REGINA — Saskatchewan’s legislature resumes today with new leaders on both sides of the house.
Ryan Meili, who was elected leader of the Opposition NDP earlier this month, has called on Premier Scott Moe to seek a new mandate from voters sooner than 2020.
Moe became premier when he won the Saskatchewan Party leadership contest at the end of January, replacing Brad Wall, who has retired from politics.
Meili said last week the government really doesn’t have a mandate, but Moe says his government will continue working to fulfil the plan it laid out in 2016.
A new budget is due soon, and Wall’s last austerity budget produced deep divisions — so deep that some of the cuts have been reversed or scaled back.
Moe promised during his leadership campaign to hire 400 positions in the education sector, but also faces a shortage in revenues due to slumping oil and gas prices.
“He’s now got this dance to do between what promises does he have to keep now, what promises can he delay and how much austerity is there going to be in this budget that’s coming in early April,” explained Tom McIntosh, professor of politics and international studies at the University of Regina.
Under fixed election date legislation, the next provincial vote is set for November in 2020.
McIntosh said Moe has committed to balancing the budget by 2020, but that likely means deeper cuts will be necessary unless energy revenues improve.
“If we get another budget like that (2016) one and there’s outrage and upset, I think it’s an indication Moe is going to go his two years, and that closer to the fixed date, he’ll hope things are looking better economically,” McIntosh said.
“It strikes me that Scott Moe will not want to run on a real austerity program.”
Meili told party members during the convention that elected him that he supports pharmacare, restoring a provincial bus service that was cut by the Saskatchewan Party and protecting the province’s Crown corporations.
It was the Saskatoon physician’s third attempt at winning the NDP leadership, so he’s a familiar face for the party, but will now be looking to define himself as a potential premier-in-waiting.
A new Speaker will also need to be elected to replace Corey Tochor.
Tochor resigned in January to challenge MP Brad Trost for the federal Conservative nomination in Saskatoon-University. Tochor succeeded on Saturday, and will need to resign at some point as the member for Saskatoon Eastview.
The Saskatchewan Party handily won three recent byelections in safer, rural seats, but McIntosh said Moe may use urban byelections to gauge whether he could go to the polls early.
A byelection may be needed Regina Walsh Acres. The Saskatchewan Party’s Warren Steinley has announced his intention to seek the federal Conservative nomination in Regina-Lewvan, a seat currently held by Erin Weir of the NDP.
“If the SaskParty holds those seats that might be a temptation for Moe to say look, maybe it’s not as bad in the cities as we thought. Maybe we’ll lose a few, but let’s go for it now rather than wait two more years,” McIntosh said.
The Canadian Press