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Saskatchewan -- Not so Socialist Anymore

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What comes to mind when people think of Saskatchewan? Socialism, of course. Other things too, but certainly socialism. You don't think so? Aside from Tiger Williams, who is our most famous historical figure? Tommy Douglas. The leader of the first and, for a long and dangerous time, the only socialist government in North America.

In 2004, a nationwide poll / popularity contest declared Tommy to be The Greatest Canadian. He beat out notable figures like Don Cherry [7th], Stompin' Tom [13th], Mr. Dressup [36th] and just really kicked the shit out of Preston Manning, the Patriarch of the Party that now governs Canada. Mr. Manning came in 91st, by the way, four places behind Dr. Henry Morgantaler.

So, Tommy Saskatchewan was not just a socialist. He was, and remains, a beloved socialist. Name another one of those.

Since Tommy left provincial politics, Saskatchewanians have wandered back and forth on the political spectrum. Our current government, the aptly-named "Saskatchewan Party," was conceived immaculately by the a union of the disgruntled and the disgraced from the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives (remember them?). Our Premier, Brad Wall, is himself much beloved, possessed as his is by a winning combination of smart, nice and lucky. He will likely be our Premier forever. He is not a socialist, but neither is he an ideologue. Our right wingers, like our socialists, have to be pragmatic. The moment you betray a "great big idea" streak here, people stop taking you seriously. The free market doesn't make it rain, any more than social cohesion put oil and potash under the ground.

But let's go to Ottawa. Saskatchewan has 14 seats in the House of Commons. There's not a single socialist bum in those 14 seats. Thirteen are occupied by Harper's Reform-a-Tories. The last is held by, of all things, a Liberal. (We just call him Ralph.) Yes, the home of Canada's great socialist experiment is now true blue Tory, top to bottom, side to side. (Except for Ralph.) Most of those Harperistas won their seats easily in 2011, many by landslides. There is nothing new about the NDP losing -- they've been shut out here since 2004. What is new is that the NDPistes are more popular than they have been in quite a while. Though they won no seats, they pulled in almost 33 per cent of the popular vote. Shut out with a third of the vote? Are you kidding? That's not losing -- that is loo-oo-oo-zing. That is like leaving the bases loaded, every inning, all season.

We're not your lovable socialists anymore. Saskatchewan appears united and unanimous behind a phalanx of Reform/Alliance/NewTories (and Ralph). We are richly rewarded for our loyalty to the Powder Blue Sweatered One, who has put two of our folks into his Cabinet. Gerry Ritz is the Minister of Agriculture. He's famous for so graciously killing the Canadian Wheat Board and for so comically presiding over a couple of tainted food scandals. He is a media darling, apparently having attended the same charm school as Vic Toews. Lynne Yelich is Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification. Who really knows what a Minister of State does?

But wait? What's this? We appear to have allowed our rightward momentum to sweep us beyond mere Harperism and out to to the fringe.

A few weeks ago, there was a parliamentary vote on Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth's Motion 312, which would have appointed a special committee to consider the vexing question of when, exactly, one becomes a "human being." Woodworth is alarmed that the definition in the Criminal Code gives legal protection against murder and assault and other violent offences only to those who have emerged completely from their mother's bodies. The Special Committee would consider whether modern medical science, with all its electronic gadgets and probes and monitors and smart people in lab coats, might provide evidence that one becomes a "human being" sometime sooner than that. Like at conception, just for example.

This seems very much like an attempt to reopen the abortion debate. As we all know, however, the Prime Minister has assured us repeatedly that his government would not entertain such a debate. He expressed his disapproval of Woodworth's efforts and said that he would not vote in favour of the Motion. And he didn't.

The motion was defeated -- 203 to 91 -- but 10 of the 12 SaskaTories who voted on the Motion supported it, including our star Cabinet member, Ritz. Weren't these people listening to the Prime Minister?

Some, like Saskatoon Wanuskewin MP Maurice Vellacott, are always looking to take a bullet for the unborn. It is his robust support for those not yet residing outside their mothers' bodies that wins him his seat every election. He, and other avid members of the fetus brigade, aren't worried about the disapproval of a mere mortal like the Prime Minister. They have holier fish to fry.

A couple of our MPs assured us that this Motion was actually not about abortion at all, really. Perhaps they hadn't had the Motion explained to them. Let's take this slowly: talking about whether it should be a crime to hurt or kill a fetus -- really, listen carefully -- that's sort of engaging in a debate about abortion. Yes, it is true that the word "abortion" isn't in the Motion. Nor are the words "debate" or "reopen," so maybe their error was understandable.

There was an article about this a few days ago in the Regina Leader Post [the same newspaper everybody else gets, but with more Rider coverage]. The reporter interviewed Joseph Garcea - the head of University of Sasktchewan's Political Studies Department - who suggested that this break from discipline on Motion 312 is just one of several examples of Tory MPs resisting "the incredible level of control" exerted by the PM's office -- which has them all feeling like "trained seals."

Yes, it looks like we have rogue seals in our province, following the dictates of their consciences and courting the favour of their constituents (or, at least, two thirds of us). Our MPs aren't satisfied with the near-rational limits of the government's agenda. Damn it, they have promised to deliver a new, simpler, world -- one where most of what government does can be described as "cracking down" or "getting tough" or "well, that's just common sense." They are on a mission to de-tax and deregulate and secure "freedom" for all us. Think Tea Party, but with Pilsner. Our MPs are deeply committed and are not going to let the Prime Minister's timidity hold them back.

However, Professor Garcea also suggested that these MPs may not be simply manifesting their independence. These increasingly frequent eruptions of social conservative wing-nutism may actually be quietly tolerated by the PM, either as a means of placating the hard-line Party base, or floating "trial balloons" to gauge public reaction to an agenda that Harper himself believes in and would like to pursue -- someday.

Just maybe our parliamentary guys and gals aren't rogues at all. They're trend-setters. Not on the fringe. On the cutting edge.

Whatever. Tommy Douglas's red Saskatchewan has faded past pink, through blue and has plunged headlong into purple. Hopefully, we are still beloved.