The last provincial election of 2011 is in Saskactchewan; the birthplace of Medicaid, which today is better known for a remarkably resilent and strong commoditiy based economy then socialist politics. Premier Brad Wall's Saskatchewan Party has held power since 2007, and reliable polling shows he has a very good chance of subsantially expanding his caucus. The NDP under leader Dwain Lingenfelter has been bleeding seats ever since Roy Romanow's departure before the 2003 election, and will be counting on strong urban support in Regina and Saskatoon to weather their conservative rival's onslaught.
The Green Party will strive to avoid embarrassing defections in the final weeks and hope to remain a relevant option in a province (alas a region) they have struggled to breakthrough in. The Saskatchewan Liberals have decided to forego a province wide campaign and are pushing to elect leader Ryan Bater in the Battlefords, while mostly opting for a "digital" campaign and (realtively) strong support in Saskatoon to keep their share of the popular vote from dipping further.
While the center right Saskatchewan Party and the left wing NDP are presenting policies that are more traditionally ideological (aka what you'd expect from a right wing and left wing party) the Liberals are presenting themselves in an interesting fashion and trying to crave a niche for themselves by sapping more strident free market supporters from the Saskacthewan Party.
Under leader Ryan Bater, the party has taken a decidely right wing turn, while not entirely abandoning the center spectrum. The party's platform consists of three main parts: 1) Eliminating the province's debt 2) Cutting the provincial sales tax (which is not harmonized with the federal GST like in Ontario) 3) Creating a sovereign wealth fund for the province called the Saskatchewan Future Fund.
The party is pledging to eliminate the debt by dedicating all revenue generated from the non-renewable resources industry (aka gas & oil exploration) to tackling this fiscal imbalance. The PST will be gradually lowered in a very un-Harper manner by one percentage point with every half of the provincial debt they cut. So the 5% PST will be lowered to 4% once half the debt is eliminated then once the debt is entirely eliminated it will be scaled back to 3%. This seems reasonably cautious and much more pragmatic then the federal Conservatives blantant vote grabbing GST cuts, which many financial gurus warned was unwise, and with the country is now rolling in deficits, those gurus seems prescient. A cautious approach may not fire up the left leaning base of the party (if it has one in Saskatchewan) but fiscal prudence was the lynchpin of the federal party's success in the 90's.
The sovereign wealth fund is another wise approach with great marketability; we all save for the future through RRSP's and pension funds, shouldn't the government do likewise? The fund will be funded through non-renewable resources renvenue and will start only once the debt is paid off, which singals that it will be dedicated towards diversfying the province's economy and buliding a strong entreprenuer culture in the province. Considering the Saskatchewan Party's focus on recruiting international doctors and nurses this provides another nice contrast. With a booming economy, preaching restraint and planning for the future may seem a difficult gambit but the Liberals under the Chretien/Martin tenure in office managed to churn out 4 consecutive electoral victories with this same approach.
The Liberals criticized both main parties for their opposition to the Potash takeover decrying it as a bad message to send to the world, that Saskatchewan was "closed for business;" which will bolster their free market credentials. The party is also stressing more accountability in office while pledging to "open up the Crowns" and halt the government's growing spending. Their platform boldly goes after Crown corporations in the province pledging to make them more efficient, while advocating privatizing "liquor retailing," and promoting green innovation through a feed in tariff regime. Not exactly the radical privatization program the tough talk suggests, though the feed in tarriff program is a smart political move in terms of selling environmentalism and free enterprise all in one policy.
The party's platform claims that the feed in tariff program will allow rural Saskacthewan and First Nation communities more opportunities to produce and sell renewable energy while breaking SaskPower's monopoly on energy production. Feed in Tariffs set and more importanly guarantee a price (almost exclusively above market value) for a renewable energy source that allows entreprenuers to better manage their costs to ensure profitability (for example if you know the government will pay 80 cents for a kilowatt of wind power and your building a wind farm with the potential to generate 2,000 kilowatts then you can calculate how much revenue you'll draw in then plan building costs around that expected revenue). The feed in tariffs will no doubt encourage and incentivize budding entrepreuners, while making it easier for them to obtain much needed capital to make these projects happen (a bank loves nothing more then a firm solid financial plan especially when the predictions are essentially guranteed by the government). Also the party is pleding to grant premium prices (and conditions) for storage systems (a big deal for renewable energy sources which are dependent on climate conditions unlike fossil fuels) and for community and First Nations iniatives.
Taking away the Liquor Board's monopoly on selling liquor on the other hand seems like a decent pragmatic policy choice that is an overture to small business owners hoping to establish their own private liquor outlets. It nicely contrast the party between the Saksacthewan Party which might oppose this proposal to woo social/cultural conservatives (which essentially brought upon this liquor monopoly due to the efforts of the similarly minded temperance movement of the early to mid 20th century) and the NDP which might oppose this proposal to maintain their strong support from government employees and unions. However this policy framed as a rural accesibility option could play both ways, as the party could be accused of shutting down rural Sasktachewan voters access to liquor, as private businesses may not be so eager to open outlets in far flung and sparesly populated regions of the province or it could just as logically play to their advantage, with an argument that selling liquor in any community is profitable and access issues will be solved more efficiently by private hands, leading to even more liquor selling outlets. This will hardly dominate headlines but knowledgable rural voters might be wary of cutting their ties to a reliable government source, and this issue may not be such an easy vote grabber as a result.
Student debt is an interesting issue for the party to tackle but the platform correctly acknowledges the burden that recent graduates face while citing it as a hinderance to potential entreprenuers. The more student debt the less eager wanna be business owners will be to assume more debt, which is the unaviodable cost of opening a new business. The party's proposes to delink an applicant's family and employment income and assests in the government student loan process which will most likely lead to more people qualifying for government loans. However, take it from someone swimming in close to $20,000 of debt to the Ontario government, is only a partial solution at best to a far grander problem.
The Liberals are also proposing to fund a new Saskatchewan hospital dedicating to mental health and addiciton, as well as ractheting up the funding for the public school system while increasing the reach and scope of the services they offer. The party is also proposing to eliminate Entreprise Saskatchewan, and create rural development corporations, suggesting a dedicated push to rural voters (or more specifically rural voters in the Battlefords, which is where the proposed hospital will be, the riding leader Ryan Bater will be running in).
All in all the Saskatchewan Liberal platform seems to be an interesting experiment in right wing Liberalism that still keeps the party true to its centrist roots.