Politics: The Art of the Possible

Politics: The Art of the Possible

Lean to the left, lean to the right

Political tendencies in our provincial politics

The history of Saskatchewan politics has been like a tri-colour rainbow – with conservative, socialist and centrist hues.

But lesser-known parties in provincial politics have included Farmer-Labour, Liberal-Labour, Unity, Provincial Rights Party, Conservative Liberal. Conservative, Social Credit, Independent Liberal, and Independent Pro-government, each with their own political leanings.

From 1905 until 1944 the Liberals ran the show, except for Conservative premier James T.M Anderson’s administration, 1929-34. During this period a predominant contingent of immigrants from outside this province consisted of Liberal Farmers from Ontario.

From 1944 when Tommy Douglas took over, the CCF/NDP were at the helm until 1961. The socialist “tendency” came from a new wave of urban, working class immigrants from Britain tending toward socialism.

Liberal Ross Thatcher was premier 1964 to 1982. After that the Liberal party was never given the reins again.

After 1980, NDP support tended to come from our cities.

Since 1982, power has swung back and forth between socialists and conservatives, if you consider the Saskatchewan Party conservative. In 2007 four Tories and four Liberals joined to form the Saskatchewan Party, supposedly to present a united front against the NDP.

From 1999 to 2003, the Romanow and Calvert governments benefitted from a coalition with the Liberals.

[“The Patterns of Prairie Politics” by Nelson Wiseman, in The Prairie West: Historical Readings; Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan]

A mouse that roared?

Our voice in parliament

Usually there are fourteen MPS representing Saskatchewan in Parliament.

The number of Saskatchewan MPs in Parliament is minuscule because of our relatively tiny population, but our collective voice often thundered, thanks to many Saskatchewan cabinet ministers and a couple of prime ministers.

Federal cabinet ministers have included Otto Lang, James G. Gardiner, Lloyd Axworthy, Ray Hnatyshyn, Ralph Goodale, and James Moore, to name a few.

John Diefenbaker and Mackenzie King, both prime ministers, have represented Saskatchewan ridings.

Federally, the conservatives swept the province in the 2019 election, as in Alberta. Some say that sweep reflected western economic uncertainties.

[pm.gc.ca/en/cabinet; Norman Ward, Saskatchewan entry in Hurtig’s Canadian Encyclopedia.] 

Follow the leader

Some well-known male politicians in Parliament

Lloyd Axworthy: First elected to Parliament in 1979, he served in the cabinets of three Liberal prime ministers. Born in North Battleford, he earned a PhD and was president of the University of Winnipeg for ten years. Honours he received are legion.  

Major James William Coldwell (“M.J.”) was a founder of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (later the NDP).  In 1932, he was chosen to lead the new Saskatchewan Farmer-Labour Party (later part of the CCF). Later he was MP for Rosetown-Biggar.

Potrait of T.C. douglas
Thomas Clement Douglas, once voted our top Canadian, is considered to be one of the two Fathers of Medicare. Photo from Local History Room, Saskatoon Public Library

Thomas Clement (Tommy) Douglas of Weyburn was one of the primary movers and shakers behind socialized medicine, and he introduced many other social programs emulated in other provinces. In 2004 he was voted the “Greatest Canadian.”

illustration of John Diefenbaker
Illustration by Ruth Millar

John George Diefenbaker of Prince Albert and Saskatoon, Progressive Conservative Prime Minister of Canada, U of S alumnus and later chancellor of the university, was the only prime minister of Canada who was really from this province.

James G. Gardiner was not only our premier in the 1920s and 1930s, but served as federal minister of agriculture 1935-7 and minister of national war services 1940-41. The Gardiner Dam was named after him.

Ralph Goodale was long a prominent spokesperson for Saskatchewan. In Ottawa he served as Minister of Public Safety, Minister of Finance, and he led the Saskatchewan Liberal Party 1981 to 1988. His defeat in the 2019 electoral sweep of Saskatchewan and Alberta was mourned by many across the political spectrum.

Ray Hantyshyn
Ray Hnatyshyn. Photo from University of Saskatchewan Archives & Special Collections

Ramon Hnatyshyn of Saskatoon was Canada’s first Ukrainian governor general, serving 1989 to 1995. A lawyer, he was elected to Parliament in 1974, became a cabinet minister and also served as Chancellor of Carleton University.

