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Byelection could send message to government about anxiety over deficit: prof
A man votes during a local election. (FILE/KARYN MULCAHY)
Jennifer Graham, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, March 1, 2017 2:23PM CST
Voters in a Saskatoon riding will head to the polls Thursday in a byelection that a political watcher says could send a message to the governing Saskatchewan Party.
Professor Ken Rasmussen, with the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Regina, says people are concerned about the upcoming provincial budget on March 22.
There's talk of program cuts, forced unpaid days off for public workers, wage rollbacks, layoffs in health care and education, as well as tax increases as the government struggles to balance what Premier Brad Wall has said is a $1.2 billion deficit.
Rasmussen says "that kind of anxiety is going to fuel the debate" in the constituency of Saskatoon Meewasin.
"It would be a very unusual circumstance to see that people would be willing to give a vote of confidence to the government given the uncertainty around the budget and the future of the province," Rasmussen said.
"I think people will take an opportunity here just to tweak the government. Even if you're a Sask. Party supporter, you might want to indicate, 'Listen, things are getting out of hand here and it's time to right the ship in whatever way you can. I think this is a message that a lot of different people are hoping to send to the government for different reasons."
Saskatoon Meewasin was left vacant after Saskatchewan Party member Roger Parent died of cancer last November.
There are five candidates in the byelection.
Brent Penner, a former Saskatoon police officer and current executive director of the Downtown Saskatoon Business Improvement District, is running for the Saskatchewan Party.
Dr. Ryan Meili, who previously ran for the NDP leadership, is running for the New Democrats.
Provincial Liberal Leader Darrin Lamoureux has put his name in the race, along with Saskatchewan Green Party Leader Shawn Setyo and David Prokopchuk for the Progressive Conservative Party.
Rasmussen says the race is likely to come down to Penner or Meili.
"If (Meili) loses it ... with the kind of issues the government is facing, with the kind of high profile that he has, you know that's a big loss for the NDP. I mean they have to do some serious thinking, if he loses."
A Meili win could also factor into the NDP leadership race, which is expected in spring 2018.
Saskatchewan New Democrats lost their leader, Cam Broten, in the provincial election last April.
Meili is a high-profile member of the provincial NDP, and has tried twice to become the party's leader, losing to Dwain Lingenfelter in 2009 and Broten in 2012. He has never run in a provincial election.
Rasmussen says Meili was "criticized roundly for not running in the past, not willing to put some skin into the game."
"He's obviously doing this in order to avoid any kind of criticism that he's a carpetbagger, that he's actually going to get into the NDP caucus and be a participant and show that he's a team player, and so presumably all in some effort to bolster his credibility as a potential leader."