A wall be­tween East and West

Premier Brad Wall may have in­flamed ir­ri­ta­tions with Ot­tawa, but his tough talk ap­pears to be pop­u­lar

Investment Executive - - COMMENT & INSIGHT - BY BRUCE JOHN­STONE IE

premier brad wall’s sur­prise an­nounce­ment that he’s leav­ing pol­i­tics has changed the po­lit­i­cal land­scape dra­mat­i­cally in the prov­ince his Saskatchewan Party has ruled for the past 10 years.

In­stead of just one lead­er­ship cam­paign dur­ing the first half of 2018, there will be two in the first quar­ter. In re­sponse to the Sask. Party’s de­ci­sion to hold its lead­er­ship vote on Jan. 27, the New Demo­cratic Party (NDP) moved up the date of its lead­er­ship con­test to March from May.

One in­ter­est­ing de­vel­op­ment emerg­ing in the early days of the Sask. Party lead­er­ship cam­paign is a dis­tinct ru­ral/ ur­ban split among the can­di­dates. Scott Moe, the front-run­ner with the sup­port of 21 cau­cus-mates, rep­re­sents the party’s largely ru­ral base. Gord Wyant, a lawyer in Saska­toon, who un­til re­cently had a Lib­eral Party of Canada mem­ber­ship, rep­re­sents the party’s less con­ser­va­tive, ur­ban wing.

Other Sask. Party lead­er­ship can­di­dates: Tina Beaudry-Mel­lor, a for­mer Uni­ver­sity of Regina po­lit­i­cal sci­ence in­struc­tor, who also hopes to ap­peal to ur­ban­ites; Alanna Koch, a long-time se­nior bu­reau­crat and a col­lege class­mate of Wall’s, is the sta­tus quo can­di­date; and Ken Chevel­day­off, a vet­eran party stal­wart, who is said to have sig­nif­i­cant back­room sup­port.

The NDP lead­er­ship race is more clearcut, with front-run­ner and for­mer in­terim party leader Trent Wother­spoon hav­ing the sup­port of six of eight NDP cau­cus mem­bers and the party es­tab­lish­ment.

Ryan Meili, a doc­tor in Saska­toon, who has an am­bi­tious and ex­pen­sive plan to over­haul the prov­ince’s so­cial pro­grams, has a strong fol­low­ing among more left-lean­ing mem­bers of the party, but not in cau­cus.

The big­ger is­sue, though, is which way the prov­ince’s vot­ers will go in the next elec­tion. Al­though things look bleak for the gov­ern­ing party, with a slump­ing, re­sources-based econ­omy, a tough, un­pop­u­lar bud­get and a few lingering scan­dals, a lot can change in three years.

Still, Wall’s re­tire­ment leaves big shoes to fill — not just for the Sask. Party, but also for the prov­ince and the coun­try. Wall, a for­mer ra­dio DJ, was able to bridge the ru­ral/ur­ban di­vide in Saskatchewan pol­i­tics. His youth­ful en­ergy, quick wit and folksy, easy-go­ing man­ner made him an ideal leader for a ru­ral, but in­creas­ingly ur­ban prov­ince.

How­ever, there’s an­other side to Wall, a deeply par­ti­san and con­ser­va­tive side he has shown in re­cent years, par­tic­u­larly since the elec­tion of Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau.

In fact, Wall has taken on the man­tle of spokesper­son for the West, es­pe­cially with the elec­tion of the NDP in Al­berta and, more re­cently, in B.C. Wall has de­clared him­self an im­pla­ca­ble foe of the federal Lib­er­als’ car­bon-pric­ing scheme, an un­abashed booster of en­ergy pipe­lines and the oil and gas in­dus­try’s staunch­est de­fender.

He re­cently blamed the Trudeau gov­ern­ment for hold­ing West­ern Canada hostage, driv­ing a wedge be­tween East and West. Some crit­ics have sug­gested Wall has gone too far, let­ting his love for the cu­tand-thrust of par­ti­san pol­i­tics over­rule his mod­er­ate po­lit­i­cal in­stincts.

That said, his ap­proval rat­ings have risen since his re­tire­ment an­nounce­ment, sug­gest­ing many peo­ple like his get-tough­with-Ot­tawa talk.

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