The leader's debate boiled down to a one-on-one showdown between NDP leader Dwain Lingenfelter and Saskatchewan Party leader Brad Wall.
Really, though, the real showdown was a few days earlier when the respective parties released their platform. It came down to two numbers, the $414 million in extra spending Wall says a Sask. Party government will spend versus the $2.7- to $3.1-billion being offered up by Lingenfelter's NDP.
In an election that seems far more about restraint than spending, most would agree that Wall wins in the battle of the platforms. Typical of a campaign in which a lot has gone wrong for Lingenfelter, they have been caught playing high-card draw in a low-card game.
Of course, the advantage Wall and the Sask. Party has is that they have been winning at a high-card game for four years and now have the advantage of being able to simply change the rules. Massive spending windfalls, especially in 2008 when the provincial government got an extra billion dollars in oil and natural gas land lease sales alone, allowed the Sask. Party to get away with massive spending.
Government expenditures have increased by a massive 29 per cent or $2.5 billion-plus in the past four years under the Wall administration. It is one of the reasons the government has been in a deficit situation in two of the last three years (including this fiscal year). This good-times spending gives credence to some sort of Sovereign Wealth Fund similar to what the NDP are now proposing. At the very least, it does put into question exactly how sold the Sask. Party's fiscal management has really been.
But despite the Sask. Party's high-rolling ways (or perhaps because of them), Wall and company have placed themselves in a tremendously advantageous position of saying that now just isn't the time for anyone to be making big spending election promises. They have a point.
It's a position infuriating to NDP supporters who argue that a government that increased spending by $2.5-billion-plus is the last term of office should not be calling its opponents the Spend-D-P. But in the pot-calling-the-kettle world of politics, there's usually a reverse. And the reverse is that it's been the NDP who have been complaining bitterly over the last four years of the Wall government, spending too much, not really balancing the budget, adding to debt and, get this, being too reliant on questionable potash revenue projections.
If the complaints are that the Sask. Party budget margins have been razor-thin, surely the same can be said about the NDP budget plan premised on a potash royalty changes capturing an extra $2.3 billion in the four-year term (including $700 million more by 2015-16). That the NDP also says there will undertake a royal review (which one assumes will take time and whose results aren't presumably not predetermined) makes it even more suspicious that the province would garner that kind of potash money in that short of time. (One can also safely assume the potash companies won't be that eager to fork over the extra money.)
It hasn't been so much that any of the NDP promises are outlandish. But some of them, like the $57-million-a-year subsidy to achieve the lowest bundle of utility costs in Canada, aren't that necessary. And others like the 400 megawatts of new wind turbine power or the negotiations of resource sharing with First Nations have no pricetag.
The Sask. Party platform is likely too modest and doesn't touch a lot of critical issues like a fairer price for our potash. But it is costed, targeted to some specific need groups like diabetics and the disabled and, most significantly, cheaper.
In this game, low bid wins.