REGINA —This week saw the announcement of a new political party in Saskatchewan.
The Saskatchewan United Party announced it has formed as an unregistered political party in the province. They are now in the process of becoming an official party.
The group states in a news release that their current focus is on gathering required signatures to comply with the relevant legislation and with Elections Saskatchewan.
According to their news release, the party has “commenced with the aim of bringing the province back together and healing the many divides which have existed as a result of the mismanagement, incompetence and, in some cases, perceived misfeasance of various levels of the current government of Saskatchewan."
What’s more, the entity has attracted some prominent early backers.
Among the big names associated with the party so far are Nadine Wilson, the independent MLA for Saskatchewan Rivers; Ken Rutherford, who had been the federal Maverick Party candidate in Battlefords-Lloydminster in 2021; and, most prominently, the former Battlefords-Lloydminster MP and federal agriculture minister, Gerry Ritz.
"This is more than just about the handling of the pandemic” said Ritz in a news release. “People constantly tell me that they feel like they are no longer being heard and it's time for a change.”
The indication is that Ritz is an advisor to the new entity, while Rutherford has been involved on the steering committee.
The party is still in its early stages. According to their release, they have just commenced collecting signatures and are currently establishing numerous committees “headed by various experts to ensure that incompetence and fear politics is replaced by skill and compassion in the election to come.” They will start seeking donations once they attain official status as a party.
According to their news release, a steering committee was formed back in December in response to what they termed “overwhelming calls from all corners of the province both in rural and large municipalities, as to the political, economic and social crisis taking place in Saskatchewan.”
Over the last number of weeks, the entity staged a number of public meetings in various Saskatchewan cities and towns. The group had advertised meetings last month in communities including Swift Current, North Battleford, Yorkton, Humboldt, Esterhazy, Kindersley and Prince Albert.
Wilson, Ritz and Rutherford have been identified as speakers at those events. Other speakers included Jason Dearborn, a former Kindersley Sask. Party MLA; Nadine Ness, former RCMP officer who is known for founding the Unified Grassroots group; and Spencer Bautz, who was among the convoy truckers.
The party appears to be more right-leaning or populist in philosophy, and includes those who have been opposed to the COVID-19 pandemic mandates. However, participants say they are less about partisan politics and more about looking for a “credible, transparent and accountable alternative that gives a voice back to the people”, according to their statement.
"People are exhausted with playing left-right politics and they are beginning to realize that we are all citizens of this province and we are going to need to unleash the power of this province by uniting its greatest resource: the people,'' said Wilson in a statement.
"People just don't care about their historical political affiliations anymore. They simply don't recognize the government or the opposition and are left without political representation. People are uniting for a greater vision for this province and I think we are starting to see the beginning of something many communities are going to support because it's about serving their families.”
"We heard your concerns and it's time for fresh and principled ideas to prevail over outdated and weak leadership" said Rutherford in the party’s news release. "We are amazed to see how many people have come forward from all professions and walks of life. We are seeing people of all past political affiliations, genders, ages, religions, races and medical statuses. It's truly unprecedented to see people come together with hope for a better future.”
No shortage of new parties in recent years
In reality, the formation of new political entities has not been unprecedented. In recent years Saskatchewan and indeed Canada has seen more than its share of new political parties appear at the provincial and federal level.
The last provincial election was the first one for the Buffalo Party of Saskatchewan, which had formed out of the Wexit movement. The Buffalo Party won no seats in the 2020 provincial election, but finished third in the popular vote ahead of the Green Party, the Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals.
The federal level has seen the emergence of the Maverick Party, also rooted in the Wexit movement seeking a new deal for the West, as well as the populist-libertarian People’s Party of Canada which was formed after federal MP Maxime Bernier left the Conservative Party of Canada.
The People’s Party has since become known for its opposition to COVID-19 mandates, with Bernier attending protests and even holding the party’s 2021 election night in Saskatoon.
The emergence of the Saskatchewan United Party seems to be following a similar trajectory to the federal People’s Party, with Wilson similarly leaving the Saskatchewan Party to sit as an independent. She resigned from the Sask. Party caucus in September amid allegations of misrepresenting her COVID-19 vaccination status.
Other provinces have seen new right-of-centre parties emerge in recent years to oppose governing Conservatives in their provinces. Ontario has seen the emergence of both the New Blue Party and the Ontario Party (led by former MP Derek Sloan) in opposition to Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government.
The Saskatchewan United Party’s formation has strong parallels to that of the New Blue Party, which also saw a caucus member leave the government over pandemic policies. The member for Cambridge, Belinda Karahalios, was expelled from the Progressive Conservative caucus over her opposition to a bill expanding the province’s emergency powers to deal with COVID-19.
The Ford government had enacted some of the toughest and longest-lasting COVID-19 restrictions in the entire country during the pandemic, driving up interest in new parties that have promoted a different direction.
More concerning for the Saskatchewan Party is the possibility a new party could gain traction similar to what was seen in Alberta. There, the Wildrose Party rose in support and eventually split the vote with the Alberta PCs. That led to the election of an NDP government in 2015, a result that ended 44 years of continuous PC rule.
Ending vote-splitting was a prime reason for the founding of the Saskatchewan Party itself in 1997 by eight former PC and Liberal MLAs. The Saskatchewan Party has since consolidated almost the entire centre-right vote, gaining over 60 per cent of the vote in the last three provincial elections.
Based on what transpired in Alberta, the emergence of a new rival party would seem to be a concern for the Saskatchewan Party, but, so far, they do not appear worried.
When asked about the Saskatchewan United Party by reporters at the legislature Thursday, Deputy Premier Donna Harpauer made clear she was more concerned with other pressing matters.
“At this point in time I’m still concerned about passing my budget,” Harpauer said. “We’ll see where it goes, see what momentum it presents.”