Now that the Sask Party has secured its fourth consecutive majority mandate, it’s time to look at other powerhouse parties from Saskatchewan’s electoral past.
The Sask Party’s re-election is a significant achievement, one that will ensure that it continues to be the longest serving provincial government in Canada today. There’s even talk of the Sask Party being the province’s “natural governing party.”
A fourth consecutive majority mandate is also history-making. It’s something that has been accomplished only twice in the past.
The last time was from 1944-64 when the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation Party won five consecutive elections (1944, 1948, 1952, 1956, and 1960) during its 20-year reign.
Tommy Douglas was the CCF leader for those majority victories. He also enjoys the distinction of serving 17 years as premier.
No other Saskatchewan premier has matched the Douglas record. Liberal leader Walter Scott (1905-1916), New Democratic Party leader Allan Blakeney (1971-1982), and Sask Party leader Brad Wall (2007-2018) all served 11 years as premier.
Tommy Douglas also book-ended his years as Saskatchewan premier as an MP.
He represented Weyburn (1935-44) in the House of Commons before the 1944 Saskatchewan provincial election and then stepped down as premier in 1961 to head the fledgling New Democratic Party.
He was defeated in Regina in the 1962 federal election and had to find a safe seat in British Columbia later that same year. Douglas never tried to run in Saskatchewan again, despite his long association with the province.
Douglas would serve the next 17 years in Parliament. When his past service as Weyburn MP is included, he spent 26 years in federal politics — much longer than his term as premier.
Douglas was not the only Saskatchewan premier with Ottawa experience, nor does his CCF party hold the record for the most consecutive majority election victories.
The Liberal party was a Saskatchewan dynasty in the early 20th century, enjoying power for almost a quarter century (1905-29). It won a string of six consecutive majority elections (1905, 1908, 1912, 1917, 1921, and 1925), even though it faced several challenges, including the First World War and the farmers’ progressive movement.
Saskatchewan’s first and second premiers, Walter Scott (1905-16) and William Martin (1916-22), respectively, both sat in the House of Commons as Liberal backbenchers for Saskatchewan ridings before entering provincial politics.
Charles Dunning (1922-26) and Jimmy Gardiner (1926-29 and 1934-35), on the other hand, went from the Saskatchewan premiership to the Liberal cabinet table in Ottawa.
Dunning was finance minister in the William Lyon Mackenzie King government. Gardiner served both King and Louis St. Laurent as minister of agriculture for a remarkable 22 years.
Before Gardiner entered the federal cabinet in 1935, he had to overcome a political embarrassment. In the 1929 general election, Gardiner was the first Saskatchewan premier to lead his party to defeat. He did not like it. It was only after Gardiner had brought the Liberal party back to power in 1934 that he resigned as premier a year later to go to Ottawa.
It was on the floor of the House of Commons that Gardiner, a former premier of Saskatchewan, did verbal battle with Douglas, a future premier of Saskatchewan. Both men were famously short. One day during a steady barrage of heckling led by Gardiner, Douglas retorted, “I don’t want any more interruptions. If the minister of agriculture will sit up in his chair and dangle his feet, I’ll go on with what I have to say.” Gardiner never forgave him.
What’s often forgotten about this Regina-Ottawa Liberal connection was that King represented a Saskatchewan riding for 19 of his 27 years as federal Liberal party leader (1919-48). He was the MP for Prince Albert from 1926-45. He was prime minister for 14 of those years.
So, what’s next for Premier Scott Moe and his Sask Party government? If they want to continue to make Saskatchewan electoral history:
- Moe needs to remain premier until 2035 (Douglas served 17 years).
- The Sask Party needs to govern until 2031 (the Liberals governed for 24 years).
- The Sask Party needs to win two more majority victories (equalling the Liberal record).
Given the Sask Party’s decisive victory in the 2020 Saskatchewan election, especially its capture of three-fifths of the popular vote, two more majority victories seem possible.
But as British Liberal politician Joseph Chamberlain warned, “in politics, there is no use in looking beyond the next fortnight.”
Just look at the fate of the other two “natural governing parties” in the October 2020 provincial election. The Liberals secured only a few hundred votes (less than one percent of popular vote), while the NDP (the successor to the CCF) still struggles to expand its electoral appeal.
One thing is certain, though. The Saskatchewan Roughriders have only won the Grey Cup (1966, 1989, 2007, and 2013) when the NDP has not been in power.
Bill Waiser is an historian and author from Saskatoon.