Premier Wall Returns to Power as Saskatchewan Economy Stumbles

  • Wall's party wins election in oil-, potash-producing province
  • Incumbent leader opposes new regulations on Canadian industry

Saskatchewan voters re-elected Premier Brad Wall and his Saskatchewan Party to a third term as the economy slowly rebounds from a commodity slump that led to budget deficits and a recession in the Canadian prairie province.

The ruling Saskatchewan Party was on track to win a majority of the 61 seats in the provincial legislature, according to projections by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and Global News. This is the third consecutive majority government for Wall and his right-of-center party. Wall’s party was leading in 47 seats, well ahead of the opposition New Democrats, based on partial results from Elections Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan’s economy has been hit hard by a 65-percent drop in oil prices since June 2014 along with slumping demand and prices for potash -- both among the province’s biggest exports. Like the other energy-reliant Canadian provinces of Alberta and Newfoundland, Saskatchewan racked up deficits and wrestled with shrinking output last year.

“There’s been nothing exceptional about this government except that it caught a wave” of the economic boom before this recent slump, said Joseph Garcea, a professor in the political science department at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. “In the coming years, the real opposition for this government will be the economy.
That’s a dragon they have to tame.”

Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc., the world’s largest producer of the fertilizer, expects the worst year in a decade and has shed jobs and cut its dividend. The provincial economy shrank 2.8 percent in 2015 and may return to growth of 0.7 percent this year, according to the Conference Board of Canada.

One of the first tasks of the government will be to present the budget, said the University of Saskatchewan’s Garcea.

Carbon Constrasts

Wall ranks as one of the most popular premiers in Canada and is known for driving around the province of 1.1 million people in his Chevy pickup truck. His re-election campaign has focused on the need to boost economic growth and encourage companies to create jobs by not imposing new regulations like carbon prices.

His approach contrasts his left-leaning Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, whose government will post a budget deficit of more than C$10 billion ($7.7 billion) in the current fiscal year as it seeks to transform the province’s oil economy with a carbon tax and diversification, while maintaining money for education and health care.

“Even though there’s a general level of angst about the economy, Saskatchewan has done reasonably well through a rough patch,” said Tom McIntosh, who heads the University of Regina’s politics department. “It’s been a campaign about not very much.”

On the campaign trail, Wall faced Cam Broten, the leader of the New Democratic Party, which according to early projections had added two more seats than it had when the legislature was dissolved. There haven’t been any big issues that have “galvanized” voters, McIntosh said. “The opposition hasn’t been terribly strong.”

“Mr. Wall is a likable guy,” the University of Regina professor said. “He’s had a number of years where the province was quite easy to run because we had money. The next few years could be tough.”

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