Big to-do list awaits Saskatchewan premier-designate Scott Moe

Scott Moe is the next premier of Saskatchewan, two political scientists breakdown what that may mean for the Saskatchewan Party and the province.

Budget, cabinet and staffing choices top Moe's agenda

Scott Moe, centre, and wife Krista Moe and their supporters react as it is announced that he has won the party leadership. (The Canadian Press/Liam Richards)

As Scott Moe was declared the next premier of Saskatchewan, he sat momentarily in his seat, hugged his wife, Krista, and was swarmed by friends, including many of the MLAs who supported his leadership.

Moe, 44, will become the 15th premier in the province's history, despite only receiving 4,483 first place votes from the 17,159 Saskatchewan Party members who cast ballots.

He didn't need first ballot support— he needed to be the second choice of supporters, and he was.

Moe's campaign slogan, 'Stand With Scott,' represented the 23 caucus colleagues who backed his campaign. That support may have made the difference, as he knocked off Alanna Koch by a margin of 1,161 votes in the fifth ballot.

But the MLA for Rosthern-Shellbrook and former Minister of Environment has little time to bask in his historic—and somewhat surprising—win. He has to assemble a staff, decide on a cabinet and dive into budget talks. 

Perhaps the more difficult political question for Moe will be which of the more than 20 MLAs who supported him will receive coveted cabinet posts.

Moe may also want to bring in unsuccessful leadership candidates, Ken Cheveldayoff, Gord Wyant and Tina Beaudry-Mellor. 

On the staffing question, many wonder if he'll retain former premier Brad Wall's staff, most of whom have been by Wall's side for his entire time in office. And that includes Koch, who worked as deputy minister to the premier in 2016 and 2017. On Saturday, she say it was too soon to comment on her future.

Rural-urban divide

Premier Scott Moe won the Sask. Party leadership in January, following former premier Brad Wall's resignation. (Alex Brockman/CBC News)

Once the dust settles on those decisions, political analysts believe Moe's government must reconnect with urban voters before an election is called in 2020.

"They're still leading in the polls and I suspect they would win an election if it were held tomorrow," said Tom McIntosh, the head of the University of Regina's department of political studies.

"Where they are likely to lose seats is in Regina and Saskatoon and maybe in some of the medium-sized cities."

McIntosh said how tight of a leadership race it was illustrates that rural-urban split.

On the first ballot, two Saskatoon MLAs, Cheveldayoff and Wyant, received 24 and 21 per cent support, while the two rural candidates Moe and Koch received 26 per cent of the vote.

"There are some divisions in the party, it's not insurmountable, but I think the rural-urban question is really going to be crucial for them to confront before they call an election."

Shifting to the right

The vast majority of the MLAs who backed Moe represent people from outside Regina and Saskatoon.

"(Moe) does represent rural Saskatchewan, almost exclusively. He doesn't have much appeal in urban areas. Nobody knows him," said Ken Rasmussen, who teaches public policy at the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy in Regina.

"It's a clear shift of the Sask Party back to its rural base. Much more conservative."

Former premier Brad Wall lifts the arm of his successor Scott Moe. (The Canadian Press/Liam Richards)

On Saturday, Moe promised to push forward with his campaign promises— removing the PST on crop, life, accident and health insurance. He said he would pay for the promise through a five per cent workforce reduction in executive council and crown corporation staff, through attrition and retirement.

His other major promise, committing $30 million in new money toward education and adding 400 educational assistants and other support staff to schools.

"I think that's going to be a big problem for him. He's promised to restore funding in some ways to the education sector at a time when he's also promised balanced budgets," Rasmussen said.

Moe was a member of cabinet during the previous budget cycle, but has been on the sidelines of budget discussions while campaigning for the leadership. He has committed to balancing the budget by 2019.

"The previous budget was a debacle. There's every expectation that this next budget is going to be very simple or another austerity budget," Rasmussen said.

Wall's shadow

With widespread cabinet and caucus support, Moe is expected to carry on the path set out by Brad Wall.

According to Rasmussen, Moe's victory speech missed the mark for a new leader.

"It didn't break any new ground. It wasn't inspiring. It was almost electioneering at a time when you're trying to bring unity to the province."

Moe spoke of representing people from all over Saskatchewan, opposing the provincial NDP and standing up against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a federally imposed carbon tax.

Each of those themes were touched on by Wall earlier Saturday when he addressed the convention and received a standing ovation.

"It was a parody of the speech that Brad Wall had given earlier in the day and it wasn't as good of a partisan speech," Rasmussen said.

For Tom McIntosh, Wall's shadow will linger for a while.

"This is a party that has been very much in Brad Wall's image for the last decade and it now has to be reshaped into the image of the new premier."