Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Let Saskatchewan be a Lesson to Liberals

Let the tale I'm about to explain in greater detail than before be a lesson to Liberals across Canada.

In 2007, the Saskatchewan Liberals attained 9.6% of the vote in a province-wide election, and came within 5% of winning one seat in Saskatoon, where their leader was running. Even though they did not win any seats for the second election in a row, they maintained a full slate of candidates who's vote totals ranged from meh to respectable to competitive, and considering the large vote squeeze occurring between the conservative Saskatchewan Party (a coalition of former Conservatives and Liberals) and the then-incumbent New Democratic government, they should have counted their blessings.

In 2009, the leader of the party, David Karwacki, stepped down and the ensuing race was won by a self-styled economist ouf the The Battlefords named Ryan Bater. Not much has ever been known about Bater, and no one really cared, but he was now leader of Saskatchewan's third party, and he could manage something if he tried, right? Even against the most popular of incumbents, like Premier Brad Wall, there was always room to grow.

So, without a seat in the legislature but enough gravitas to be somewhat relevent, people assumed that Bater would lead the slightly centre-right Liberals to something similar to Karwacki's numbers, maybe a bit lower, somewhere in the level of 1982 when the party only received 5% of votes. Even then, of course, the party ran a full slate.

But, it seems that instead of running a full slate, Bater and his crew decided to run only a handful of candidates in the election, and focus on winning Ryan Bater his seat in The Battlefords. Thus, after the party had gotten back into the legislature, they could rebuild and start again.

You can imagine what the consequences of this decision were.

The Saskatchewan Liberals were kicked out of the debate, and fundraising dried up. The party's candidates ended up being friends of the executive or executive members themselves. Only 9 of them were registered to run, a number on par with the defunct Progressive Conservatives in the province, who still probably have more money.

In the election, no candidate other than Bater received more than 3% of the vote, with that aforementioned Saskatoon riding that was so close last time becoming a wasteland where the candidate received less than 2% of the vote. In Bater's riding, he dropped 2% and ended up a sad third place. All the bunching of his resources into his riding meant nothing to the voters there, who while looking for change, saw nothing of relevence in an effectively dead party.

The moral of the story: don't settle for irrelevancy. For any party to survive, be it the BC Conservatives, the PEI New Democrats, or the Saskatchewan Liberals, you need to work to build up an organization to fight an election on the same turf as the big boys, or at least adapt a strategy to seem like you are. Do something that shows voters your serious, like running a full slate, or electing leaders who don't have rocks for brains. Don't elect yourselves a Ryan Bater, who cares nothing for your party clearly through his actions, by gutting it and focusing all resources on himself in what will end up being a failed bid for relevancy.

As the federal Liberal Party enters a new era of third-party status, we need to encourage ourselves. Yes, we need to accept the mandate Canadians have given us - we can't deny the reality of the situation. But it doesn't mean we have to accept it as final judgement, and it doesn't mean we need to cut ourselves into tinier and tinier pieces until we come to the point where any win, moral or tangible, becomes a miracle. It also doesn't mean we need to find get-elected-quick schemes, such as falling for the first leader with a silver tongue, our selling ourselves out to the NDP so we can score a few extra wins here and there.

It just means we have to keep up the energy and confidence in a Party that we all believe in. We don't need to become complacent fools willing to be taken over by some small-fry from The Battlefords who wouldn't know an effective electoral strategy if it smacked him upside the head.

We're Liberals, and we can do this.


  1. Exactly. I think I was even more annoyed with the Sk. Libs this time than with the usually annoying (in Sk, certainly) Greens. They all just gave votes to the Sk. Party! Thanks for this.

  2. I agree it was disastrous. But was there an option? The Liberal party infrastructure in Saskatchewan - which has been thin and weak for at least a decade - has been decimated in recent years. As I understand it, Karwacki had been personally bankrolling a lot of core Party work.

    The 2007 performance was merely a sign of things to come.

    A look at the 2011 *federal* liberal performance in Saskatchewan shows the problem. While in 2008, 9 of 14 federal liberal candidates qualified for Elections Canada rebates (getting at least 10% of the vote in their riding), in 2011 only Ralph Goodale managed to surpass this low bar of performance. This must be devasting to party fundraising and financing in this province.