Politics - Populism has shifted - especially in rural Sask.

Consider your friends for moment.

If you live in rural Saskatchewan — especially on the farms — they may be your neighbours. But your neighbours will be much further apart than your parents’ neighbours and certainly your grandparents’ neighbours.

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Likely, more of your friends are not necessarily people in your community but people you are drawn to by shared values and beliefs.

Better roads, telephones and now social media means you may spend less time interacting with those people than those in your community, making the definition of “community” a lot different than in past generations.

This makes the modern-day politics slightly more challenging.

It’s now less about catering to specific communities than those specific beliefs. But, really, what it is good, old-fashion populism in a different form.

Back in the day, New Democrats and old CCFers politicians believed they met the very definition of a populist — “a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups.”

An most on the farm or in small towns in Saskatchewan back then considered themselves disregarded by the establishment.

But such notions gave rise to community spirit of people pulling together. In turn, that gave rise to rural collectively concepts like the local Pool elevator, Co-op store and Credit Union that played into the NDP philosophy.

So along comes a leader like Tommy Douglas running under the banner that he and the CCF were all about the little guy.

We all are likely familiar with his Mouseland story which was all about black or white cats make rules and decisions to be benefit the rich, but really didn’t do much for the poor mice. This was the mantra of a populist.

And from the time of the first Douglas election win that occurred 75 years ago this week to the time of the election of Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party 12 years ago, the NDP ran on that populist message.

It was a successful formula, with governance in Saskatchewan uninterrupted except by the Ross Thatcher Liberals in the 1960s and the Grant Devine Conservatives in 1980s, it was a formula that was generally successful.

Unfortunately for the NDP, the massive changes in the last forty years seemed to escape the NDP.

Especially over the last 10 to 20 years, Saskatchewan has become a place of growing affluence. Average weekly salary have done up and so have farm income receipts have also increased Farming became a more entrepreneurial, marketing business longer in need of the Wheat Pool or the Canadian Wheat Board, with less interest and certainly less need in having an local co-op or credit union in each and every small Saskatchewan now.

All that said, there nevertheless remains a strong feeling among many in Saskatchewan they are disregarded by the elite. For the most part, that means a distance elite federal government — especially the current Liberal government in Ottawa.

That’s a huge problem for the NDP that have always addressed disenfranchisement by vowing to provide services to those in need.

Today’s populist view is less about wanting or needing government services. And that feeling of dependence from government generally means less interest in paying taxes and less interest in a collective/co-operative approach to anything.

Today, it’s far more likely to see a populist notion catch fire on the internet than to see it spread from community to community.

So, for many, a four-cent-a-litre carbon tax on gas to collective deal with global warming now seems the ultimate case of the elite ignoring  that ordinary people want.

Such an approach is a big problem for the NDP right now.

Populism is still going strong. But sure seems to have shifted to the right.

Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 22 years.

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