Prairie farmers are on the outside looking in after sticking with the Conservatives in last week’s election.
However, the effects of that in terms of policy and the ability for farm issues to gain the ear of the future government have yet to be seen.
Many farm leaders said they have cultivated good relationships with Liberal MPs and anticipate those will continue as the party takes power.
Ralph Goodale, the lone Liberal MP in Saskatchewan, said he and all other MPs have a duty to their regions and will represent farmer interests.
“Whenever there’s a break point in voting patterns like that, it is a concern, and you need to treat that seriously,” he said. “Obviously, you need to pay attention to those areas where for some reason the voters didn’t respond in the same way.”
The Conservatives maintained their stronghold on the Prairies, winning 44 seats compared to the Liberals’ 12 and the NDP’s six.
Manitoba elected seven Liberal MPs, all in Winnipeg. In Alberta, voters chose Liberals in two Calgary and two Edmonton ridings. The Calgary ridings are the first to go Liberal in that city since 1968.
Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams said the populist thread of tradition and values still resonates with prairie voters.
“Policies like legalizing marijuana, even some of (outgoing prime minister Stephen) Harper’s response to terrorism or cultural practices and so forth, because those are less familiar and something they’re less likely to have had positive exposure to, wouldn’t have been the sort of thing that would turn them off Harper the way they did in other regions,” she said.
However, she said the Conservative popular vote shrank even in traditional areas as the Liberals gained. More critically, the NDP support plummeted.
Goodale said the Liberal popular vote in Saskatchewan, for example, tripled from barely eight percent in 2011 to 23.9 percent Oct. 19.
Still, gaining the farm vote will take some work, and Williams said it might never happen.
There were three million brand new voters in the election, many of them motivated because they wanted change and most of them in urban areas. Prime minister designate Justin Trudeau became the representation of that change and pushed his party from third place to first.
“He doesn’t have any rural seats in the prairie provinces; there is a constituency he hasn’t reached,” she said.
“I’m not sure how he’s going to do it. It’s pretty difficult to increase or make inroads in new areas once you’re in power.”
However, his pledge to appoint a cabinet that is balanced regionally and by gender could help, she said.
A western agriculture minister is a long shot, but the right regional ministers could win over future voters.
Williams said the Conservatives did offer agricultural policies during their time in office, such as eliminating the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly, which farmers could at least point to and say they got a response from government.
“In Ontario, in some of those rural ridings, they actually lost seats because of the (Trans-Pacific Partnership), where there didn’t look to be a downside for farmers in the West,” she said.
She expects the rural-urban distinction to be more profound after the election, particularly in Alberta.
“The urban areas are very urban and progressive and the rural areas are just not quite sure about some of those progressive policies,” she said.
Williams said that in Saskatchewan, premier Brad Wall’s popularity also makes it difficult for the federal Liberals.
“If he were to lose popularity to even a more centrist party, then there might be a reverberative effect,” she said.
“I think it’s very much a long game. I don’t think they’re going to make significant gains in the next four years. They’ve got to be strategic about keeping what they’ve got in places where they really fought to get it.”