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ANALYSIS: Saskatchewan Party’s strengths & weaknesses

The Western Standard breaks down the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats facing the Saskatchewan Party.

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Saskatchewan is headed to the polls October 26, 2020. In the first in a series, our Saskatchewan correspondent Lee Harding will examine the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats each party faces in this election campaign. Our first in the series looks at the Saskatchewan Party which has governed Saskatchewan for the last 13 years.

Background:

The Saskatchewan Party was formed in 1997 when four Progressive Conservative and four Liberal MLAs left their respective parties to form a new entity. Two elections by with former Reform MP Elwin Hermanson at the helm failed bring the party to government. Brad Wall won majority governments in 2007, 2011, and 2016 before handing over the reins to Scott Moe in January of 2018.

Strengths:

The Sask Party has overwhelming reasons to win. The party has enjoyed over 50 per cent support in opinion polls since July of 2018. The high rate of population growth since 2007 continued until the pandemic hit. The province of 1.18 million people has had just 1900 cases and 24 deaths from COVID-19, despite restrictions that were less onerous than most provinces. The provincial deficit of $2.1 billion is perhaps forgivable, given the circumstances, which include a government in Ottawa that remains largely hostile to the oil and gas sector. 

Scott Moe is no slouch. Although this will be his first election as Sask Party leader, the 46-year-old has more experience and savvy than his counterparts in other parties. He won his riding of Rosthern-Shelbrook quite handily in 2011 and 2016 and has held various cabinet posts. In 2018, he beat out five other competitors in a fiercely-contested party leadership battle. And, for the past year, he has chaired the Council of the Federation meeting with his fellow premiers. Polling by Angus Reid showed that 59 per cent of Saskatchewan residents approved of his performance, placing him fifth nationally.

The Sask Party team remains intact even though seven incumbent MLAs are not seeking re-election. Columnist Murray Mandryk noted the party’s “solid cabinet base” of veterans with governing experience.

Weaknesses:

“I’m not Brad,” Moe told the Leader-Post in a recent interview, to which the NDP said, “we strongly agree.” An NDP press release also noted Moe’s comment that “Boring might be just not too bad,” and that his vision for the future was “managing events that we’ve been presented with.” 

An urban female university graduate is the only demographic coin flip in the province. An August 31 EKOS Politics pollshowed the Sask Party had its smallest margins of preference over the NDP with university-aged voters (9 percent) and those in Regina (12 percent) and Saskatoon (13 percent). The margin was also smaller for women (23 points) than men (42). 

Cracks in the Sask Party armour began to appear before Wall left, and some have emerged since.

In 2017, longtime MLA Bill Boyd was flagged by the Conflict of Interest Commissioner over land dealings related to the Global Transportation Hub, Regina’s inland train terminal. The NDP actually led in two public opinion polls over the matter.

In 2019, Moe reached an agreement with the federal government to shut down most coal-fired power plants by 2030, an unpopular move in Sask Party ridings where jobs will be lost.

In May, the Moe government closed 12 rural emergency wards as a contingency measure for COVID-19 and even built field hospitals in June in what seemed a misguided effort to many.

Moe had a mini-WE scandal of his own. The premier has known the Kielbergers for years and took his wife to visit the Kenya compound last winter, all at his own expense. The province cancelled a $260,000 contract that would have put a WE Charity initiative in schools.

Opportunities

This is Moe’s chance to fully emerge from Brad Wall’s shadow and put his fingerprints on the direction of the party. His main opponent is Saskatoon MLA Ryan Meili, a doctor who was elected for the first time in a 2018 by-election. None of the remaining parties have a leader who has ever been elected or led their party into an election. Four NDP incumbents are retiring; three of them in Saskatoon and Warren McCall in Regina, making it a little easier for a Sask Party contender to steal a seat.

Threats

The Sask Party will face more opposition from the right than it has in any election since 1999. The Progressive Conservatives have tried to rejuvenate under new leader in Ken Grey. The Buffalo Party has also emerged to capture the post-Trudeau Wexit sentiment. These parties could play spoiler in a few ridings, or keep Moe on his toes from an angle not represented in years.

Conclusion

A majority government of at least 46 seats seems certain for Moe. Anything less than a majority government would be enough to trigger a leadership review. However, unless the premier makes a major mistake, that is unlikely to happen.

Lee Harding is the Saskatchewan Correspondent for the Western Standard

Lee Harding is the Saskatchewan Affairs Columnist for the Western Standard. He is also a Research Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and is the former Saskatchewan Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

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Retired soldier using haunting past to help homeless vets in Calgary

And now Hopkins is turning his focus to create Guardians for Heroes, a charity whose sole focus is to try and end the scourge of homelessness amongst veterans

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Dean Hopkins has seen the absolute worst humanity has to offer.

But now he’s using the haunting memories he has to try and help homeless veterans in Calgary who have fallen through society’s cracks.

Hopkins is the founder of One Direction Calgary, a charitable organization whose focus is to bring groups and charities together. To achieve greater success through collaboration.

