There have been three byelections since the 2007 general election in Saskatchewan. The Saskatchewan Liberal Party has only fielded a candidate for one of these byelections. That candidate was Eileen Gelowitz, who ran in the 2007 election for the Saskatchewan Party in an adjacent riding. In 2007, Gelowitz earned 2182 votes for the Saskatchewan Party (34.2% of the vote) – but in this week’s byelection she garnered exactly 107 votes (2.6%) for the Liberal Party.
A recent article in the Star Phoenix by reporter James Wood explores the byelection loss and the possible implications for the Liberal Party.
It is clear that the Liberal Party has failed to carve out place for itself in the narrow Saskatchewan political spectrum. Former leader David Karwacki failed to get a single Liberal candidate elected in two general elections and several byelections. And he saw the popular vote share of his party decline to 9.4%.
The new Liberal leader (who was acclaimed) Ryan Bater has decided to take the Liberal Party down a different road, emphasizing personal and economic freedom (a libertarianism-lite?) and is a stark departure from the policies established by Karwacki and his team. And while there is nothing inherently off-putting in Bater’s new messages, his changes have weakened his party’s visibility. The lack of consistency further undermines these listless liberals.
Looking at the popular vote numbers in Saskatchewan, it seems clear that a third party can only surge when an established party is in decline. The CCF/NDP arose at the expense of the Progressive Conservatives in the 1930’s. The Progressive Conservatives reemerged at the expense of the Liberals in the 1970’s. The Saskatchewan Party emerged at the expense of the Liberals in the 1990’s (indeed, the emergence of the Saskatchewan Party occurred through a violent hemorrhaging of the Liberal Party). With strong base support for both the Saskatchewan Party and the NDP, it is unlikely that the Liberal Party (or the Greens or any other party) will be able to mobilize enough voter and monetary support to manage to elect any candidates in the near future.
My prediction is that Liberal Party support will sink to near all-time lows (<5%) in the 2011 election. But that’s two years away – and that’s a very long time in politics.
Liberal popular vote levels in Saskatchewan general elections:
2003: 14.18% (Karwacki)
1999: 20.15% (Melenchuk)
1995: 34.70% (Haverstock)
1982: 4.51% (Goodale)
1967: 45.57% (Thatcher)