Phil Tank: Sask. government lost the plot with shrug on affordability

The Saskatchewan Party’s decline in popularity and the NDP’s rise can be connected to the focus on affordability and the lack of relief.

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The Saskatchewan Party is already making clear part of its playbook for this year’s election, which is shaping up to be the most competitive in 17 years.

In television ads and on social media, the governing party has been trying to link the province’s NDP Opposition with its federal counterpart, which is propping up the unpopular Liberal minority government.

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But Saskatchewan’s NDP might have more in common with the federal Conservative Party led by Pierre Poilievre — at least when it comes to its central message.

Poilievre’s party has surged in popularity by regularly criticizing the federal Liberals under Justin Trudeau as arrogant and out of touch for failing to feel the financial pain caused by inflation.

It matters little that Poilievre’s plan to “axe” the carbon tax will not deliver the affordability relief he suggests. He’s got the message and the issue right, like successful politicians before him including Jean Chrétien, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and even Donald Trump.

The same can be said about Carla Beck and the Saskatchewan NDP. For nearly two years now, the official Opposition has zeroed in on affordability relief and the lack of it from the provincial government.

It’s helped the NDP’s cause immensely that the governing party seems focused on every issue except affordability, the so-called kitchen table type of concern that directly affects families.

That, more than anything else, helps explain the ascent in opinion polls by the long-moribund NDP and the corresponding decline of the Saskatchewan Party.

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That’s where the electoral juggernaut that has dominated the last three last elections with unprecedented popularity appears to have inexplicably lost the plot and surrendered its dominance.

Premier Scott Moe’s battle against the federal carbon tax has taken on the tone of a religious crusade. But despite the appearance of a government concerned about affordability, the provincial 15-cents-per-litre gasoline tax remains in place.

Saskatchewan’s tax on gasoline is higher than most provinces and slightly exceeds the current federal carbon price on gas.

Other provinces, notably the two other Prairie provinces on either side of Saskatchewan, have suspended or reduced their taxes on gasoline to provide consumers relief.

The Moe government’s refusal to do the same shows it indeed believes in levying a tax on hydrocarbons and only opposes it when Justin Trudeau’s Liberals want to do it.

The NDP, conversely, first suggested suspending the gas tax nearly two years ago — prior to Beck’s election as leader — when gas hovered around $1.60 a litre.

The Saskatchewan United Party, which has determined much of the direction of Saskatchewan’s government through its fear of losing the support of hard line right wingers, proposed cutting what it calls the provincial “carbon tax” on gasoline in a social media post from December.

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The Saskatchewan NDP, United and the federal Conservatives certainly seem like the strangest of bedfellows. But they’ve all identified the tax relief message that will connect with voters.

Oddly, that same obvious message has eluded Saskatchewan’s government.

Yes, Moe’s government did send out $500 affordability cheques in the fall of 2022 amid a resource-fuelled boom in government coffers, months after the NDP first suggested sending cheques when resources are yielding windfall profits.

But the government waited to announce the cheques until just before calling a byelection for the Saskatoon Meewasin seat vacated by former NDP leader Ryan Meili. The NDP won that byelection handily.

While the NDP has been hammering home its message, Saskatchewan’s government has been obsessed with issues like pronouns in schools, lending credence to the perception of a regime that either fails to recognize people’s concerns or does not care.

This week’s news that Moe is headed to India to lead a trade mission will only add to the image of a government that has been in power so long it’s oblivious to regular people’s concerns. And the NDP pounced to point this out.

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The Opposition wants an election later this year focused on affordability. It appears to be an issue Saskatchewan’s government is ill prepared to discuss.

Phil Tank is the digital opinion editor at the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

[email protected]

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