And now he’s turning his energy to create Guardians for Heroes, a charity whose sole focus is to try and end the scourge of homelessness amongst veterans, many of them suffering from the mental effects of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

Hopkins knows how these veterans feel, with a three-decade career behind him in the British military, that took him to the world’s hotspots.

The 57-year-old did a whopping 16 tours of duty – everywhere from Iraq to North Ireland to Africa.

Hopkins working on an orphanage project he developed in Kosovo after the war

But it was a scene 28 years ago in Bosnia that haunts Hopkins and steers his charity work to this day.

Hopkins was in charge of an observation post in Bosnia, in command of peacekeeping troops who had orders to observe and not engage.

Hopkins refuses any elaboration to the story but there’s no doubt it lit the fire currently burning within.

“What I saw in Bosnia was terrible, the worst of humanity. I decided right then I would find a peaceful city in a peaceful country and try and give back to veterans,” he said.

Taking a break on counter-terrorist operation. Hopkins adopted the stray dog and called in Gunner

After three decades of accepting the Queen’s shilling, Hopkins decided to retire to Calgary.

“The people here are the best people I’ve found anywhere,” Hopkins said.

In the last 12 months, Hopkins has brought together the Calgary Veterans Food Bank and Hoggin Alberta to start work on a sanctuary, away from the city, for stressed former vets.

The group plans to build 28 cabins on their land to get the veterans back to nature – with fishing, hunting and camping. 

Hopkins taking a short break before Zero hour in Africa.

“I’m very passionate when I see homeless veterans that have fallen through the cracks of a society that sees them as a liability,” he said.

Hopkins realizes his dream is now at a point, that it will need government grants and other donations to succeed the way he wants. He estimates it will take $14 million to get Guardians for Heroes fully working.

Not only would Guardians for Heroes help veterans, but Hopkins said it would be open to all past and current emergency workers.

He’s urging all veterans groups to contact him and work together for the greater good.

“There are a plethora of veterans groups out there – from biker ones to hunting ones. I want to know all about them and what work they do. I want to talk to them and start collaborating with all the different groups.”

Waiting for helicopter insertion, on a six-month counter-terrorist deployment. 

“My strengths are organizing groups and acting as a mediator. To be honest, we will need the premier (Kenney) on this. We need someone in our group that can navigate the corridors of power to the person in charge of the cash register,” Hopkins said.

“People say it can’t be done. But people who know me, know that if I set my mind to it, I will get it done, whether it takes five years, 10 years, 20 years.”

Once established in Alberta, Hopkins hopes to extend across the country with his front-line “Stand Down” centres.

“All military people understand what ‘Stand Down’ means,” Hopkins said, adding he hopes to set up centres where front-line workers can bring in homeless vets who will be met with staff who can start the process of getting their lives turned around.

One Direction

Hopkins said services for veterans in Canada are about 10 years behind what they are currently offered in Europe.

“What I’m asking now is for people who have a similar vision to call me. I’m just a cog in what could become a very big machine,” Hopkins said.

The One Direction charity can be accessed through their website.

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WESTROCK: Big Sugar on their Alberta anthem, and what’s next for the band

The Western Standard spoke with Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar.

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I was excited to interview Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar on a live Western Standard broadcast, but with tech issues, I had to stand on the sidelines and watch our Publisher Derek Fildebrandt do it for me. As a Big Sugar fanboy, he didn’t seem to mind though. C’est la vie.

There was much respect though as I viewed and could hear Derek apologizing and giving me props for setting up the interview. In fact, Derek told Gordie that during the application for the job as the Western Standard’s new music columnist, that if I could get an interview with one his favorite Canadian artists Big Sugar, I had the job.

It took me 24 hours to set it up. I got the job.

The beginning of the interview was some chit chat back and forth and Derek made it known that he was a huge Big Sugar fan and that he originally was just going to be my kind of Ed McMahaon or Paul Shaffer, but fate must have been involved and he had Gordie all to himself. “Maybe there’s some subterfuge going on” he joked.

Cover of Eternity Now (photo credit: Big Sugar)

In case you are not aware, Big Sugar was formed in Toronto in 1988 and over the years the band has released 11 studio albums with the most recent being ‘Eternity Now’, which for various reasons took two years to record. The band and Gordie have also received many Juno nominations and many of their albums have hit Gold or Platinum status. In addition to ‘Eternity Now’, the band decided to also rerelease a vinyl version of one of their best selling albums, ‘Hemi-Vision’ this past year.

Gordie was asked about his musical influences and across the board styles.

“Well music is just the language I speak and I hear funk in my heavy metal. I hear rock when I listen to reggae, and that’s what a Big Sugar show is about; there is so much complexity and it makes you move and feel good”

The interview then got a bit scary (for me} as Derek mentioned that I said that Gordie resembled Julian from the Trailer Park Boys.

“Julian” from Trailer Park Boys

“Tell Ernest I’m going to kick his ass after school” was the singer-guitarist’s reply.

