The Saskatchewan Election:

A 2020 Perspective 

Law and Courts in the Saskatchewan Election

By Mr. NNAEMEKA EZEANI, PhD candidate, College of Law, University of Saskatchewan
Nnaemeka Ezeani |    

Prof. DWIGHT NEWMAN, QC, Professor and Canada Research Chair Indigenous Rights in Constitutional and International Law, College of Law, University of Saskatchewan
 @dwightnewmanlaw | Dwight Newman |

Issues concerning law and courts were less evidently at the fore amid a campaign shaped more by the pandemic and economic issues. However, the law and the courts always present an important area of government policymaking, and these areas help to highlight some important differences between the contending parties in the 2020 campaign.

One area of difference evident in the platforms concerned the parties’ responses to crime. The Saskatchewan Party made some reference to issues of crime both during the campaign and the lead up to it. The platform of the Saskatchewan Party cited back to its track record of policing and the associated reduction of crime from 2008–2011 and projected into the future that they were “committed to fighting crime and giving law enforcement officers the investments and supports they need to keep [the] communities safe.”[1] Months before the election, the Saskatchewan Party-led government had earmarked $120M to expand the Saskatoon Correctional Centre.[2] By contrast, the NDP had criticized this spending on the correctional centre and had urged the channeling of that money toward addressing housing, mental health, and addictions in the hope of addressing root causes of crime.[3] During the campaign, the NDP platform furthered related emphases, promising an opioid and crystal meth strategy, starting with an investment of $2M.[4] There were thus contrasts evident between approaches focused on criminal justice and approaches focused on crime prevention.

The 2020 campaign also took place in the context of a significant legal dispute with Ottawa toward which the parties manifested differing attitudes. On September 22 and 23—just under a week before the start of the campaign—Saskatchewan’s lawyers argued at the Supreme Court of Canada in the reference case concerning the federal government’s carbon tax. Saskatchewan had been first out of the gate in challenging the constitutionality of the carbon tax on federalism grounds, sending reference questions to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal in April 2018 on the legal issues that would ultimately see five other provinces join in supporting its case by September 2020. The challenge to the carbon tax remained a key part of the Saskatchewan Party platform, which mentioned the challenge and committed to continuing it: “We will continue to stand up for Saskatchewan in its fight against the costly and ineffective federally-imposed carbon tax.”[5] The NDP platform did not mention the carbon tax issue, and previous NDP comments on it had not directly opposed the challenge but had raised issues with it, criticizing the legal costs of the litigation and arguing that Saskatchewan would not have had to pursue the challenge had it adopted carbon pricing on its own.[6] The Buffalo Party, which ended up placing ahead of the NDP in several rural ridings, made platform commitments on the issue even more dramatic than the Saskatchewan Party’s approach, with the Buffalo Party promising to pass laws to make the tax illegal in Saskatchewan.[7]

The divide on even these limited issues concerning law and courts goes some distance in explaining the political landscape of the province.

The Saskatchewan Party has effectively maintained a centre-right populism that is ready to expand law enforcement to tackle crime and that is ready to demand respect for classical federalism. At the same time, it avoids the more extreme positions of those rural populists who registered a surprisingly strong protest vote through the Buffalo Party. While the NDP’s approach to crime follows traditional party patterns of focusing on crime prevention, the reticence of the contemporary NDP about challenging Ottawa over jurisdiction in the resource context marks a change from the NDP of Allan Blakeney and Roy Romanow. The underlying shift toward urban issues and environmental concerns as priorities relative to maintaining provincial jurisdiction has likely furthered the alienation of the party from rural areas focused on resource activity, and, more generally, from the larger populist base in the province that sees economic independence of the province as a key priority. Indeed, the party’s policies in this area would appear to have helped alienate from the contemporary NDP some of its own traditional base, contributing toward the ongoing Saskatchewan Party hegemony.

Even these limited issues on law and courts thus help to mark out some important ongoing divides that were evident in the 2020 election. There are clear contrasts between the Saskatchewan Party and the NDP on approaches to crime and on attitudes to provincial jurisdiction. The second of these areas, that concerning the legal norms of federalism, marks a change in the NDP relative to its past positioning that may help to explain some of its ongoing electoral challenges. How these two parties continue their engagement with issues of law in the years ahead will have ongoing significance in Saskatchewan politics. Premier Moe’s election night address referred to hearing the message from the protest votes against Ottawa, and he spoke of ongoing assertiveness vis-à-vis Ottawa. There are interesting times ahead on ongoing disputes over federalism, and those disputes may mark out a divide that continues to favour the Saskatchewan Party’s centre-right populism.


[1] Saskatchewan Party, “Our Plan for a Strong Saskatchewan” at 27, online (pdf): Saskatchewan Party, <>

[2] CTV News, “Government announces $120 million dollar expansion to Saskatoon Correctional Centre” (17 June 2020), online: CTV News <>

[3] CTV News, “Government announces $120 million dollar expansion to Saskatoon Correctional Centre” (17 June 2020), online: CTV News <>

[4] Saskatchewan New Democratic Party, “Platform 2020” at 6, online (pdf): Saskatchewan New Democratic Party, <>

[5] Saskatchewan Party, “Our Plan for a Strong Saskatchewan” at 43, online (pdf): Saskatchewan Party, <>

[6] CBC News, “Sask. NDP criticizes mounting costs of legal fight against carbon tax” (2 August 2019), online: <>

[7] Buffalo Party of Saskatchewan, 2020 Platform: A Fair Deal for Saskatchewan, at 2, online <>.