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Saskatchewan Party

Saskatchewan Party

The Saskatchewan Party is a centre-right political party in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. The party was established in 1997 by a coalition of former Progressive Conservative and Liberal party members and supporters who sought to remove the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party from power. While it has been a right-of-centre party since its creation, it has recently introduced a number of policies which move it closer to the centre of the political spectrum.

The Saskatchewan Party served as the province's Official Opposition until the provincial election on November 7, 2007. The Saskatchewan Party won 38 seats in the Legislative Assembly, and leader Brad Wall was sworn in as the province's 14th premier on November 21, 2007.

The party's origins and political basis

Historically, Saskatchewan politics has tended towards a two-party system, with third parties enjoying limited political success. For the first 25 years after the province was created, political power was split between the left-wing Liberals in government, and the right-wing Conservatives (initially the Provincial Rights Party) in opposition. The emergence of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (forerunner of the NDP) — a left-of-centre political party formed by the coming together of various socialist, farm and labour groups under a united front — forced the Liberals to the right. As a result of vote-splitting with the Liberals, the less popular Conservative party were no longer able to win seats in the Legislative assembly.

In the late 1970s, the provincial Conservatives (now the Progressive Conservative Party) re-emerged as a political force, forming government under Grant Devine for most of the 1980s. However, dissatisfaction with the Tory government towards the end of the decade resulted in the election of the NDP in 1991, with the Conservatives only maintaining 10 of the 66 seats in the Legislature. A subsequent corruption scandal further weakened the party, and a poor showing in the 1995 general election by both the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives resulted in a desire by many members of those parties for a united right-wing alternative to the governing NDP.

In 1997, the Saskatchewan Party was formed by a coalition of 4 former Progressive Conservatives (Bill Boyd, Dan D'Autremont, Ben Heppner, Don Toth) and 4 Liberal Party members of the Legislature (Bob Bjornerud, June Draude, Rod Gantefoer, Ken Krawetz). However, it did not result in a formal merger between the two parties. While most Progressive Conservatives joined the new Party, the Progressive Conservative Party itself was not disbanded. It was instead allowed to go dormant for the next two election cycles, with party assets held in trust. The Saskatchewan Party attracted fewer members from the provincial Liberals, which continued to contest elections. Because the new party consisted largely of former Progressive Conservatives, it was initially derided by opponents as merely a re-branding of the Progressive Conservative name in an attempt by the party to distance itself from the still fresh corruption scandal. This view has continued to follow the party up to the present.

The 2003 election

During the 2003 provincial election, the Saskatchewan Party campaigned on a platform of tax reduction and decreased government involvement in the private sector. The party won 28 seats, while the New Democratic Party won 30 seats. The party was accused of having undisclosed plans to privatize all of the province's crown corporations. Party leader, Elwin Hermanson, stated he would not sell the four major crown corporations, but would consider any offers received. The NDP used the ambiguity in the Saskatchewan Party's position to turn the election into a referendum on crown corporation ownership for many voters, and managed to eke out a small majority government. Elwin Hermanson announced his resignation from the party after losing the election to the NDP. He outlined his reason as stating he had taken the party as far as he could, and that it was time to hand it down to a new leader who could take it further. November 18, 2003.

The party under Brad Wall

Brad Wall was acclaimed as the new party leader March 15, 2004, after being the only declared candidate for the leadership. Other caucus members who had expressed interest in running included Jason Dearborn, Allan Kerpan (a former Reform MP), and Ken Cheveldayoff, a Saskatoon-based MLA who at one time was the President of the Young Progressive Conservatives of Saskatchewan.

Wall is seen by many as a more politically moderate leader than his predecessor. Following his appointment as leader, the party unveiled a more moderate policy platform that included, among other things, plans for more treatment beds for crystal meth addicts, democratic workplaces, and a new model for economic development in Saskatchewan. With significantly revised core policies and increased emphasis on social issues, the party is attempting to moderate its image to attract left-of-centre voters. In response to the results of the 2003 election, the entire Saskatchewan Party caucus voted in favour of the NDP's Crown Corporations Public Ownership Act, which provided legislative entrenchment for the ownership of the major crown utilities and services.

