It's in the books. With almost all votes counted, the Canadian Press and The Reminder have projected NDP incumbent Doyle Vermette will win his fourth consecutive election in the Cumberland riding.
With 53 of 54 polls reporting as of 11:40 p.m Manitoba time Oct. 26, Vermette received 2,460 votes - more than twice that of Saskatchewan Party challenger Darren Deschambeault, who received 1,173 votes at the same juncture. Green Party candidate Aaron Oochoo had received 111 votes with one poll remaining.
Vermette, as of Monday night, had walked away with just under two-thirds of the overall vote. The win is comparable to his victories in 2011 and 2016, where Vermette ended up with over 60 per cent of the total vote in Cumberland.
"I want to thank the good people of the Cumberland constituency for having trusted me and for supporting me and voting for me, giving me the opportunity to go back to Regina to represent them," Vermette said to The Reminder from his campaign base in La Ronge.
Originally from Prince Albert but now a resident of Spruce Home near La Ronge, Vermette first became the MLA for Cumberland in a 2008 byelection. He has now won that seat back three times. Before the election, Vermette served a number of positions in the party's shadow cabinet, including as party whip, critic for northern Saskatchewan and associate critic for First Nations and Metis Relations.
Vermette said his priorities for his fourth term in office include advocating for northern leaders and residents, bringing forward a suicide prevention strategy, to ensure northern communities are consulted on land use, health care and quality of life and others.
"When there's challenges, we'll bring them forward and I'll do whatever I can. If I stand there along, I stand there alone. If leaders want to come with me, whether its municipal leaders, Metis leaders, First Nations leaders, I'll make those priorities very clear."
In terms of issues specifically from the areas of Saskatchewan near Flin Flon, Vermette said the issue of health care was one of the foremost concerns he had heard in the area.
“Health has been loud and clear. People have been concerned over the quality of health. They need to have health services, they want that provided. There’s a frustration that I’ve heard on many of the doors that we got to, people have mentioned that,” he said.
“We’ll be raising those issues and I know individuals have raised them and they’ve done what they can and we’ll continue to raise those with the government.”
Another key issue brought forward to Vermette was access to cell service along Highway 106, something area residents have brought up often as a safety risk.
“When people are travelling for medical appointments or just to go down south, there are challenges there because the issue about safety, not being able to use a phone for 300-plus kilometers.. We were hoping there would be a way to phase that in. We’re going to be pushing that with Sasktel,” he said.
This year's campaign season was different than those that came before, Vermette said, due in large part to COVID-19.
"It was very challenging, as far as campaigns with COVID-19 and the challenges that many communities and leaders had to face, in trying to get into the communities and trying to share the message and hear the concerns. COVID-19 has caused a lot of challenges for many and in an election like this, it had caused some challenges. I'm glad to see we got through it as best as we can and my thoughts are with families who are struggling and those communities who are doing what they need to keep them safe," Vermette said.
COVID-19-related lockdowns meant sudden changes in how some northern residents could vote, with Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation (PBCN) members needing to phone in for an emergency voting kit days before the election after in-person voting was deemed possibly unsafe. Vermette said he had heard frustrations from some voters having a hard time voting, or in some cases, not being able to vote.
"We've heard some people who have raised concerns about not getting a chance to have that process to vote in their community. We've heard that, and we're telling them, 'we'll pass that on to make sure the right officials know of the concerns that have been passed on to us,'" he said.
"I've heard some frustration from people and they're feeling, those that didn't get at all a chance to cast their ballot were feeling frustrated and really not happy about it."