The Saskatchewan Election:
A 2020 Perspective
Health Care: A key issue that didn't move the needle
Ms. KATELYNN KOWALCHUK, Incoming Graduate Student, Department of Political Science, University of British Columbia
Health Care as an Election Issue
Both during and between elections, health care remains one of the top political concerns for Canadians, and residents of Saskatchewan are no different.[i] Some issues, such as wait times or the inability to find and keep a family physician, seem to be issues that reappear in jurisdiction after jurisdiction. Others, such as access to rural emergency rooms, will have more salience in a province where 35 per cent of the population still lives in rural areas.
As Saskatchewan headed into the 2020 provincial election, there was no shortage of health care issues facing the province: wait times, for most procedures for which there are benchmarks, were up;[ii] the opioid crisis in the province showed no signs of abating; [iii] and the pandemic continued to be an overarching concern as one poll found that “[n]early 63 per cent of respondents said issues relating to the COVID-19 pandemic [would] be important in helping determine their vote.”[iv]
The Party Platforms on Health and Health Care
The Saskatchewan Party’s platform did not include a specific section for health care. However, in a section titled “Making Life More Affordable,” the party included promises targeting specific populations such as eliminating inter-hospital ambulance transfer charges for seniors and reducing ambulance fees generally by 50 per cent at a cost of $8.4M; coverage for medical supplies for diabetics at a cost of $4.6M; and increased funding for Deafblind services at a cost of $1M per year.[v] The party also promised $18.4M in new staffing for long-term care facilities and homecare services. In addition, included in the party’s “30 Goals for 2030,” there was a promise to reduce surgical wait times to a target of three months by 2030. [vi]
The major health-related promises of the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party (NDP) platform included $100M to hire 100 doctors, 150 registered nurses, 300 licensed practical nurses, and 500 continuing care nurses; $50M in long-term care staffing increases; the creation of “mental health emergency rooms”; and a $60M surgical facility in Regina. The platform also included a guarantee to cover costs related to diabetes, similar to the Saskatchewan Party’s promise. Additionally, there were assurances made relating to health care under other headings, including funding for school-based mental health and addictions nurses and the development of a disabilities strategy. [vii]
The Saskatchewan Green Party platform contained 17 healthcare promises, including substance-abuse supports, incentivizing healthy lifestyles, and the expansion of public health coverage. [viii] The Buffalo Party’s approach was based primarily on reducing inequities in rural health care and ending the federal transfer programs, including the Canada Health Transfer. [ix] The Progressive Conservative Party platform addressed staffing and infrastructure concerns in hospitals, long-term care, and rural and Northern health care. [x] Lastly, the Liberal Party of Saskatchewan focused on seniors’ health care, including a drug plan and the expansion of homecare services. [xi]
The Campaign and Aftermath
With polls indicating a massive lead for the Saskatchewan Party going into the campaign, there was little doubt that Premier Scott Moe would secure another majority government. Yet despite this, Ryan Meili insisted the NDP was running for government and not just to increase opposition seats in the legislature. [xii] But even with the NDP’s extensive commitments to increases in health care spending, new facilities and new health care personnel were not enough to turn the tide against overwhelming odds.
But this is not to say that health care did not receive attention in the media during the campaign itself. In a campaign that can be fairly said to lack a major driving issue that focused public attention, health care itself received its fair share of the news cycle. In particular, the NDP’s promise to hire additional doctors, nurses, and other allied health professionals garnered significant attention. In the first half of the campaign, four of the seven articles on the NDP’s healthcare platform published by the Regina Leader-Post focused on this promise. [xiii] In the same period of time, the Regina Leader-Post published pieces on four of the Saskatchewan Party’s health care promises, with the exception of reducing surgical wait times and hiring additional continuing care aides. [xiv] Subsequent media coverage on health care issues, including mental health, addictions, and safe consumption sites, continued through the campaign.
During the leadership debate, Moe consistently raised concerns that the NDP promises were unaffordable. Meili countered with reference to a proposed NDP wealth tax as a source of new revenue and the need to invest in health care in order to sustain it. Interestingly, the one unexpected health issue that raised its head during that debate was the question of support for safe consumption sites. Meili expressed full support for “harm reduction” strategies but was unclear about funding safe consumption sites (He was clearer in his support later in an appearance on CBC BlueSky). Moe said he would “consider funding” safe consumption sites, despite turning down a request for similar funding in the current provincial budget.
In the final analysis, health care may be a key issue for Saskatchewan voters, but the various promises made by the two major parties did little to shake up the campaign or change the political fortunes of either of the province’s major parties. The Saskatchewan Party handily won its fourth majority, the NDP remains in opposition, and no doubt, provincial residents remain concerned about the future of their health care system.
