Comment: NDP will need to do more to win favour in rural ridings

In a recent post-election report, the NDP says it failed to fully deal with changes in the agriculture sector and the challenges facing rural communities.

After attending enough political conventions, they all start blurring together a bit.

Some memories stand out, though.

One is being at a Saskatchewan NDP convention in Saskatoon (2016, I think) and seeing a rural member talking about agricultural policy.

In the member’s mind, there wasn’t much of any agricultural policy in the Saskatchewan NDP’s playbook and he was letting the membership know as much.

Nobody was really listening to him.

This happens often enough at these political conventions: There are a lot of speeches, and often opportunity for general members to blabber on.

Still, there was something particularly memorable about this one.

The NDP’s struggle in rural Saskatchewan was at least a decade old by then, and here was one of its few members in that demographic pondering the valid question of how to improve party fortunes.

At the time, it seemed like he was someone worth listening to, and I said so to an NDP member standing nearby.

She told me the same routine, in some fashion or another, would happen regularly at each year’s convention.

Fast-forward to now and like many, I am not surprised to see the NDP continue to falter in rural regions of Saskatchewan, and the country.

Like it does after each of its losses, the NDP did an autopsy on its performance in the 2020 election.

That report concluded the NDP “has been marginalized and vilified in rural Saskatchewan” and outlined how party campaigners in rural ridings “faced a hostile atmosphere.”

“Some candidates reported being aggressively vilified and harassed at the doorstep and on the street. Supporters in some communities were reluctant to take signs out of concern they and their families would be retaliated against by neighbours,” said the report.

It mentions how in some instances, candidates waited until the last possible moment to announce their candidacy to “minimize their exposure.”

In its post-mortem, the NDP blames its political opponents for being in this situation – but thankfully the authors recognize superior campaigning isn’t the only thing preventing an NDP government from forming.

The NDP says it failed “to fully deal with the changes in agriculture, the growing proportion of workers in many smaller cities and rural communities, and the changing needs of those communities.”

This isn’t an issue exclusive to the Saskatchewan NDP, either. Published in April, this is the latest report done by the party outlining election failures.

Dippers across the Prairies have failed to connect with rural residents, and the number of seats they have won in those regions is reflective of that.

What is being done by the party to change this?

A joint call by NDP leaders in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba to see those provincial governments put up the cash necessary to make improvements to Canada’s business risk management programming was one effort.

Making this ask was an easy win for the NDP.

Producers are demanding the money and conservative provincial governments, generally supported by farmers, have so far refused to offer it.

That refusal is partially a symptom of conservative governments being confident producers will always vote for them. Election after election, right-leaning governments win the majority of Prairie rural ridings.

Business risk management programs aren’t exactly the wedge issue to win votes on, but even then the NDP waited too long to strongly act on the file and win any favour.

The joint message from the NDP leaders came long after relations between Ottawa and the Prairie provinces had already soured. The ripe time for a deal to be signed had long passed.

Any other NDP advocacy work to publicly pressure Prairie governments to accepting Ottawa’s deal favoured by producers didn’t register.

The Saskatchewan NDP autopsy recommends a “renewed commitment to reconnecting with rural residents and communities.”

No matter your political leanings, this is good news for producers… if the NDP can actually do it this time.

Adequate NDP efforts to win back rural seats create more competition in rural ridings.

The more competitive those ridings are, the more incentives rival parties will offer to voters living in them.

But before any of that can happen, the NDP should start listening at conventions when someone starts talking about agriculture.

About the author

Reporter

D.C. Fraser

D.C. Fraser is Glacier FarmMedia’s Ottawa-based reporter. Growing up mostly in Alberta, Fraser also lived in Saskatchewan for ten years where he covered politics, including a stint teaching at the University of Regina’s School of Journalism. He is an avid fan of the outdoors and a pretty good beer league hockey player. His passion for agriculture and agri-food policy comes naturally: Six consecutive generations of his family have worked in the industry.

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