It was the 2003 election campaign when it really dawned on me that the great voter-divide in Saskatchewan isn’t necessarily geographically or even the much-talked-about urban-rural split.
It’s often based on your occupation.
I was in Coronach following the leaders and wound up talking to a SaskPower plant worker during lunch — a rare rural voter who was decidedly NDP. Sure, the memories of the 1998 lockout were still fresh in his mind, but so were the years of the Grant Devine administration that convinced him that it wasn’t in his interest to vote for the right-wing alternative Saskatchewan Party.
Broad-based support for the NDP in rural Saskatchewan has grown increasingly rare in the past 30 years. Since Devine’s 1982 election when he swept the entire province (including all but two urban seats in Regina) the NDP success in rural Saskatchewan has been sporadic at best. A rural foothold was briefly regain in 1991 Roy Romanow’s ousting of Devine, but the closure of 52 rural hospitals quickly changed that. Since then, the election of NDP rural MLAs has been few and far between, culminating with the 2011 vote when they were wiped out altogether.
And when you think about it from the standpoint of occupation, it makes even more sense. Rural Saskatchewan is dominated by large marketing farmers, oil workers, small implement manufacturers and other small businessmen and women. There is a still a lot of public sector employment with teachers, health care professionals, agricultural and highways services etc., but a critical mass of them (like at Coronach’s power plant) is unusual.
Talking to that Coronach voter in 2003 reminder me that work — especially work in a unionized environment — can have a big influence on how you vote.
Another couple of recent events fortified that notion.
The first was the annual Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) convention in Regina where Wall and his Sask. Party cabinet ministers received an incredibly easy ride from delegates at the annual bearpit session. There were the usual concerns about spending on infrastructure, doctor recruitment, taxation levels, etc.
However, what was truly surprising was how overwhelmingly supportive mayors and councillors were to the Wall government — and not just the smaller town mayors. Given the Sask. Party’s near two-thirds overall popular vote in the election perhaps it wasn’t surprising to see such a positive response from city politicians as well. But those who have watched politics in this province for some time will know that SUMA has traditionally represented a pretty good cross-section of our politics. If so, something has changed and this province is no longer as divided on urban-rural lines as it once was.
But another recent event suggests that perhaps not everyone in the province loves the Wall government — or at least, there’s one demographic where the Sask. Party still lacks support.
A recent decision by Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Dennis Ball (who was once the chair of the Labour Relations Board for the Devine government) that the province’s essential services legislation as unconstitutional was wildly cheered by the union movement. Simply put, Justice Ball’s ruling says that the Sask. Party law just goes too far in excluding people from the right to strike — so far that it infringes on the freedoms of assembly guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
And what might have been most interesting is how well this decision seems to have been received among unionized workers — especially public sector union members — compared with everyone else.
It just goes to show that where you live isn’t necessarily always the most critical factor in your private vote. Sure, your family, friends and neighbours can influence you.
But what you do for a living may very well be the thing that’s most critical in determining how you cast your ballot.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 15 years.