For about the last 40 years, politics in Saskatchewan has been framed as the transition from the social democratic governance to more conservative governance.
It clearly has been all of that.
This was evident the night of the Oct. 26 that surely solidified that philosophical transfer.
What the Sask. Party did three weeks ago was secure a rare fourth-term majority government — really, the only fourth-term “unaided” majority government this province has seen since the run of Tommy Douglas’s Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF).
The last NDP run under Roy Romanow and Lorne Calvert was added and abetted by Liberals in 1999. This, by no small coincidence, was the last time Liberals were elected to the Saskatchewan legislature.
So what really happened on Oct. 26 is the transition of the Sask. Party to the status of Saskatchewan’s “natural governing party” — a title once bestowed upon the NDP in this province, but long lost.
One might rightly argue that the NDP had lost that title before its 1991 to 2007 run that might be attributed to not having a trusted alternative in the take of Grant Devine Progressive Conservatives that drove the province deep into debt and faced criminal charges after.
The more pertinent point is that what we witnessed in the past four decades is change.
This is something that people in rural Saskatchewan likely recognize more so than most.
For as often as rural life is seen from the outside as always being static, it just isn’t. For those that live on farms, it’s a reality expressed in how much further away your neighbours have gotten as farms become bigger and spread further apart. For those living in the villages, towns and smaller cities, it’s the reality of declining and changing communities.
But maybe it’s about here where we need recognized that — if anything — we all can only expect more change in the future and that we must address that change each and everyday.
The very future of this province requires to us to taken on change and the problems they bring as they occur.
This takes us to last week’s cabinet shuffle and how it did — in one very real way — remind us that this is a changing province where our problems are changing as well.
It is interesting to note that the many of the rural ministers in portfolios that most affect rural life didn’t change. Donna Harpauer is still Finance Minister (albeit, with added title of deputy premier), David Marit is still Agriculture Minister Bronwyn Eyre is still Energy Minister and Jeremy Harrison is still minster responsible for the economy.
Yorkton’s Greg Ottenbreit was dropped from cabinet altogether, Jim Reiter was moved from health and Weyburn-Big Muddy’s Dustin Duncan was moved into education.
But the biggest change might have been the rural and remote health portfolio that was given to Swift Current newcomer Everett Hindley, who has been given the added and specific responsibilities of mental heath and addictions.
That the Sask. Party held on to all 29 of is rural seats and pretty much held on to is 60-per-cent popular vote total from the last general election four years ago) might suggest it’s steady as she goes for the Sask. Party government.
However, it can never be business-as-usual for any government running this province.
We do have important issues in local hospitals and rural health care delivery will remain a major issue for some time.
But addressing mental health is a long overdue. The same can be said for drug addiction that’s hardly just a problem in rural Saskatchewan. In fact, the economic downturn and its accompanying job losses/mental stress reveals it’s an issue everywhere.
It’s essential that governments adjust to a changing province with changing problems. That begins with cabinet.
That’s just the reality for whomever governs us.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics since 1983.