Otto Lang, Rhodes scholar and former dean of law at the U of S, became a prominent cabinet minister in Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal government, holding a raft of key positions including Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.

Charles Mayer, U of S alumnus, served as a Member of Parliament for fifteen years and for nine years served as a cabinet minister in various ministries.  He is best known for his service to the agricultural industry.

James A. Moore, a U of S grad (masters in political studies), was Minister of Industry in the Harper government, representing a B.C. riding.

Andrew Scheer, currently leader of the Conservative Party and the Official Opposition in Ottawa, was the youngest Speaker to be appointed in Parliament. Born in Ottawa, he finished his BA at the University of Regina, and was first elected MP for that riding in 2004.

Women leaders too

Some female politicians on the national scene

Although nowadays many women grace the House of Commons and the Senate, the path to national status was blazed by women such as these:

Raynell Andreychuk, born in Saskatoon and U of S grad, has been a lawyer and a judge, and in 1993 became the first Saskatchewan woman to be appointed a senator. She also served as high commissioner to Kenya and Uganda, and ambassador to Somalia and Portugal.

Carol Skelton of Biggar joined the federal cabinet on February 6, 2006, thus becoming the first female federal cabinet minister from Saskatchewan.

Lillian Dyck, born in North Battleford, was the first female senator of First Nations descent and first Canadian-born Chinese senator. Holding a PhD in biological psychiatry, she is on the U of S faculty, and is a renowned advocate for equal rights for women

Marion Adams Macpherson, born in Moose Jaw and a U of S alumna, served four decades in the Canadian foreign service, first in Washington D.C., then Ghana, New York City, and Sri Lanka. She was Canadian ambassador to Denmark and High Commissioner to Zambia.

Pana Merchant of Prince Albert, U of S and U of R grad, was a teacher and businesswoman. who became a senator in 2002 and retired in 2017. 

The first female MP from Saskatchewan was Dorise Nielsen of the Unity Party (communist) and labour-progressive, who represented North Battleford from 1940 to 1945.

Jeanne Sauvé was one of Saskatchewan’s most illustrious citizens. She was born in Prud’homme, educated in Ottawa and Paris, worked as a journalist for the CBC, and was elected to the House of Commons in 1972. She served as a cabinet minister, Speaker of the House and finally as Canada’s first female Governor General, 1980 to 1984.

Another early female MP was Gladys Strum, a farm woman from Windthorst. A U of S grad, she represented Qu’Appelle from 1945–1949, and was the first female president of the CCF — and the first woman to head a Canadian political party. 

Pamela Wallin (OC, SOM) of Wadena has been a social worker, diplomat, entrepreneur, author, print and radio journalist, TV anchor, and a senator. She was instrumental in setting up the U of S Women’s Centre.

[Canadian Encyclopedia; famouscanadianwomen.com, Who’s Who in Canada, personal websites]

Ladies first

Female trailblazers in provincial politics

There have been at least twenty-three female cabinet ministers in Saskatchewan, but we have never had a female premier. Still, an Alberta premier studied here.

First Ukrainian woman elected to a provincial legislature was Mary Batten, née Fodchuk, educated at Calder, Ituna, Regina and at the U of S. She was a lawyer and judge, and articled with John Diefenbaker

Joan Duncan and Patricia Anne Smith became the first female cabinet members in Saskatchewan, in 1982.

Sylvia Fedoruk, mentioned elsewhere, became Saskatchewan’s first female lieutenant-governor in 1988. she was also a curling star, and a science giant.

In 1989 MLA Lynda Haverstock was the first woman to lead a political party in our province, as head of the Liberals. Later she became our lieutenant governor.

Rita Margaret Johnston was born in Melville. In British Columbia she became a city councillor, an MLA, a cabinet minister, deputy premier, and briefly Canada’s first woman premier, leading the Social Credit Party after the BC premier resigned in 1991.

Pearl McGonigal was born in Melville. She became a Winnipeg city councilor, deputy mayor, and then in 1981 the first female lieutenant governor of Manitoba. She was inducted into the Order of Canada in 1984 and the Order of Manitoba in 2000.

