Candidates for Saskatchewan’s largest riding are preparing their final pitches to voters in advance of the Sept. 20 election.
One political scientist said the Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River riding isn’t as simple as voting along party lines, but moreso who the candidate is and their connections to the community.
“We’re talking about a part of the province where party label is a lot less important than the local profile of the candidate,” the University of Regina’s Tom McIntosh said.
Saskatchewan’s northernmost riding has seen each of the three major parties win the seat over the last two decades and this year, all of them are expected to have a shot at it again.
The former mayor of Ile-a-la-Crosse said 99 per cent of the travelling he has done has been by car.
“I think there is one instance where I used a boat to go to one place, but that was just a very short little trip,” Belanger told Global News.
The Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River riding is one the country’s largest at an estimated size of 342,903 sq. km. — around 15,000 sq. km. smaller than Germany.
About two-thirds of voters are of Indigenous background and the riding has a number of fly-in communities making it more difficult and costly for candidates to campaign there.
On top of that, many northern communities have seen large COVID-19 exposures over the last several months, and have shut off access to visitors.
Conservative candidate Gary Vidal won the 2019 race, beating out then NDP incumbent Georgina Jolibois and Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson.
The former Meadow Lake mayor noted every party thinks they can win the seat which they’ve shown by putting high-profile candidates in the race.
“So is that a surprise? No, not at all. Does it create a fierce competition? Yeah, absolutely,” he said.
Vidal, who won the previous election by nearly 3800 votes, added that he’s ready to take on any challengers.
Political scientists and pollsters have listed Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River as a three-way race with the New Democrat’s Harmonie King as one of the front-runners.
King is a social worker who works in many of the northern communities.
She ran in last year’s provincial election and in this year’s Metis Nation-Saskatchewan election, losing both times.
When asked about her previous campaigns and why a voter should cast a ballot for her instead of Vidal or Belanger, King excused herself from the Zoom interview for four-and-a-half minutes.
When she re-entered the call, she said how the previous campaigns have taught her a lot and helped shape this campaign and how she connects with voters.
King added she feels relationships made through her job gives her an upper hand, and her team has tried to find ways to reach communities they couldn’t travel to during the campaign.
“Whether it’s online, through the phone or connecting through the radio,” she said.
There are three other candidates in the race: Nasser Chalifoux with the Green Party, Dezirae Reddekopp with the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) and Stephen King who is running as an independent.
In a statement, Chalifoux said even with the size of the riding, news can travel faster than he can as a candidate and he believes he has been able to get his message out to voters.
The PPC candidate’s team declined Global News’ offer to comment while the independent candidate didn’t respond to our request before publication.