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Devine's Victory Makes History

Saskatoon Star Phoenix
April 27, 1982. p.A9

By Larry Johnsrude of the StarPhoenix

ESTEVAN -- Premier elect Grant Devine is set to take the reins of Saskatchewan's first Progressive Conservative government in 48 years following the greatest election upset in the province's history Monday.

Reducing an over-confident NDP government from 44 seats to seven, the Tory leader, who had twice been unable to win a riding of his own, swept the PCs to victory, winning 57 of 64 seats with about 54 percent of the popular vote. He handily won his own seat despite his having no prior connection to the Estavan riding.

As the polls showed the 11-year-old. NDP government of Allan Blakeney collapse around him in every direction, Devine admitted he hadn't counted on such a landslide.

"This is fantastic" he told a crowd of about 300 frenzied supporters at the Derrick Hotel. We're going to be number one."

"I expected somewhere in between 35 and 40 seats," he told reporters. "But this is incredible."

The 37-year-old former University of Saskatchewan agriculture economist attributed the NDP's devastation to a general mood of anti-government and the feeling the NDP administration seeking its fourth term had lost touch with the people. This was the second April election since 1905, the first being in 1964 when a 20-year CCF reign ended with a Liberal win.

"The working men and women have elected themselves a new government," he said.

He gave the NDP credit for being able to rebuild out of the ashes of defeat and said he looked forward to dealing with them in opposition.

He said he also looks forward to making good on Tory promises which include eliminating the 20 per cent gas tax and providing mortgages at 13.25 per cent.

As urban ridings considered NDP strongholds fell to the PCs Monday night, he said his promise of aid for homeowners as well obviously appealed to urban dwellers like the gas tax proposal appealed to farmers.

Devine, who has no prior experience in the legislature and whose party members include only 15 incumbents, put stock in suggestions the lack of experience of the NDP has done.

Throughout the campaign, he has compared the wealth of Alberta to what he saw as economic standstill in Saskatchewan, promising an administration that would fight Ottawa over resources and see that benefits are passed on to Saskatchewan residents. He said his promises brought hope to the "competitive edge" in people which has been lying dormant under the reign of the NDP.

He said federal PC Leader Joe Clark called to offer congratulations and they both will fight the Ottawa Liberals together.

Taking the helm of a party built in the last seven years and then tainted by the antics of former leader Dick Collver, Devine went into the election appearing as a political lightweight, often the subject of criticism from his own caucus and seen to be without political prowess because he did not have a seat in the legislature. He ran unsuccessfully in 1978 general election in Saskatoon Nutana and after being elected party leader he suffered a demoralizing defeat in the Tory stronghold of Estavan in a 1980 byelection. Ironically, it was the NDP's Jack Chapman, whom he soundly defeated Monday by almost a two-to-one margin, who defeated Devine in the byelection.

Since the 1978 election, the party rebuilt its machinery and was ready for the dropping of the election writ, putting together a slick campaign which centred on drawing crowds and looking like winners in the hopes a bandwagon effect would be created.  The tactic obviously worked, giving Devine and the PCs the first victory at the polls in PC history. The Conservatives held power from 1929 to 1934 but only after forming a coalition with the Progressives.