The Sask. Party is now the province’s natural governing party

This is an opinion piece by Doug Cuthand, an Indigenous affairs columnist, freelance journalist and filmmaker who lives in Saskatoon.

For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

Last night the Saskatchewan Party became the province’s natural governing party. It joined the ranks of the Liberals federally and the Conservatives in Alberta.

This should not have come as a surprise. Saskatchewan has been moving to the right for some time now. 

There is a shift from family farms to agribusiness, the resource sector is suffering hard times, and oil and gas in particular are under fire from environmentalists and an evolving green economy. 

There is also fear of the growing Indigenous population and the safety of rural residents. 

Only three Indigenous candidates were elected: Betty Nippi Albright, Buckley Belanger and Doyle Vermette, all for the NDP. Belanger and Vermette represent the two northern constituencies. Between them, they have about half the landmass of the province. Betty Nippi-Albright, on the other hand, represents Saskatoon Centre. 

Aboriginal people are 20 per cent of the province’s population, but make up only about 5 per cent of MLAs. The Sask. Party has no aboriginal representation.

Eight races are too close to call as we wait for mail-in ballots to be counted, but even if every seat in question went to the NDP it wouldn’t affect the overall outcome of the vote. Neither would it affect how many Indigenous candidates are elected. 

Throughout the campaign, aboriginal issues were not a priority. It was as if 20 per cent of the population were largely ignored. We sat by and watched as middle-aged settlers in suits battled for control.

Aboriginal issues should not be seen as partisan. Every party has a responsibility to represent all the citizens of the province. 

NDP candidate Betty Nippi-Albright is the first Indigenous person to win a seat in Saskatoon Centre. (CBC News)

In the end, the Sask. Party doesn’t owe the Indigenous community anything. They got elected without us and, considering the racist character of some of the rural electors, any reaching out to First Nations and Métis would be viewed as a negative. 

The focus of the battle was in the cities. The NDP rolled over and played dead in the rural areas in favour of spending their resources — human and financial — to holding the line in the cities. The Sask. Party didn’t need to campaign hard in rural areas. They got massive support without trying, allowing them to also concentrate on city seats. 

The Buffalo Party rumbled out of Alberta and the results are troubling. The party ran second in several rural ridings in the south, taking more than 1,000 votes in some constituencies. It was originally called the Wexit Party, focused on wanting to separate from Canada. This right-wing fringe party sanitized its name and experienced a degree of success. 

The view from First Nations is if the separatists want to join the U.S. they can go ahead, but the land belongs to the Crown under treaty and it stays with Canada. 

First Nations have stake in provincial politics

Participation in provincial elections has been a point of contention in Indian Country for years. First Nations are a federal responsibility under section 91, 24 of the British North America Act. Our relationship with government is with the federal government. 

But over the years the responsibility has been peeled off and assumed by the provinces. Therefore, we have a stake in the outcome of provincial elections, if only to protect our remaining rights. 

A natural governing party can be dangerous. It can lead to arrogance and pandering to the base. It can result in minority interests being ignored or given token support. Our existence doesn’t affect the success or failure of this government.

On the other hand, a government with a strong majority is in a position to spend political capital and forge boldly ahead with meaningful change. It was the Conservative government of John Diefenbaker that extended voting rights to First Nations and the Mulroney Conservative government that settled outstanding treaty land entitlement in Saskatchewan. 

First Nations and Métis are waiting for fundamental change, including improved social programming, resource revenue sharing and land rights among other agenda items. Will Scott Moe’s government be able to rise to the occasion?

This column is part of CBC’s Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor’s blog and our FAQ.

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