I always thought of Saskatchewan as "next year" country. Things might always be better next year. It seems next year has arrived. I doubt that it will help Lorne Calvert get elected though it may prevent a complete rout! The NDP has been in power a long time and was almost tossed out last time. This time it seems unlikely Calvert can manage to squeak through to victory again. So far the polls do not show it happening.
Life's better in Saskatchewan - poll suggests residents most content, optimistic
REGINA - If you had to pick a place in the West where people are content with the lives they have now and the most optimistic about the future, where would it be?
Surely Alberta would be top of mind - the unabashed champion of western pride, where the money flows as freely as the oil and the taxes are low. Or maybe British Columbia and all of its wild splendour, where vast stretches of untouched coastline give way to mountains that scrape the sky.
It seems Saskatchewanians are the westerners most comfortable in their own skin. That's right, flat and boxy Saskatchewan - the drivethru prairie hinterland with the catchphrase "Easy to draw, hard to spell."
A Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey of 1,400 western Canadians found that Saskatchewan respondents saw themselves as more compassionate, friendlier and demonstrably funnier than other Canadians. They saw their health and well-being getting better along with their economic future.
The poll, an online survey taken Sept. 10-12, is considered accurate to within 2.6 percentage points 95 per cent of the time. When just the Saskatchewan respondents are counted, the margin of error is 5.2 percentage points, 95 per cent of the time.
The results seem to fly in the face of the perception that Saskatchewan is a place people love to leave.
Just how well Saskatchewan is doing is also shaping up to be a major theme in the just-launched campaign for the Nov. 7 provincial election. Premier Lorne Calvert, whose NDP has governed the province for 16 years, is warning voters not to risk all that good stuff just for the sake of change. Challenger Brad Wall of the Saskatchewan Party claims the tired old NDP is holding the province back from its full potential.
More than 75 per cent of the 350 Saskatchewan residents surveyed saw western Canadians as friendlier than other Canadians. That compares with 65 per cent of Albertans, 64 per cent of Manitobans and 62 per cent of those from British Columbia.
More than half of all Saskatchewan respondents saw westerners as being funnier than other Canadians, compared with less than 40 per cent of all 1,400 westerners surveyed.
Saskatchewan people definitely have a sense of humour, says Brent Butt, a standup comic born and raised in the province. Butt's television series Corner Gas, based on his experiences as a gas jockey in Tisdale, is in its fifth season on CTV.
But as for being the funniest people in Canada, Butt disagrees.
"I would rank Saskatchewan high. If we are looking for the top, though, there is no doubt Newfoundlanders are the funniest," Butt says.
"Newfoundland is the one place where, as a Canadian, I feel stupid doing shows, because you are at best redundant. Everybody in the crowd is 10 times funnier than I will ever be in my life."
Saskatchewan's sense of humour could be rooted in the survey's finding that nearly eight out of every 10 Saskatchewan respondents found themselves misunderstood by the rest of the country. That compares with only six out of every 10 in the survey as a whole.
Saskatchewan people don't mind when the jabs come from fellow residents, but when they come from outsiders it's a different story, Butt says.
"We can make fun of it, you can't," he says. "When it's self-generated, it's self-deprecating, (but) when somebody else starts to say something disparaging about Saskatchewan, it becomes very cutting."
When it comes to compassion and caring for others, Saskatchewan respondents ranked highly again - perhaps not surprising in the province that originated the idea of publicly funded health care.
Six out of every 10 Saskatchewan respondents believed western Canadians are more compassionate than other Canadians, compared with five out of every 10 in Manitoba and four out of every 10 in Alberta.
More than 80 per cent of Saskatchewan respondents said Western Canada was a place where people care for one another rather than look out for themselves. Less than 65 per cent felt that way across the entire region.
That comes from the farmers who first broke the land on the Prairies, says Shirley Douglas, the daughter of former Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas - credited as the father of medicare in Canada.
"If you are trying to farm land and work a new country, without working together you wouldn't achieve it," says Douglas, who now lives in Toronto. "Things were tough, and without people looking after each other, they would not have survived."
On Thursday, his first full day on the election trail, Calvert said the pollsters got it right this time.
"Mind you, not all polls are, but that one is," he joked.
"It says a great deal about who we are as a people and that is very telling. We are a compassionate people, we do care about our neighbour. You see that in the level of volunteerism across our province ... you see it in the strength of our communities and our neighbourhoods and how people come together."
Wall, the Saskatchewan Party leader, said he knows people in the province are feeling good right now, but that doesn't mean they won't want to change their government.
"That's the sense that we have as well, and it's welcome," Wall said.
"What we also know from research is that people are a little worried. They want to make sure this boom will last."
Other numbers seem to back up the survey results.
According to Statistics Canada's Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating, last done in 2004, Saskatchewan led the country with a volunteer rate of 54 per cent. The next highest provinces were Manitoba and Ontario at 50 per cent.
"Sometimes I like to think I'd like to go back to work to have a rest," jokes Shirley Andrist, a retired teacher-librarian from Estevan. Last year she won a Saskatchewan volunteer medal for having no fewer than 12 different volunteer initiatives to her name.
"I know when I got that medal my son said, 'Now that you've got that medal, you can retire."'
When it comes to the economic future in Western Canada, 93 per of Saskatchewan residents surveyed said it was likely to keep on getting better and better, compared with 87 per cent who responded that way in B.C., 86 per cent in Manitoba and 85 per cent in Alberta.
Saskatchewan also led the other western provinces when it came to the number of people who felt their long-term financial security is better now than it was two years ago.
Local businesses are feeling that optimism.
A recent survey released by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business found that 63 per cent of Saskatchewan small businesses expect their operations to be stronger in the next year compared with only 51 per cent nationally. Three years ago, Saskatchewan was at the bottom of the pack.
Marilyn Braun-Pollon, a director with the federation in Saskatchewan, attributes the rise to high prices for commodities such as oil, natural gas and grain, as well as deep business tax cuts the government has made.
"It's pretty evident that we've made progress improving our business climate in Saskatchewan and that is paying off," Braun-Pollon says. "That's good news for Saskatchewan."
The Harris-Decima poll also suggest that the booming western economy has caused less stress for Saskatchewan residents than for people elsewhere in the West.
Asked whether all the newcomers flocking to the West in search of jobs have tempted them to leave for another part of the country, only 10 per cent of Saskatchewan residents agreed. That compares with 17 per cent in British Columbia and 24 per cent next door in Alberta.