REGINA — Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has officially launched the campaign for the Oct. 26 provincial election..
Moe met with Lt-Gov. Russell Mirasty on Tuesday morning at Government House to ask him to dissolve the legislature .
Mirasty wore a mask as he greeted Moe as a COVID-19 precaution, and Moe put one on before entering the building.
""I guess it would be no secret what that meeting was about," Moe said afterwards.
He said he's eager to get on the campaign trail.
"I am looking forward to getting out and engaging with the people across this province and asking for their support."
Saskatchewan was the the only province that had a fixed-date election scheduled for this year.
But that was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and restrictions to keep it in check sent the global economy into a tailspin.
In March, despite the health crisis, Moe suggested he might call an election in the spring because he wanted a mandate from voters "sooner rather than later."
But he stuck with the October date, and Elections Saskatchewan is working to hold the vote safely by increasing the number of polling locations and stocking up on face masks and sanitizer.
Moe's Saskatchewan Party had 46 seats in the legislature at dissolution and the Opposition NDP had 13.
The Saskatchewan vote will be the third in the country during the pandemic. New Brunswickers went to the polls earlier this month and an election in British Columbia has been called for Oct. 24.
Moe has opted for the shortest possible campaign — 28 days, the minimum time allowed — before the fixed election date.
Candidates have already been door-knocking for weeks.
The NDP has rolled out pre-campaign pledges that include $25-a-day child care and $100 rebate cheques for drivers. Moe's Saskatchewan Party government has made a flurry of previously committed infrastructure spending announcements.
Moe is seeking a fourth term for the party and his first mandate from voters as premier. He got the top job after winning the party's leadership in 2018, when premier Brad Wall decided to retire from politics.
Moe has said voters this year will have to consider which party they trust to revive the province's economy. He said spending decisions will be tempered by the goal of eliminating the projected $2.1-billion deficit by 2024.
"Fiscal prudence is among one of the very hallmarks of this party and it’s always a goal," he said in a pre-campaign interview.
NDP Leader Ryan Meili has said his party will be bold in the campaign and he hopes voters will see the New Democrats as an option for change.
"They haven’t seen enough from us yet to know, and this is what a campaign is about."
Jim Farney, head of politics and international studies at the University of Regina, said the stakes are high for the NDP this time around. A good showing, he said, would be between 20 and 25 seats.
But if there’s a repeat of past elections, with increasingly fewer seats, Farney said he can't imagine "how people don’t start looking around the party and going 'something is fundamentally wrong.’"
Farney said Moe's message is that the province is operating as near to normal as possible during the pandemic. Problems could arise for Moe if the number of COVID-19 positive cases jumps in schools, and parents in their 30s and 40s — who are swing voters — mobilize, he added.
While the Saskatchewan Party appears to have a lock on the support of rural residents, key battlegrounds will be in Regina, Saskatoon and Moose Jaw, Farney suggested.
"That’s going to be (Moe's) political challenge," he said.
"Can (Moe) pitch a message that appeals to suburban voters?"
The Saskatchewan Party sprung out of a coalition in 1997 of Liberals and disgruntled Progressive Conservatives. It is largely viewed through its policy decisions as a conservative party in everything but name.
In its early years under leader Elwin Hermanson, the party had difficulty gaining ground outside rural areas and lost two elections.
It wasn't until 2007 under Wall that the party ousted the NDP from government. With Wall still at the helm, the party went on to win two more majorities in 2011 and 2016.
"To have a government rolling into its fourth term with ongoing high … personal support for the job performance of a sitting premier is unusual," said Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute.
"So far, there has not been an opposition leader or an opposition party that has been able to present itself as an alternative to the Saskatchewan Party."
This story by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2020