NDP will need to do more to win favour in rural ridings

The Saskatchewan NDP autopsy recommends a “renewed commitment to reconnecting with rural residents and communities. ”No matter your political leanings, this is good news for producers — if the NDP can actually do it this time. | Screencap via saskndp.ca

After attending enough political conventions, they all start to blur together.

Some memories stand out, though.

One is being at a Saskatchewan NDP convention in Saskatoon (2016, I think) and seeing a rural member talking about agricultural policy.

In the member’s mind, there wasn’t much of any agricultural policy in the Saskatchewan NDP’s playbook and he was letting the membership know as much.

However, it was apparent that few people were actually listening.

The NDP’s struggle in rural Saskatchewan was at least a decade old at the time of this convention, and here was one of its few members in the rural demographic pondering the valid question of how to improve party fortunes.

At the time, it seemed like he was someone worth listening to and I said so to an NDP member standing nearby.

She told me the same routine happened regularly at each year’s convention.

Fast forward to now and like many people, I am not surprised to see the NDP continuing to falter in rural Saskatchewan.

The Saskatchewan NDP did an autopsy on its performance in the 2020 election.

That report concluded the NDP “has been marginalized and vilified in rural Saskatchewan” and outlined how party campaigners in rural ridings “faced a hostile atmosphere.”

“Some candidates reported being aggressively vilified and harassed at the doorstep and on the street. Supporters in some communities were reluctant to take signs out of concern they and their families would be retaliated against by neighbours,” said the report.

It mentions how in some instances, candidates waited until the last possible moment to announce their candidacy to “minimize their exposure.”

In its post-mortem, the NDP blames its political opponents for being in this situation, but thankfully the authors recognize superior campaigning isn’t the only thing preventing an NDP government from forming.

The NDP says it failed “to fully deal with the changes in agriculture, the growing proportion of workers in many smaller cities and rural communities, and the changing needs of those communities.”

This isn’t an issue exclusive to the Saskatchewan NDP, either. Published in April, this is the latest report done by the party outlining election failures.

NDPers across the Prairies have failed to connect with rural residents, and the number of seats they have won in those regions is reflective of that.

What is being done by the party to change this?

A joint call by NDP leaders in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba to see those provincial governments put up the cash necessary to make improvements to Canada’s business risk management programming was one effort.

Making this request was an easy win for the NDP.

Producers are demanding the money, and conservative provincial governments, generally supported by farmers, have so far refused to offer it.

That refusal is partially because conservative governments are confident producers will always vote for them. Election after election, right-leaning governments win the majority of prairie rural ridings.

Business risk management programs aren’t a wedge issue that will win votes, but the NDP still waited too long to strongly act on the file and win favour.

The Saskatchewan NDP autopsy recommends a “renewed commitment to reconnecting with rural residents and communities.”

No matter your political leanings, this is good news for producers — if the NDP can actually do it this time.

Adequate NDP efforts to win back rural seats create more competition in rural ridings. The more competitive those ridings are, the more incentives rival parties will offer to voters living in them.

But before any of that can happen, the NDP should start listening at conventions when someone starts talking about agriculture.

D.C. Fraser is Glacier Farm Media’s Ottawa correspondent. Reach out to him by emailing dfraser@farmmedia.com.

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