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Big changes for Saskatchewan Tories

Even before a single ballot is cast for the October 19 election, you can expect big changes when it comes to who represents you in rural Saskatchewan.
Murray Mandryk
Murray Mandryk

Even before a single ballot is cast for the October 19 election, you can expect big changes when it comes to who represents you in rural Saskatchewan.

And while the odds remain high that it will be a Conservative MP, that doesn’t mean that things are going quite the way the Conservatives had them mapped out.

The latest political shocker comes with the news that 15-year Conservative Blackstrap MP Lynne Yelich won’t be representing anyone in the new riding of Saskatoon-Grasswood.

The Minister of State for Consular Affairs was beaten in the mixed urban-rural riding (one of only two mixed seats in the province) by Saskatoon sportscaster Kevin Waugh. It was both bizarre and intriguing for a couple of reasons.

First, Waugh – while likely enjoyed some name recognition – is hardly a political dynamo. He ran in 2003 for the Saskatchewan Party, but lost to veteran Peter Prebble.

Second, if there was going to be a replacement for Yelich, one might have once assumed it would be a more seasoned politician in the form of long-time and proven Saskatchewan Party MLA Ken Cheveldayoff . Cheveldayoff who was key cog in the Sask. Party government, was its first MLA elected in a major city and minister responsible for all the Crown corporations in Premier Brad Wall’s first cabinet.

But the 12-year MLA’s career seems to have stalled and he made it known that he was actively exploring support to run in the Saskatoon-Grasswoods riding. The MLA was said to have signed up somewhere between 700 and 1,000 names offering to support his bid – certainly enough to knock off Yelich if he chose to run against her.

However, Cheveldayoff’s interest appeared to be conditional on not challenging a sitting MP and minister.

That there appeared to be this unity and stability within conservative (both provincial and federal) ranks seemed a good thing.

Having already lost John Baird, Peter MacKay and James Moore to retirement, the last thing one would think Prime Minister Stephen Harper to want is to lose another cabinet minister (albeit, a more junior one) to the nomination process. After all, Harper’s only other defeated sitting MP, disliked Calgary MP Rob Anders, had already become a messy affair.

But rather than a show of stability, Waugh’s surprise win after a mere month of campaigning for the nomination, seems to suggest trouble (or at least less stability) afoot for the Conservatives.

Why Yelich was unable to secure her seat is that her new riding is vastly different than her old rural one. In fact, the entire Saskatchewan federal electoral map – one that the Conservatives fought tooth and nail to preserve because of the large number of rural-urban seats that seemed to work to the Conservatives advantage – is gone.

There are now more urban seats in Saskatchewan, which cannot bode well for the Conservatives. Add to this the talk of the First Nations community becoming active in this particular election because of their many, many struggles and one is left to wonder about the prospects of Conservative MP Rob Clarke in Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River.

In fact, with the stronger showing in the polls of both the Liberals and the NDP in the polling, the notion of re-electing 13 of the 14 Saskatchewan MPs seems a lot more remote an idea than it once was.

Sure, there will be Liberal/NDP vote splitting which will not help either opposition party – especially in the largely rural ridings.

But there is a big value of name recognition of the sitting MP – something most Saskatchewan federal Conservatives have enjoyed for a decade now. Consider the loss of that name recognition by retirement. Gone are: Ed Kormanicki, Maurice Vellacott, Ray Boughen and now Lynne Yelich.

One way or other, we are destined to see a lot of few faces representing Saskatchewan after October 19.

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