The Saskatoon-Meewasin byelection is a “big marker” for both the Saskatchewan Party and NDP according to a political expert in the province.
University of Regina Professor Ken Rasmussen told 650 CKOM the results of Thursday’s vote will be a good test for each party’s support.
He said governments don’t historically do well in byelections, giving the NDP the upper hand.
“The expectation is the Sask Party will lose it,” he said. “But if they win it, it’s a very bad sign for the NDP.”
Rasmussen noted it’s an interesting race to watch between the NDP’s Ryan Meili and Brent Penner, the Sask Party nominee. The most recent opinion polls show the two candidates in a dead heat leading into election day.
Given a large provincial deficit and austerity measures on the horizon, he said it may be a referendum on the direction the Sask Party is taking Saskatchewan in.
“If it’s a big defeat for the government it clearly indicates that they’re going to have to watch their back when it comes to budget cuts,” he said.
But with Brad Wall still in the first year of his mandate from the last general election, Rasmussen said the government would have time to recover.
As for Meili, the stakes are higher.
“If he wins he’s likely then to begin a leadership campaign for the NDP,” Rasmussen said.
“If he can’t win this kind of a seat at this time in the province’s history, then there’s either something wrong with his candidacy or something wrong with the NDP.”
The professor added if Meili loses, it would likely spell the end of his career in provincial politics.
History of close votes
If past elections are any indication, Thursday’s vote could come down to the wire.
In three elections in the past decade, no-one has won the Saskatoon-Meewasin riding by more than 878 votes.
That happened in 2011, when the Sask Party’s Roger Parent beat NDP incumbent Frank Quennell.
Parent had a closer race in 2016, when he defeated NDP challenger Nicole White by a 523 vote margin.
The latest byelection is being held after Parent died of cancer in November.
Low voter turnout effects
Rasmussen emphasized the importance of voter turnout in Thursday’s vote.
“If it’s down to historic lows that’s a concern for the NDP,” he said. “They’re trying to rally some support and send the government a message, but if people don’t go out it will be a mixed blessing.”
He pointed to the fact byelection turnouts are typically lower than a general election. Low voter turnout usually benefits the incumbent party, he noted.
Polls close in the byelection at 8 p.m. with 50 ballot boxes reporting in Thursday night. If the vote is close, results won’t be confirmed until absentee and hospital votes are counted on March 14.