Canada’s political landscape changed dramatically this week but if the winds of change were gale-forced in other parts of the country, they were more like a soft autumn breeze on the Prairies.
Rural voters in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta who have traditionally supported the Conservatives stayed true to form in 2015, electing Conservative MPs in all but a handful of ridings.
Official election results from the three prairie provinces were not available at pres time late Oct. 19, but early returns suggested that Conservative candidates were likely to be elected in most, if not all of the predominantly rural ridings in Western Canada.
In Saskatchewan, Liberal veteran Ralph Goodale retained his seat in Regina Wascana.
One other Saskatchewan riding — Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River — was too close to call at press time. Every other riding in the province was on course to elect a Conservative MP except Saskatoon West, which elected an NDP candidate.
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Greg Poelzer, a political science professor from the University of Saskatchewan, said rural voters on the Prairies have typically held views that are aligned with the Conservative party.
Poelzer said issues such as economic conservativism and deficit reduction sit well with many western voters, particularly those in remote rural ridings.
“I think the core values in a lot of rural areas tend to be more conservative and especially more conservative in terms of economic conservatism,” Poelzer said.
“When you think about the Liberals proposing to run deficit budgets, I think in a lot of rural areas, that was a message that wasn’t well received.”
Poelzer said rural voters are also less inclined to back a leader with limited political experience.
A significant portion of the rural electorate was pleased with the Harper government’s record on issues such as grain industry deregulation and trade liberalization, he added.
“I think the Conservative government over the past 10 years very much tried to be a champion for a lot of rural issues in Canada,” he said.
“So I think there was still a very strong attachment or allegiance to the Conservative party in a lot of rural areas.”
In defeat, the Conservatives also retained close to half of Manitoba’s 14 ridings.
Unofficially, Conservative candidates were elected in all but one riding outside of Winnipeg, based on early returns on election night.
And in Alberta, Conservative support was as strong as ever, particularly in rural ridings outside of Calgary and Edmonton.
With the exception of a handful of urban ridings in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta’s electoral map was once again dominated by Tory blue.
Lynn Jacobson, a farmer from Enchant, Alta., and chair of the Alberta Federation of Agriculture, said support for the Conservative party has always been strong in rural Alberta.
The Harper government was not popular among all rural voters, but its record on key issues such as trade liberalization, grain industry deregulation and modernization of Canada’s plant breeders rights legislation were popular among many growers.
“They did some things well, but on other issues their record was not so good,” Jacobson said.
“Grain transportation is still a huge issue …,” he added. “We were telling the federal government that we had a problem with grain transportation there six months before the trouble started.”
“It will be interesting to see how the Liberal government handles that issue.”
Although the majority of Western Canada’s rural voters did not support the Liberal mandate, Poelzer suggested that a Trudeau government could be a blessing in disguise for the prairie grain industry and for the western economy as a whole, particularly if the Liberals carry through on plans to expand Canada’s infrastructure.