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Mandryk: Pandemic may be taking Moe's popularity to a crossroads

Leader Post logo Leader Post 2021-09-25 Murray Mandryk
The much parodied subjects of The Resistance cover of MacLean's have all taken hits to popularity since the magazine came out, writes Murray Mandryk. © Provided by Leader Post The much parodied subjects of The Resistance cover of MacLean's have all taken hits to popularity since the magazine came out, writes Murray Mandryk.
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As COVID-19 problems are crashing down around him, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe keeps confounding his critics by remaining popular in the province.

This bucks the trend of other conservative leaders’ popularity cratering and has made it that much more puzzling.

Remember that now infamous (and much-parodied) December 2018 cover of MacLean’s magazine labeled The Resistance — the blue-suited pack of conservative leaders that included Moe, then-federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, then-Manitoba premier Brian Pallister, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Ontario Premier Doug Ford?

Well, two of the fab five opposing Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax are gone and even the future of Scheer’s successor, Erin O’Toole, is now pocked with question marks after Monday’s federal election results. Some doubt Ford will survive the next Ontario election. And Kenney may not make it to the next Alberta election, if the upcoming United Conservative Party leadership review doesn’t go his way.

That Kenney is on the ropes and Moe isn’t is baffling when you consider both premiers followed the same ill-advised reopening strategy prior to getting hammered by the fourth wave. Now, both are facing a near collapse of their respective province’s emergency and surgical services within their health systems.

Yet while Kenney appears to be fighting for his political life, Moe is still seemingly enjoying the unconditional love of his Sask. Party caucus that carried him to the party leadership in 2018 and — more significantly — the support of Saskatchewan’s people.

The momentum following Moe’s election win a year ago has remained with him up until now. Angus Reid’s quarterly polling on premiers’ popularity from June shows Moe near the top and a similar poll by Maru Public Opinion from this month shows Moe with a 63-per-cent approval rating — best in then nation.

However, one has to wonder whether seismic tremors of the past month surrounding COVID-19’s fourth wave may finally begin to shake Moe off that perch.

A recent study shows nearly half of Saskatchewan is dissatisfied with the provincial government’s handling of the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Sept. 3-20 poll conducted by the Canadian Hub for Applied Research at the University of Saskatchewan shows about half of 402 Saskatchewan respondents are dissatisfied with Moe’s handling of the pandemic. It was hardly the overwhelming indictment that some might have expected. And given that dissatisfaction might come from anti-maskers/vaxxers too, it falls short of damning.

But 6.1 per cent saying they are “very satisfied” and 26.2 per cent answering “somewhat satisfied”, isn’t an overwhelming endorsement, either.

To this point, we’ve yet to see signs of this COVID-19 anger and hostility in Saskatchewan coalescing around a political alternative. The NDP and Ryan Meili remain unpopular.

However, given the toll COVID-19 has taken on Pallister, Ford and especially Kenney, the political question is: Can Moe retain his own popularity?

His problem right now is that the worst of fourth wave in Saskatchewan is yet to come.

Since July 31 (halfway through the open summer Kenney and Moe promised us), Saskatchewan has experienced 13,855 new COVID-19 cases (of 63,875 total) and 80 more deaths (658 total). Active cases have vaulted to 4,715 (from 479 on July 31) and hospitalizations to 273 (from 46).

As we watch  cancelled surgeries and see ICU beds filling, we are hearing more horror stories that have a tendency to resonate for a long time.

And while polls don’t show it yet, fewer are buying into Moe’s recent strange statements implying Justin Trudeau is mostly to blame for the rise in Saskatchewan First Nations COVID-19 cases or the Saskatchewan premier’s assertion that doctors need to step up.

Right now, those who voted for Moe are starting to grumble. Few conservatives are publicly defending him and some are privately wondering where Moe is getting his strategic advice.

For now, Moe has avoided the hammering his colleagues have taken. The question is: Will that continue to be the case?

Mandryk is the political columnist for the Regina Leader-Post and Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

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