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Where NDP and rural Sask. parted ways

It's tough to pinpoint exactly when the NDP and rural Saskatchewan parted ways. Some suggest it was a gradual process that had much to do with economic transformation.

It's tough to pinpoint exactly when the NDP and rural Saskatchewan parted ways.

Some suggest it was a gradual process that had much to do with economic transformation.

As rural Saskatchewan became more economically dependent on the oil and gas sector, entrepreneurial small implement manufacturers and large-scale farming operations, it slowly became less entwined with the philosophies that made CCF-NDP governments from Tommy Douglas on so successful. In other words, as grain elevators run by a co-operative like the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool vanished, so did NDP support.
Others argue it was death by a 1,000 cuts from successive NDP governments largely dominated by urban lawyers: The Allan Blakeney government's tax on larger capacity grain trucks and its opposition to progressive innovation like inland terminals; the Roy Romanow government's cancellation of the General Revenue Insurance Program (GRIP) contracts with farmers in 1992 and its contemplation of turning paved roads back to gravel, and: the Lorne Calvert government's ill-advised musing of forced rural municipal amalgamation and its failure to properly address things like education tax on agricultural land.

But if you ask many people in rural Saskatchewan about this issue, they tend to mention one of two specific events during the Romanow era. While there may be tendency of kind-hearted rural people to forgive and forget, they seem less willing to do so on these issues. And they may be in an even less-forgiving mood, given that they have just been subjected to a couple recent reminders.

The first issue isn't the most egregious cut that rural Saskatchewan has faced, but ii has evidently left a deep scar. We're talking about the 1999 election - or, more specifically, the timing thereof. The election was called in early August for a Sept. 16 vote date. A more inconvenient time for farmers dealing with harvest could hardly have been imagined.

The NDP government offered a plethora of excuses as to why this was the only time that the election could have been called, but the immediate and lasting suspicion is that it was a cynical strategy aimed at keeping farmers from getting out and voting for the then-young and hard-charging Saskatchewan Party. Whether a horribly insensiitve oversight or a crass political move, it produced a near NDP wipeout in rural Saskatchewan.

And while the much-beleageured current NDP leader Dwain Lingenfelter clearly hopes rural Saskatchewan will forget the timing of the 1999 vote, the emergence of Brian Topp as the frontrunner to replaced departed federal NDP leader Jack Layton has given the story new legs. Topp, then a key Romanow strategist, was one of those blamed for the strategy.

There again, it's quite likely the NDP wouldn't have done very well in 1999 anyway, given rural Saskatchewan's anger at time over closing 52 rural hospitals six years earlier. The NDP government in the 1995 election weathered rural Saskatchewan's initial wrath over the hospital closures, largely because it could rightly blame the decision on the financial mess left behind by the former Progressive Conservatives. But they didn't forget the hospital closures in 1999 and really haven't forgotten about them in elections since.

In the coming Nov. 7 vote, they just received another reminder in the form of a new book by former NDP Assiniboia-Gravelbourg MLA Dr. Lewis Draper. An ardent opponent of the closures even then, Draper takes no prisoners in his book, Health Care Deform in Saskatchewan: How not to improve health care. He lambastes his former colleagues and their decision-making process and ridicules the "wellness model" cited by the government as the replacement strategy. "I developed a deep loathing for the hypocrites I had fallen amongst," Draper writes.

Rural Saskatchewan has had plenty of reasons not to support the NDP.

Of late, they've also been given a couple reminders.

Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 15 years.

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