On April 4 Saskatchewan voters head to the polls to elect the next provincial government.

Despite Premier Brad Wall's continued dominance in pre-election polls, the provincial NDP has a chance to make a big splash this year after new boundaries were drawn and the addition of three new seats in the Saskatchewan Legislature.

Political studies professor Joe Garcea explains why this election is so crucial for the Saskatchewan NDP, and what strategies Cam Broten can employ to give the NDP the best chance at replacing the Saskatchewan Party in government.

Q: How important is this election for the two parties?

A: This is a very important election for both parties but particularly for the NDP. I think the NDP went down in the polls in the last election and this election, at the very least, I think they can maintain the support they got or build on it in terms of seats and in terms of votes that they got in the last election.

If they don't do that then I think some serious concerns will emerge about what's going to happen to the NDP party, so this is a really crucial election for the NDP. The precise outcome isn't as important for the Sask. Party as long as they end up forming a majority government.

Q: What does the NDP have to do to claw back support?

A: I think the NDP has to do a couple of things. First and foremost they have to find a way of articulating  a vision that really resonates with the people, along the lines of what Prime Minister Trudeau was able to do in the last election. And secondly, they have to convince people in some way, shape or form that they have the capacity to manage at least as good as the current government or possible better. On both of those fronts they'll have a tough road.

 I think the question for some voters is maybe, 'Do we want a premier who is really aspiring to be the leader of the Conservative Party?' - Joe Garcea, U of S professor

Q: Brad Wall criticized the NDP for rolling out election promises, calling them irresponsible, so how does the NDP work around that?

A: I think the NDP is really going to have to work hard at making the argument that — to a large extent — the success of the province has been a function of good fortune rather than just good governance.. Secondly I think they have to hit on those notes they've been trying to hit on, that despite the certain aspects of good management by the provincial government , perhaps there are some problems there and they should be fixed, both in terms of management decisions in general but also in terms of some issues around propriety and integrity that seem to be emerging around things such as the land deal [Global Transportation Hub].

NDP has to show good finances drove growth, not government

Q: Saying Brad Wall was premier at the right time, will that work for the NDP?

A: I think for the NDP they have to make that argument, and I think they have made that argument, that despite the good times, perhaps the finances of the province were not managed as well as they could have and therefore there's a larger debt right now than there would have been. That's an argument that might resonate with the people.

Q: Even though Wall's rating dipped he's still the more popular than you would expect. What can you do when the man is that popular?

A: There's no doubt that for the NDP, Premier Wall is a formidable opponent with a very strong degree of support. He's generally seen as a good manager and more recently he's being seen as someone who can really deal with provincial matters not only internally but also vis-à-vis the federal government.

People are questioning, is he dealing with the federal government in a way to position himself perhaps for the leadership of the Conservative Party, but the other argument is, to what extent has he been negotiating with the federal government the way he has in the last few months, in effect to strengthen his position in the eyes of voters for this election in Saskatchewan and I think it's more the latter, than it has been about federal leadership aspirations.

Q: Why does that work here in Saskatchewan?

A: Being seen as a defender of the provincial interest works everywhere including here in Saskatchewan and I think the premier had found some important issues and he can make the argument that he is defending the provincial interest, whether its in terms of certain federal transfers, infrastructure or this whole issue about carbon taxes and so on, so in a way he's being doubly lucky. I guess I would say he's benefiting from a great economy at this point, now there are some issues that resonate quite well with population here, and he's being seen as the best defender of the provincial interest.

Questions over Brad Wall jumping to a federal leadership position

Q: Do you think Brad Wall is eyeing a Conservative leadership position?

A: There's no doubt Mr. Wall has established a de facto-leadership role within the Conservative movement and the Conservative Party in Canada and I think people will continue to look at him that way, and to some extent that enhances his status. I think the question for some voters is maybe, 'Do we want a premier who is really aspiring to be the leader of the Conservative Party?' And that's significant in two ways. One is, can we count on him to stick around for the full term, but secondly, people who don't like the Conservative Party, will they find it harder to vote for him if they think he's a true blue Conservative?

Q: What might affect the results of this election?

A: I think several things will likely affect the results of this election. One will be that we have boundary changes, secondly we've got three new ridings, but a third factor will be that there are seats where the incumbents aren't running and those are up for grabs. To some extent, I think there were some ridings that were very close in the last election and therefore campaigning and the dynamics of this election could affect the results of those particular ridings. So the outcome is not a foregone conclusion. I think this election will matter, we're not just going through the motions, and both parties are going to have to work very hard either to maintain what they already have or to gain, or at least not to lose any ground.

Q: Which riding is set up to be the most exciting?

A: To be honest I think it tends to be more the new ridings and ridings where the incumbents aren't running will be the most exciting ones to watch. I think where you have very strong incumbents from the previous election, I'm not sure anything that happens in this election will change the results of the previous election for many of the incumbents.