Florence McOrmond, community organizer, relief worker and women’s advocate in the then town of Sutherland (now a suburb of Saskatoon) was Saskatchewan’s first female mayor.

Sarah Ramsland, our first female MLA, took over her husband’s constituency in Pelly after he died of the deadly Spanish influenza, and then won the seat in her own right.

Alison Redford, fourteenth premier of Alberta, graduated from the College of Law at the U of S. She was awarded the Jubilee Medal.

Votes for women!

Movers and shakers

Women got the vote in municipal and provincial elections in 1916. In 1917 limited female franchise was enacted federally, and expanded in 1918 to include most women. Asians were excluded until after World War II. Not until 1960 could Indigenous people on reserves vote.

Nicholas Flood Davin, Regina publisher, journalist and MP, was an unlikely feminist, but in 1895 he rose in Parliament to propose the franchise for women. On 8 May 1895, he was quoted: “… the privilege of voting for candidates for membership should be extended to women possessing the qualifications which now entitle men to the electoral franchise.”

Journalist Violet McNaughton of Harris, founder and president of the Women Grain Growers Association (WGGA), also founded the provincial Equal Franchise Board in 1915.  It united the WGGA, the WCTU and the regional Political Equality Leagues in a campaign for federal female suffrage after the war.

Journalist Frances Marion Beynon (with her sister Lillian Beynon Thomas) campaigned in print for readers to write to Premier Scott calling for women’s suffrage.

Alice Lawton of Yorkton, first president of the EFB, led a delegation to meet with Premier Scott in 1916 to present a petition of 10,000 signatures clamoring for the provincial franchise for women. A month later they won the provincial vote.

Zoe Haight of Keeler worked with Violet McNaughton on the WGGA executive.

Isabel Cleveland of Saskatoon wowed the audience at a Liberal convention in Moose Jaw in 1917 with her stirring speech advocating the franchise for women in federal elections. 

Erma Stocking of Perdue was active in the WGGA and wrote newspaper columns on women’s issues, including suffrage, in the grain growers’ newspaper.  She was also a strong advocate for rural libraries.

Annie Hollis from Shaunavon, promoted the WGGA’s ideals, which included votes for women.

[Davin: House of Commons Debates, 1895, vol. 1, c. 701; others: women’s suffrage exhibit, Western Development Museum, Saskatoon, fall 2018; Saskatchewan History fall 1994, 6]


What premiers did before they became premiers

Scott Moe, Shellbrook, 2018: Sask Party; public administrator, economic development, physician

Brad Wall, Swift Current: 2007-2018; Sask Party; public administrator, economic development

Lorne Calvert, Moose Jaw: 2001-2007; NDP: United Church minister

Roy Romanow as young man.
Roy Romanow as a young man, Photo QC-1678-1-B, ca. 1960 by CFQC staff, from Local History Room,
Saskatoon Public Library.

Roy Romanow, Saskatoon: 1991-2001: NDP: radio announcer, lawyer, partner in private firm, law professor. He was president of the U of S Student Union in the 1960s.

Grant Devine, Saskatoon: 1982-1991; PC: agriculture professor, U of S.

Allan Blakeney, Regina: 1971-1982; NDP: civil servant, Saskatchewan government, law professor, U of S.

Ross Thatcher, Moose Jaw: 1964-1971: Liberal: hardware store businessman.

Woodrow Lloyd, Biggar: 1961-1964; NDP: school principal, Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation president.

T.C “Tommy” Douglas, Weyburn: 1944-1961; NDP: Baptist church minister

William J. Patterson, Windhorst: 1935-1944; Liberal: businessman, finance and insurance agency

J.G. “Jimmy” Gardiner, Lemberg: 1934-35, 1926-1929; Liberal: farmer, school principal

J.T.M. Anderson, Regina: 1929-1934:  Con./Prog: director of education, Regina Public Schools

Charles Dunning, Regina: 1922-1926; Liberal: business executive, Sask. Co-op elevator company

William M. Martin, Regina: 1916-1922; Liberal: politician, lawyer, federal M.P.

Walter Scott, Regina: 1905-1916: businessman, publisher of Regina Leader-Post