Saskatchewan NDP could take years to rebuild
Saskatchewan NDP Leader Dwain Lingenfelter scrums at his election headquarter in Regina, Sask on Monday Nov. 7, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Roy Antal
Published Tuesday, November 8, 2011 7:28PM EST
REGINA - Saskatchewan New Democrats hoped the orange wave from last May's federal election would spill over into the provincial vote, but instead they suffered a crushing defeat from which political observers say it could take years to recover.
The party was in tatters Tuesday in the very province where it was born.
It captured 32 per cent of the popular vote in Monday's election -- the lowest the party has ever received in the province under the NDP banner.
The NDP saw 11 of its seats swept away by the Saskatchewan Party and was left with just nine of the 58 in the legislature. It ties the fewest the party or its predecessor, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, has ever had in the Saskatchewan legislature. That was in 1982 when the Progressive Conservatives swept to power with 55 seats.
"I think this is the end of the old boys club ... the group of people that felt entitled to run the party and felt entitled to make the decisions," said Ken Rasmussen, associate director of the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Regina.
"They ran a pretty disastrous campaign. I think there's a lot of people that need to pay a certain hefty price for the decisions that were made."
Leader Dwain Lingenfelter was dumped by his own constituents and tendered his resignation.
After the devastating electoral defeat in 1982, Allan Blakeney decided to stay on as Opposition leader because he wanted to rebuild his shattered party. He failed to regain power in 1986 and retired from politics in 1988. The NDP didn't win again until 1991 when Roy Romanow was at the helm.
Rasmussen said the party has to think carefully about where it goes from here.
"They've got a great legacy to run on," said Rasmussen.
"They just need to convince people that they are capable of out-managing the Sask. Party and providing good government. You have to appeal to a large group of voters that have voted now for the Sask. Party two elections in a row. You're not going to do that by drifting further to the left. You're going to have to find a way of convincing people that you are a pragmatic modern, party."
Leadership will be a big issue.
The party needs someone who could challenge Brad Wall, a popular premier whose Saskatchewan Party won a record 64 per cent of the popular vote along with 49 of 58 seats. The largest popular vote in the province before that was 57 per cent by the Liberals in 1912.
Rasmussen said it won't be easy.
"There's no magic bullet out there in the sense that there's some kind of a magical party leader that's going to come and save you," he said.
"The Liberals found out that with Michael Ignatieff, that that's not a path to salvation."
Ignatieff was seen by some as a saviour when he took over the Liberal leadership from Stephane Dion, but voters weren't swayed. Ignatieff led the federal Liberal party to its worst defeat in history last May -- dropping to third-party status behind the NDP. He also lost his own seat and resigned.
MP Bob Rae was named interim leader and is holding down the fort until a permanent successor is chosen. Party members have said they will wait up to two years to do that in the hope that the delay will give them a fighting chance.
Rasmussen said the Saskatchewan NDP can take no more than two years to get things in order.
New Democrat Cam Broten, who was re-elected in Saskatoon Massey Place, said the party's remaining members will take time to sit down and figure out what happened. Broten couldn't say why the platform didn't resonate with voters.
"I don't think there's one single answer that explains that. I think it is likely a combination of things," he said Tuesday.
In the meantime, the NDP will be a good Opposition in the legislature.
"That's what's needed in our system. That's the job that we've been given for these four years," said Broten.
"And so while our numbers may be smaller, we'll be doing our best to punch above our weight and provide that effective, responsible Opposition for the people of Saskatchewan."