REGINA — Political experts in Saskatchewan say the province's new premier has to figure out how to keep fiscal conservatives happy, while also winning the trust of many voters who were dismayed by last year's austerity budget.
Scott Moe, who won the Saskatchewan Party leadership on Saturday, will also have to find a balance between urban and rural voters, and figure out whether he wants to wait for the next scheduled election in 2020 to seek a mandate.
"I'm one of these people that doesn't think they'll wait until 2020, frankly. I would expect an election sometime in 2019," said Tom McIntosh, professor of politics and international studies at the University of Regina.
"It's just an awfully long time to go without a mandate. Possibly two years without an actual mandate of your own — that can cause a few problems."
Moe takes over from Brad Wall, who announced in August that he was stepping down as the party's leader and retiring from politics after almost a decade as premier.
Wall has enjoyed popularity among conservatives across Canada, but took a heavy hit at home last year when his government, facing a revenue problem due to slumping energy prices, wielded the shears on many government programs. Reaction was so negative that some of the cuts had to be scaled back.
Joe Garcea, a professor of political studies at the University of Saskatchewan, said Moe will have to honour his promise to hire 400 positions in the education sector. But other steps, Garcea said, will need to be less costly.
A new budget is due soon, and it will be a test for Moe.
"He's going to have to show he's both fiscally prudent, but fiscal prudence with a heart," said Garcea. "He doesn't want to be accused of taking the province further into debt or moving further away from a balanced budget."
Moe, who enjoyed the support of many caucus members, will also have to heal his party after the leadership race.
McIntosh said the centrist wing of the party is "a little back on its heels" after its two candidates, Tina Beaudry-Mellor and Gord Wyant, were knocked out of the contest in early rounds of the preferential vote.
Ken Cheveldayoff, meanwhile, who took a pro-life stand during the campaign and called for the provincial budget to be balanced in two years, hung on but wasn't a popular second choice for party members.
McIntosh said Moe has a strong rural base, and while he's seen as a compromise between left and right within the party, he may have some convincing to do with voters.
"Brad Wall's success was in moving the party to the centre and attracting away from the NDP those sort of urban-centrist voters in Saskatoon and Regina," McIntosh said.
The Saskatchewan NDP also faces its own leadership vote on March 3.
Garcea noted how forcefully Moe's victory speech echoed Wall's opposition to a federally imposed carbon tax, and how that could help him bridge various factions.
"As we know, nothing unites a province in support for a particular regime than arguing that they're fighting for their provincial interest and they're going to go and beat up on the feds," he said.
—by Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton