The New Democrats wrestled away the riding of Saskatoon Fairview from the Saskatchewan Party on Thursday in dramatic fashion, putting up their best numbers in the seat since 1999 and beating the benchmarks the already favourable polls set for them.
Vicki Mowat captured 60.3 per cent of the vote in the riding, nearly doubling the share of the Saskatchewan Party's Cameron Scott, who had 31.1 per cent.
Turnout was just under 36 per cent of registered voters. But even despite the low participation, Mowat only received 10 fewer votes than she did in 2016, while the Saskatchewan Party shed over 1,500 ballots.
The Liberals' Shah Rukh came in at 4.4 per cent, followed by David Prokopchuk of the Progressive Conservatives at 2.7 per cent and Taylor Boin of the Greens at 1.3 per cent.
Big swing since 2016
Mowat's performance represents a big shift from 2016, when she came just 182 votes short of Jennifer Campeau. The NDP picked up 15 points in the Saskatoon riding on Thursday, with support for the Saskatchewan Party plummeting 17 points.
Saskatoon Fairview, the boundaries of which have changed over the years, was held by the NDP between 1986 and 2011, when Campeau of the Saskatchewan Party captured the seat. She secured re-election in 2016 before resigning to take a position in the private sector.
The last time the New Democrats took over 60 per cent of the vote in Saskatoon Fairview was in a 1999 byelection, when the party was in government. For the Saskatchewan Party, this was their worst showing since 2003 when they were still on the opposition benches.
The result comes on the heels of plunging poll numbers for the governing Saskatchewan Party, culminating with the announcement last month that Premier Brad Wall would be stepping down. His replacement will be named at the end of the Saskatchewan Party's leadership race on Jan. 27, 2018.
Results confirm poll numbers
Polls conducted in the spring gave the Saskatchewan Party the average support of 45 per cent of decided voters, representing a drop of 17 points from the party's performance in the 2016 provincial election. The New Democrats averaged 43 per cent support over that time, up 13 points from last year's vote.
That marked the first time since Wall brought the Saskatchewan Party to power in 2007 that the two parties have been neck-and-neck in the polls.
In Saskatoon, the New Democrats led by an average margin of 47 to 41 per cent over the Saskatchewan Party, suggesting that voting intentions in the city have swung by 24 points towards the NDP.
But the results of the byelection suggest that things may have even gotten worse for the Saskatchewan Party since then. Instead of a 24-point swing towards the NDP, the results in Saskatoon Fairview suggest a swing of 32 points.
Nevertheless, that the polls were recording something real on the ground was also indicated by the results of the March byelection in Saskatoon Meewasin. The NDP's Ryan Meili — who is in the running to be the next leader of the party — took the seat from the Saskatchewan Party, thanks to a 22-point swing towards the NDP.
A Mainstreet/Postmedia poll conducted in March had suggested that voting intentions had swung by about 23 points in Saskatoon since the 2016 election.
NDP still has ground to make up
So it appears that the New Democrats may be in an even better position today than they were before Wall announced he would be stepping aside. Of course, the broader implications that can be garnered from a byelection should not be overstated. But such significant swings in support are difficult to ignore.
The New Democrats should not start allocating cabinet positions to their caucus just yet, however. The next election is still almost three years away and both the Saskatchewan Party and NDP will have new leaders by then. And while a 32-point swing is undoubtedly good news for the NDP, it still isn't enough.
Based on the 2016 election results, even a 32-point swing towards the NDP, applied uniformly across the province, would still keep the New Democrats in opposition.
While the results in Saskatoon Fairview bode well for the party, they still have a steep mountain to climb.