[i] Phil Tank, “Most Saskatchewan voters remain undecided for election, poll suggests”, Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, September 16, 2020 (accessed October 20, 2020 https://thestarphoenix.com/news/local-news/most-saskatchewan-voters-remain-undecided-for-election-poll-suggests).
[iii] Alicia Bridges, “Drug users, advocates weigh in on why Sask. overdose deaths are at record high,” September 14, 2020 (accessed October 20, 2020 https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/overdose-deaths-record-interviews-addicts-saskatchewan-1.5723019).
[iv] Phil Tank, “Most Saskatchewan voters remain undecided for election, poll suggests”, Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, September 16, 2020. https://thestarphoenix.com/news/local-news/most-saskatchewan-voters-remain-undecided-for-election-poll-suggests.
[v] Saskatchewan Party, “Making Life More Affordable”, Saskatchewan Party. https://www.saskparty.com/making_life_more_affordable.
[vii] Saskatchewan New Democratic Party, “Strengthening Healthcare for You and Your Family,” Saskatchewan New Democratic Party, https://www.saskndp.ca/strengtheningpublichealthcare;
Saskatchewan New Democratic Party, “Safer Schools and Smaller Classes,” Saskatchewan New Democratic Party, https://www.saskndp.ca/saferschools;
Saskatchewan New Democratic Party, “All of Us, Together,” Saskatchewan New Democratic Party, https://www.saskndp.ca/allofustogether;
Saskatchewan New Democratic Party, “Building Saskatchewan,” Saskatchewan New Democratic Party, https://www.saskndp.ca/buildingsaskatchewan.
[viii] Saskatchewan Green Party, “A Fair and Caring Transition: Election Platform 2020,” Saskatchewan Green Party,
[ix] Buffalo Party of Saskatchewan., “2020 Platform: A Fair Deal for Saskatchewan,” https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/wexitsask/pages/22/attachments/original/1601855795/buffalo_party_platform.pdf?1601855795.
[x] Saskatchewan Progressive Conservative Party, “Platform 2020,” Saskatchewan Progressive Conservative Party,
[xii] CBC Radio, “Blue Sky with Garth Materie October 21, 2020,” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-189-blue-sky.
[xiii] Tank, P., “NDP pitches $50 million for care to help Sask. seniors stay in homes,” October 6, 2020, https://leaderpost.com/news/politics/sask-election/ndp-pitches-50-million-for-care-to-help-sask-seniors-stay-in-homes/wcm/7b7230db-52e2-4537-96d6-949fd74485bb;
The Canadian Press, “Saskatchewan NDP pledge funding for health, education in election platform, “Regina Leader-Post, October 9, 2020,
The Canadian Press, “Saskatchewan NDP would hire more home care staff if it forms government,” Regina Leader-Post, https://leaderpost.com/news/politics/sask-election/saskatchewan-ndp-would-hire-more-home-care-staff-if-it-forms-government/wcm/57ea1e77-fb38-443b-b082-73f18112d728;
White-Crummey, A., “Meili commits $100M to hire hundreds of healthcare workers,” Regina Leader-Post. October 5, 2020, https://leaderpost.com/news/politics/sask-election/meili-commits-100m-to-hire-1050-healthcare-workers.
[xiv] Levy, B., “Sask. Party promises more supports for deaf, blind residents,” Regina Leader-Post, October 10, 2020, https://leaderpost.com/news/politics/sask-election/sask-party-promises-more-supports-for-deaf-blind-residents/wcm/8f048783-3363-4755-8ca1-143c10689caa;
MacPherson, A., “Moe promises expanded individual funding for children with autism,” Regina Leader-Post, October 6, 2020, https://leaderpost.com/news/politics/sask-election/moe-promises-expanded-individual-funding-for-children-with-autism/wcm/ccde05c4-3db4-4c47-aadc-baf509829458;
The Canadian Press, “Saskatchewan Party promises lower ambulance costs, increased benefits for seniors,” Regina Leader-Post, October 8, 2020, https://leaderpost.com/news/politics/sask-election/saskatchewan-party-promises-lower-ambulance-costs-increased-benefits-for-seniors/wcm/0b137eb2-0f18-4a01-8018-0d73d2c5e2ce;
The Canadian Press, “Saskatchewan Party promises to expand insulin pump program,” Regina Leader-Post, October 7, 2020, https://leaderpost.com/news/politics/sask-election/saskatchewan-party-promises-to-expand-insulin-pump-program/wcm/a5677e82-2cfa-484f-8933-ad27f27914f6.