because of Justin Trudeau's carbon tax, which makes his entire schtick for leadership look suspect.
Everyone And Their Kids
There doesn't need to be a grand conspiracy to destroy the Saskparty and alienate its more conservative grassroots. It's common practice for opponents to buy memberships in opposing parties for various reasons, especially when it comes to leadership races—but the destruction of the Saskparty has the potential to happen naturally without any coordinated effort.
The floodgates have opened and the Saskparty is attracting people who don't share the party's values. That's just a fact. This is what happens when a party picks a new leader while it still holds government. It's only natural for everyone to want a say in choosing the next premier. Since the Saskparty allows members as young as 14 to vote, we should also expect interlopers to register their kids to double and triple their own impact.
When floodgates open, water carries debris and dirt. Even without a coordinated effort by the left, it would be stupid to assume the water is crystal clean.
In a matter of months, the Saskparty tripled its membership. Undoubtedly, a lot of people with bad intentions have purchased memberships, but a lot have done so because they genuinely want to have a say in who leads the province. The only problem is that these people will inadvertently advance the goals of the people with bad intentions.
The average, unaffiliated part-time voter in Canada usually leans left on most social issues. Countless surveys and polls have proven this time and time again. Even some accidental conservatives tend to be more receptive to soft, progressive messaging—despite having more socially or economically right-wing beliefs. This plays well for centrist and leftist candidates like Tina Beaudry-Mellor and Gord Wyant.
Automatically, a flood of unaffiliated voters will water down the party's core values and principles, whether anyone likes it or not. Combined with the coordinated efforts to shift the party in a direction that would fracture the base and alienate conservatives, this is a recipe for disaster.
If you don't believe there are coordinated efforts to overrun the Saskparty, maybe some facts will help. The Saskatchewan Teacher's Federation—a union—is currently running a campaign called “Pick A Premier”. If you're familiar with the NDP, you're familiar with the party's deep roots in Saskatchewan's labour movement. Almost every single public sector and labour union in Saskatchewan has backed the NDP since its inception, which is why the party has had so many successive majority governments in the province. It's only when a big enough chunk of the private sector gets irrate that the NDP loses its footing. That happened in 2007, but apathy and resentment are starting to kick in and unions are mobilizing.
Apathy And Alienation
This growing apathy makes the Saskparty's future look even more dangerous. With ordinary voters losing interest in the Saskparty, now is not the time to alienate the party's conservative grassroots with a candidate like Gord Wyant. Driving the Saskparty closer to the NDP on policy issues might look like a good idea to keep the NDP at bay, but it won't work. Historically, moving a right-leaning political party to the left has never been successful. Unlike progressives, conservatives tend to be less cohesive. When conservatives get mad, they pack up their shit and leave.
The Reform Party and Wildrose have shown us what happens when someone tries to drag conservatives to the dark side by their ankles. Saskatchewan's labour movement knows how all of this works. For them, installing a progressive liberal as the Saskparty leader is a win-win scenario. If the party doesn't slowly rot from the inside and implode like Alberta's Progressive Conservative Party, unions will have a more pliable premier until they can elect the next NDP government.
The Saskparty will most likely lose the next provincial election. The next leader will be tasked with managing failure rather than charting a path to victory for 2020. The new leader will try, but 2020 won't be about whether the Saskparty wins, it'll be about how badly it loses. Unless the new leader finds a way to rebuild the enthusiasm of 2007, the party will have to find ways to mitigate the losses they're going to incur in 2020. Under someone like Gord Wyant or Tina Beaudry-Mellor, the party runs the risk of alienating conservatives—and without conservatives, there is no Saskparty. Who the next leader is, how the next leader manages the party and the province, and how voters receive any changes in direction will determine how many seats go to the NDP in 2020.
To prevent the worst case scenario, the party's grassroots will need to be vigilant and present. Don't skip the leadership vote, because the interlopers won't. Buy your tickets to the next policy convention, because the saboteurs will have theirs pre-ordered.