Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Saskatchewn election

It’s election time in Saskatchewan, and election work here often falls to seniors, retired people who don’t have to punch a clock. In the 2003 election, I took on the enumeration of the electors in the Rosthern Rural Poll, #4, and so I was asked to do that again. I didn’t hesitate. I enjoyed driving through the country and meeting my rural neighbours then, and I enjoyed it last week.

Dogs and muddy roads are the worst hazards. Country folk need dogs for security, to announce the arrival of strangers like me, or escapees from the Prince Albert Penitentiary, or coyotes come to bother the chickens. Only once did I stay in the car for fear of dogs; mostly they were big, fluffy brutes that wagged their tails and beckoned me to alight and scratch behind their ears. A few times I feared that I’d be licked to death, but mostly they lay on the front porches and observed me with mild interest.

The countryside around Rosthern has changed. I’m sure well over half of the occupied homes are now acreages, with dilapidated outbuildings in many cases and tenants who are either retired farm couples renting their land to someone else or people employed in town who have acquired a place in the country because they love the rural scene. I visited only a handful of farms where domestic animals were still kept. In fact, I found few people home during the day because they were at places of employment in Rosthern, Prince Albert or Saskatoon.

The family farm is apparently on its last legs. I recently visited friends in Blaine Lake who live on a pleasant farmstead where she paints and he does what retired teachers do. They told me that the entire township in which they live is now owned by three corporate farms, and as we drove home, we passed a field where four identical combines were parked in a field, waiting for the weather to clear. The future of rural Saskatchewan is being inexorably reshaped; there will be no going back.

Elections have changed as well. It seems nearly all the campaigning is done with posters and flyers, and messages from the leaders on radio and television. One candidate’s campaign manager phoned me with three requests: would I vote for his candidate, would I consider going door to door for him and would I be prepared to post a campaign sign on my lawn. I said no to the latter two requests, partly because I’m not sure support for this candidate is unanimous in my house.

We’re probably going to see a change from the NDP to the Saskatchewan Party this time around. As in much of the west, there’s a decided split between the two major parties around the rural/urban axis, and it looks like there’s too much tiredness in the NDP to inspire their traditional support. The Liberals, I’m afraid, are going to run in the shadows again.

Democracy. One person, one vote. First past the post takes all. I met an elderly lady in the street the other day and we chatted very briefly. She said—with a great deal of conviction, I might add—that it didn’t matter whom we elected; once in office they would be as corrupt as the last guys, and if an honest one should slip through, he’d be driven off the hill in no time! There’s a lot of that kind of cynicism around. It’s obviously not completely earned, but the sentiment is probably strong enough to discourage young people from participating in the process, and like our countryside, our political landscape may be doomed to fall into corporate management hands, characterized by abandoned ideals. A relic. Rickety outbuildings of a barely-remembered past.

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