Danielle Smith's victory gives Scott Moe room to move Saskatchewan even more to the right

Saskatchewan solidified its position as Canada’s most conservative province Monday after UCP Leader Danielle Smith’s narrowest-ever majority win by a party in the Alberta election.

Expect the 2 provinces to be very cozy in the coming years

A woman smiles at a crowd from a podium with the Alberta flag behind her.
UCP Leader Danielle Smith makes her victory speech in Calgary on Monday. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

This Opinion piece is by Sarath Peiris, who spent his career at the Moose Jaw Times Herald and Saskatoon StarPhoenix, and was the StarPhoenix's opinions editor and editorial writer.

For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

Saskatchewan solidified its position as Canada's most conservative province Monday after UCP Leader Danielle Smith's narrowest-ever majority win by a party in the Alberta election.

As Mainstreet pollster Quito Maggi noted, Rachel Notley's New Democrats were just 2,605 total votes short in six constituencies from taking power.

For Premier Scott Moe, who in the months leading up to the vote had assiduously avoided being too closely associated with Smith and her history of outlandish libertarian pronouncements, the Alberta election result provides room to shift Saskatchewan further to the right, despite the close decision.

Although recent polls show that a majority of voters in both Regina and Saskatoon favour Carla Beck's New Democrats, Moe's strength in rural Saskatchewan and the urban/rural composition of many city ridings all but assure him a lengthy tenure that Beck appears unable to challenge.

Before Smith took over the UCP, Moe had an almost comical eagerness to emulate then-Alberta premier Jason Kenney's policies on everything from the response to COVID-19 to relations with the federal Liberal government. The path now appears set for a resumption of Saskatchewan's cozy relationship with the western neighbour.

Premier Scott Moe speaks with media at the Saskatchewan legislature on May 15, 2023.
Premier Scott Moe speaks with media at the Saskatchewan legislature on May 15, 2023. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

Among Smith's first pronouncements after Monday night's victory was to exhort Albertans to "stand shoulder to shoulder against soon-to-be-announced Ottawa policies that would significantly harm our provincial economy."

For Moe, who has made a career out of fed bashing on everything from the carbon tax to resource governance, Smith might as well have mentioned this province in her exhortation, because a tooth-and-nail fight against restrictions on the oil and gas industry is exactly what Saskatchewan residents can expect.

Climate science be damned — Smith is a skeptic about it anyway — the two energy producing provinces will brook no federal attempts to impose emissions standards on their key economic engines, even if leaders in the industry itself are positioning themselves to abide by global standards as a longer-term business strategy.

In tandem with Alberta, Saskatchewan will fight to delay and weaken climate action, even as the folly of failing to act is evident in the wildfires and floods that are ravaging Western Canada. The short-term focus on economics, at the expense of long-term impacts of adding more carbon to the atmosphere, speaks to a government that ignores science and panders to people's self-interest, making for a bleak future. 

A woman stands at a podium
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith delivers a victory speech Monday night in Calgary. (Jocelyn Boissonneault/CBC)

While a vote-seeking Smith put on the back burner her notions of moving Alberta out of the Canada Pension Plan, charging fees to access medical services, dropping the RCMP and creating a provincial police force, forcing addicts into treatment, and creating a tax collection agency to replace Revenue Canada, Moe has been a step ahead of his western neighbour.

Moe may not consider forcing addicts into treatment, but his government also won't do much beyond adding a few beds to the Estevan treatment centre in response to a crisis that's killing hundreds of people.

With the arrogance born of 16 years in power and no real Opposition to hold it in check, the Saskatchewan Party under Moe has convinced itself that what's good for the party is good for the province.

Against all logic and economic sense, Moe has passed legislation to create a Saskatchewan revenue agency that duplicates a free federal service. His government has moved to create a provincial marshals unit that replicates RCMP services. And he has put in place sovereignty legislation, much like Alberta's.

Saskatchewan residents can expect further policy shifts to the right as Moe seeks to shore up his base against intrusions from the fringes, such as Nadine Wilson's Saskatchewan United Party. Moe will take a cue from Smith's uneasy relationship with the Take Back Alberta group within the UCP, which instigated the ouster of Kenney over policies they considered too moderate on such things as the COVID response.

Unfortunately, Moe's desire to protect the right flank could well mean further failures to properly fund education in urban schools, which are struggling mightily to cope with a growing population of immigrant students, and further outsourcing of medical services to private clinics that are raiding the public system of nurses and doctors at a higher cost.

Of course, the Alberta election result has no direct legislative impact on Saskatchewan, but it makes it easier for Premier Moe to carry on business as usual and gives him leeway to combat foes on the right while giving short shrift to some real problems that beset the province.

Being not as bad Alberta in public policy is no way to govern.

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Sarath Peiris was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 1955 and spent his career at the Moose Jaw Times Herald and Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He was the StarPhoenix’s opinions editor and editorial writer.