The party has moderated its views in its moves towards the centre. Its agriculture policy, for example, is based on market-choice in the Canadian Wheat Board. The Saskatchewan Party still rejects both the notion of excessive public involvement in the economy, and government red tape.

In February 2006, the party released a code of ethics document for its members. It set out guidelines for conduct and would outline how to deal with violators. Actions that would be prohibited in this document would include disseminating false information, pressuring prospective contributors and offering bribes to other political parties, candidates or voters. Some penalties would be as severe as even having their party membership revoked.

In a by-election held on March 5, 2007, the Saskatchewan Party recaptured the seat in the Legislative Assembly left vacant by the death of Ben Heppner. In a first for Saskatchewan politics, Heppner's daughter, Nancy Heppner, won the seat in both the by-election and the 2007 general election.

In November 2007, the party was sued by the Progressive Conservative Party of Saskatchewan over a trust fund. The PC party alleges that the trustees of the fund, which contains $2.9 million, conspired with the Saskatchewan Party to deny the PC party access to their funds, and thus not be able to run candidates in the next election . The Saskatchewan Party denies any involvement, even though 3 of the 5 trustees are active in the Saskatchewan Party .

In the November 7th, 2007 general election, the Saskatchewan Party won 38 of the 58 seats in the legislature, forming a majority government.

Clashes with the NDP government

In 2004, the Saskatchewan Party's aggressive questioning of the provincial NDP government over a bad investment, SpudCo, forced cabinet minister Eldon Lautermilch to apologize for misleading the legislature, a fact that only became apparent once sworn evidence was acquired from a civil lawsuit against the province. The party requested a public inquiry.

In March 2006, the Saskatchewan Party introduced a motion calling on the NDP government to apologize for the highly unfavourable and inaccurate portrayal of Jimmy Gardiner in Prairie Giant: The Tommy Douglas Story. The government has argued it was not responsible for production of the film, and thus rebuked the motion for an apology.

In 2006, in preparation for the Weyburn-Big Muddy by-election, the Saskatchewan Party was accused of using push polling by attempting to link Liberal leader David Karwacki with the Canadian gun registry. The same poll asked respondents if they linked the Saskatchewan Party with the Progressive Conservative party of Saskatchewan. On May 16, 2006, in an effort to gain political support, they tried to associate the provincial NDP, which had always vocally opposed the gun registry, with their federal party counterparts which support it. In 2006 the party caucus had released a tax-payer funded advertisement for their party in an effort to be critical of the current NDP administration. This ad became known for the misspelling of Saskatchewan, as "Saskatchwan". The ad was also criticized for having false information, for example claiming rising tuition costs, despite the 3 years of a fully funded freeze in the price of tuition.

On November 23, 2006 the Saskatchewan Party tried to make a political issue about the government trying to reclaim money from tobacco companies for the additional strain smokers placed on the health care system. The Saskatchewan government pointed out in a response that the Saskatchewan Party had accepted a $10,000 donation from Imperial Tobacco in 2003.

Political affiliations

While not officially aligned with any federal political party, the majority of the Saskatchewan Party's supporters are also involved with the Conservative Party of Canada, with others being associated with the Liberal Party of Canada. Brad Wall, in the 2004 federal election, personally endorsed Conservative candidate David L. Anderson, Member of Parliament for Cypress Hills-Grasslands.

In the 2006 federal election, Brad Wall stated he supported the Conservative Party, but would not personally get involved with a federal election. The previous leader, Hermanson, was a member of the Reform and Canadian Alliance federal parties.

Current Saskatchewan Conservative MPs who have been historically involved with the Saskatchewan Party include Carol Skelton, who served on Elwin Hermanson's constituency executive, Tom Lukiwski, who served as General Manager of the Saskatchewan Party, Dave Batters, who holds a membership in the Saskatchewan Party, Garry Breitkreuz, who supported the formation of the party, Brian Fitzpatrick, who added policy direction while the party was formed, and Lynne Yelich, who worked for Allan Kerpan while served as MP and received funding from the MLA in the 2006 federal election.

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