In 2019 we saw a lot of provincial elections come up, with big campaigns happening in a few provinces. But in 2020, it seems to be a lighter year for that. While we may see earlier elections in places like New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador due to minority government situations in those places, only one province is scheduled to have an election this year.
That province is Saskatchewan, which according to its fixed date election laws is supposed to go to the polls on October 26th. But for the last little while there have been persistent rumours running around the province that Saskatchewan Party Premier Scott Moe is eager to pull an early campaign trigger, fixed date election laws be damned. It’s seemed like he’s been looking for a reason to do it. If you consider the very weak reason his Conservative neighbour in Manitoba gave last year, where Premier Brian Pallister said that his citizens didn’t want an election on their 150th birthday as an “excuse”, it would seem that it wouldn’t take much for a conservative Premier like Moe to do it. But late last week Moe came forward with a potential rationale for sending his province to the polls early, and wow, it was a doozy:
First off, you’d think that the fact that a Premier in a majority government wouldn’t commit to obeying a law his own party passed would be enough of a story. The whole point of fixed date election laws was to stop governments from playing politics with the launching of elections, so the idea of doing it at all feels very unseemly for sure. But put that fact aside for a second, because Moe managed to be much more craven on this.
According to reporting from CTV Regina, Moe said that “political unrest and the coronavirus are keeping him from fully committing to holding the upcoming election as scheduled” in October. Yeah, he was quoted musing about trying to use peace protests which aren’t happening in his provinces (with one brief exception in Saskatoon) and a potential global pandemic as an excuse to send his province to the polls. As you can imagine, the reaction inside the province hasn’t been a warm one to this:
The reaction from conservative columnist Murray Mandryk tells you a lot about just how tone-deaf Moe’s musings were, even when you consider the history of political gamesmanship by all parties, the kind of thing that fixed date election laws were supposed to stop. But as Mandryk points out, this idea just simply makes no sense. In regard to the “public unrest” comments, he points out that “It’s as asinine to claim we need a provincial election because of rail blockades.” He also points out that “wouldn’t all the “political unrest” and need to be in communication with Ottawa on the matter be precisely a reason not to have the premier tied up campaigning?” Now that’s a good point; you’re in a moment of crisis and your first instinct is to have an election, therefore not deal with that crisis? Asinine indeed. But when it comes to Covid-19, Mandryk really drives the point home about how bad this was:
But the rail blockade excuse is the height of sound reasoning compared with the wacky notion that we need to go to the polls now because of concerns over COVID-19 (what we now call the coronavirus) in Saskatchewan where there has so far not been one reported case. Yep. The best way to stop a contagious virus is call an election where you door knock, shake hands, kiss babies and hold public rallies. That’ll stop the little buggers from spreading. That will stop the current public panic. One can even see the Sask. Party campaign ads right now: “Ryan Meili. He coughs into his arm and fist bumps to stop the spread of germs. He’s not on our side.” If anything, it was always so patently ridiculous to use the COVID-19 excuse to call an election that one suspects the Sask. Party isn’t looking for serious excuses to go early.https://leaderpost.com/opinion/columnists/mandryk-using-covid-19-as-excuse-for-early-election-call-is-political-zaniness
Unsurprisingly after reactions like those, Moe seems to have backed off this idea, saying yesterday that he “mentioned it in error because it is so top of mind for so many now.” Yeah, that’s exactly why you were thinking about that. It’s not that your opposition are not as organized, or that you’re in a relatively good position with a decent popularity number and things can only get worse at this point if you can’t ride the wave of frustration with Ottawa in your province. Yeah, it’s none of that, it’s all about that other issue.
Needless to say, Mandryk’s use of the word “asinine” is probably the perfect one for this moment, because I’m struggling to come up with a better way to describe this whole episode. There is an old say that “governments are beaten, they beat themselves” and it’s exactly that kind of logic and those kinds of musings that lead to a government beating itself. It was a moment of honesty in a sense, in the fact that they are looking for any excuse to take political advantage of their current position and the actual stated reason doesn’t matter to them; they just want to go to the polls. That desire is clearly clouding their judgement, leading to tone deaf statements like those, the kind that make for perfect soundbites in attack ads against a government that is out of touch and only interested in themselves. We’ll see if Moe and crew come up with another excuse to get their early election or if they’ll obey the law that they passed themselves, one of the first that they did when getting into power. When it comes to things like these, where there is a will, there is always a way, even if that way makes no sense, is tone deaf or simply is a bad idea.