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Editorial: Election dates shouldn’t be confusing

An editorial on plans for municipal and provincial elections.
Voting box and election image

As hard as it is to believe, we’re more than halfway through the current term for both the current provincial and municipal governments.

The most recent provincial election was held in October 2020; the municipal elections were held just two weeks later.

Saskatchewan’s municipalities say that the lack of time between the two votes created confusion for voters. You would hope most people would know the difference between voting for an MLA to represent them in Regina, and picking the mayor or reeve and councillor(s) to guide their municipality.

But it definitely impacted interest in the civic and school board elections. People were focused on the provincial vote, even though the result was seemingly a foregone conclusion in most ridings. Two weeks after the latest Saskatchewan Party landslide victory, they had to vote in another election. 

The Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (thankfully no longer referred to as Municipalities of Saskatchewan) has suggested breaking up the 2024 municipal elections. Cities, including Estevan, would go to the polls in May 2025. Towns and villages would have their vote in September of next year.

It’s unlikely that rural municipalities would be following suit with a September election, since that would infringe on harvest in many areas, at least in a normal year. And they likely wouldn’t have a May election either, since that’s seeding time.

So we could be looking at four different elections next year.

If people thought there was confusion associated with the timing of the 2020 elections, this might be even worse.

We’ve said all along that the provincial government should have been the one to shift its election date, not the municipalities. The province could have picked any time it wanted to have an election in 2020; why infringe on the fall date, which had always been the domain of urban and rural municipalities and school boards?
It worked out just fine in 2016 when the provincial government had an April election, and then the municipalities and the school boards had their vote in the fall.

Obviously, you have limited windows of opportunity to have an election in Saskatchewan. The first three months of the year should be out due to potential issues associated with winter. There would be a limited chance in April, before seeding starts, but we saw last year that Mother Nature can deliver a massive snow bomb in April.

There would be another chance in late May and in June, and a final one in October and early November. You don’t want to have an election in the summer when so many people are out of town, and when farmers are gearing up for harvest.

While voter turnout is higher for provincial elections than municipal elections, a municipal election is of the utmost of importance. There are a lot more municipalities than provincial constituencies. You’ll have more candidates, too. You vote for one MLA. But if you live in a town or a small city in Saskatchewan, you’re voting for a mayor and six councillors.

But the provincial government ultimately has the final say when it comes to election dates, and if they decide to muscle in on the civic election, they’re going to do it.

You hope that if the elections are close together again, it won’t result in confusion. You hope it won’t impact public interest. We’re busy people, and there is only so much time we have to dedicate to following politics.

But it’s important that a resolution be found that benefits all the levels of government: provincial, municipal and school board. Based on what SUMA is saying, that didn’t happen in the 2020 vote.