From there we delved into how the impact of Gary Lowe’s passing a couple years ago after a two year battle with cancer had on the band.

“First of all, it was devastating and there was no getting over it…I mean I know his kids and Gary was unique in what he brought to the studio and our friendship was unique. Moving forward, I didn’t hire guys to sound like him; I hired guys to be themselves and that is why Big Sugar has been successful over the years.”

As I noted above, Fildebrandt is a pretty much a Big Sugar groupie. He literally talked my ear off about Gordie and his favourite Sugar song, ‘All Hell for a Basement’.

I listened to the song and although I liked the vibe and groove, the important thing I noted is that the title was attributed to the famous poet laureate Rudyard Kipling who was born in Bombay in 1865 and traveled the world and wrote and studied. In 1907, his travels landed him in Medicine Hat, Alberta. There he coined the phrase “All hell for a Basement” referring to the region’s vast reserves of natural gas beneath the soil.

Gordie confirmed that fact. “Back in the day in downtown Medicine Hat, they literally would just stick a pipe in the ground and light it and use it for a street light” No joke.

Johnson grew up between Ontario and The Hat.

Although the song is written as kind of an athem for oil and natural gas rich Alberta, Gordie says it was more of a song about displacement as Newfoundlanders in their thousands crossed the country to find work in the oilfields as the cod fishing industry dried up.

“I just thought that was an amazing cultural phoenomena that was happening in Canada and nobody was talking about it.”

Johnston said that he still can’t play the song without tearing up.

“It’s a song about displaced people.”

“I wrote it about a young fellah – a guy in his 20s – who was working in the oilfield, who had moved from Newfoundland with his family…He couldn’t have been further from home. He was trying to make a new life for himself in Fort McMurray, Alberta.”

Johnson tells the story of a time he was in a Newfoundland pub drinking – and not preforming – and a traditional Irish folk group starting playing the song.

Another time he was working with a traditional Irish-folk musician from Newfoundland who told him – in a thick Newfie accent – “Big Sugar did not write that song. That’s a traditional old Newfoundlander song.”

Fildebrandt asked him if he believes he would get more blowback – or even get ‘canceled’ for releasing such an openly pro-oil and gas worker song. Johnson’s answer was shocking.

“We got in trouble back in 2001. You know why that song was never a radio single? Because record companies based in Toronto. You get 12 guys that live in Toronto sitting around a board room table, they say ‘ you can put that out, because they’re not going to play it anywhere else…People want to sing it everywhere we go. No record company execs have ever been as wrong as, shall be nameless.”

“We took the heat for it back in the day.” Johnston said they also took hell for putting a rock version of ‘O’Canada’ on the album.

To give more context of how much of a huge Gordie-fan Derek is, I had originally asked Gordies’ assistant if he could some how play the first couple of bars to ‘All Hell For a Basement’ either during the intro or ending of the interview. I was politely turned down through an email as Gordie was doing some session work and was just going to stop long enough to take the interview. At that point, I garnered a lot of respect for him.

Funny thing is that Derek (knowing this) persisted politely and since he was the host due to my technically-challenged demise, asked Gordie the same question. I laughed as Gordie very respectfully denied him and explained the situation…again.

I could feel the crushing blow and tearing of my new employer’s heart.

Although being in lockdown for the better part of 2020, it has still been a busy year for Gordie and Sugar as ‘Hemi-Vision’ was rereleased with some hidden gems on it that they pulled out of the vault such as a Beatles cover, and also the release of ‘Eternity Now’ by “Big Sugar 3.0”. It’s 3.0 according to Gordie because the band is always evolving, and with new members it was almost like a new band in many ways.

One of the questions that I had prepared and passed along during interview was to ask who Gordie thought was a great upcoming band or underrated artist. In a very honest and politically phrased answer, he said it would be a disservice to really mention anyone because there are so many that he would be regret if he forgot to mention someone.

The longer they chatted, Mr. Johnson did confess that he had a soft spot for the Vancouver music scene, as that is where he met his wife. He also coughed up that there are some really great musicians there and one happens to be his buddy Rich Hope.

“He’s one of those dudes that still rides his skateboard to work and has this big black Les Paul and he just embodies Rock n’ Roll and at my age he is still just shredding on it, and I can’t just limit it to Richie. Jay Sparrow is another one and the list goes on and on.”

So the moral of the story is that if you get Gordie to talk long enough, he’ll eventually slip up and I’m sure Ritchie and Jay appreciate the plug.

Ernest Skinner is the WestRock columnist for the Western Standard

Join Ernest for a live-streamed interview on Friday February 5 at 7 pm MST with Joel Hoekstra of Whitesnake and the Trans Siberian Orchestra.

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WATCH: Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar

We interviewed Gordie Johnston of Big Sugar on the origins of his Alberta anthem ‘All Hell for a Basement’ and what’s next for the band.

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Western Standard Publisher Derek Fildebrandt interviews Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar

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