SASKATOON — A largely rural membership elected a rural MLA to be the next Saskatchewan Party leader and premier-designate, ensuring Brad Wall’s replacement would reflect their interests.
Rosthern-Shellbrook MLA Scott Moe won Jan. 27 on the fifth and final ballot by 1,161 votes over Alanna Koch, who led the first three ballots and was also widely supported by the farming sector.
A date for his swearing-in had not yet been set as of Jan. 28.
Although the Koch camp was disappointed, many seemed satisfied that agricultural and rural interests would have high priority in the premier’s office. Koch was on leave from her job as deputy minister to Wall during the campaign and said election night it was too soon to say what she would do next.
Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan vice-president Ian Boxall said Koch would likely do well if she sought a seat in the next election.
And he said farmers will be well served by Moe.
“Scott Moe is a great candidate, comes from the farm, he has an agriculture background,” Boxall said. “For us, I think that’s a win.”
The organization also worked with Moe when, as environment minister, he shepherded the agricultural drainage regulations and legislation through the house.
Public policy expert Ken Rasmussen said he wasn’t surprised at the result because the Sask. Party is becoming more rural.
“I think it could be a big problem for them,” he said in an interview.
As rural populations dwindle, the party will have to gain more support in the cities, he said.
That could be difficult because Moe’s election represents a shift to the right, he said.
“(The Sask. Party’s) history as a big-tent party, one that was as much Liberal as it was Conservative, that seems to be pretty much over,” Rasmussen said.
The candidates with more liberal views dropped off the ballot earliest, after Rob Clarke, who earned 48 votes despite withdrawing from the race weeks ago and throwing his support to Ken Cheveldayoff.
Tina Beaudry-Mellor earned just 228 votes on the second ballot to drop off. Gord Wyant, who during the campaign announced he had discontinued his federal Liberal membership, got 3,780, or 22 percent, before his name was dropped.
Cheveldayoff, who ran on a rural roots/urban strong campaign, was in third place throughout with 4,844 votes on the fourth ballot.
All three former cabinet ministers said they would work with the premier and are likely to have cabinet posts.
Rasmussen said Moe will have to use urban cabinet ministers to build the party because his election does not represent renewal.
“He’ll be held to a pretty high standard in terms of his ability to move the party forward and there will be certain expectations that he’s obviously not going to blow the whole thing,” he said.
The next election is scheduled for 2020 and few believe Moe will call one sooner. Rasmussen said Moe could and probably will win the next election given the current electoral map.
In the meantime, Moe has to tackle the next budget, scheduled for March 28, and his campaign promises to eliminate the PST imposed on insurance premiums and spend $30 million on education while adding 400 educational assistants and professionals.
Boxall said the PST on crop and farm insurance, in addition to other insurance policies, has had a huge impact on farmers and they expect Moe to make good.
“I think producers will hold him to it,” he said.
Moe told reporters after the vote that he would move as “swiftly as possible” on those promises. He had not given a timeline during the campaign.
He drew huge applause from about 1,200 people at the convention when, during a victory speech Rasmussen described as uninspiring, he vowed to continue the fight against a carbon tax.
“I will fight for this province. I will fight for our economy to ensure that we do not have a carbon tax,” he said. “And Justin Trudeau, if you’re wondering how far I will go, just watch me.”
That phrase was made famous in 1970 by former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Justin’s father.
Moe was more conciliatory when he spoke with reporters, saying the province will work with the federal government on trade, infrastructure and other issues.
Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities President Ray Orb said he hoped to meet with Moe within a few weeks.
“He’ll be good for rural Saskatchewan, although a premier has to be good for the whole province.”
Moe is 44, and married with two children. He was first elected in 2011 and served in the advanced education portfolio.
Voter turnout was 63 percent at 17,159.
Meanwhile, three byelections are expected to be called soon in Swift Current to replace Wall, in Kindersley to replace the retired Bill Boyd, and in Melfort, held by Kevin Phillips until his sudden death in December.