MANDRYK ON WALL’S EXIT,
Maybe the hardest thing to do in Saskatchewan politics is to remain the person you were when you first entered the Legislative Building.
For someone like Brad Wall who occupied the high-end front-row seats, it’s that much harder.
Detractors who can’t see through their own partisan filters don’t want to hear that Wall was and is a good person.
But let it be known that Wall left his seat in the assembly for the last time Thursday as the same good person who became premier in 2007, the same good person who became Saskatchewan Party and opposition leader in 2004 and the same good person who entered the building as an MLA in 1999.
For all his indiscretions — youthful ones and a few adult ones as a sometimes hotheaded leader — Brad Wall leaves as the same good-natured, funny, passionate, charismatic kid who entered the building in the early 1980s to work for Grant Devine’s Progressive Conservative government.
It’s a remarkable personal achievement, but it was a political achievement as well. The
Wall persona became the Sask. Party brand. His party’s success can be attributed to the hope and optimism he exuded in the past 18 years of public life.
Environment Minister Dustin Duncan put it best Thursday: “There is a joy within you that infects us as a family.”
This passion and joy changed Saskatchewan politics. Wall took his party from a thinly veiled version of the old Devine PCs to a broad-based “Saskatchewan” party that was no longer a ruralbased opposition but acceptable to urban voters as well. “People liked him. They trusted him,” interim NDP Leader Nicole Sarauer said Thursday. “Brad was Brad.”
Under Wall’s leadership, the Sask. Party achieved the two highest popular vote totals
(64.25 per cent in 2011 and 62.36 per cent in 2016) in Saskatchewan’s history.
And in his three campaigns as leader, the 138 government MLAs elected under the Sask. Party flag — all owing at least part of their success to Wall — was the second-highest total in a threeelection span, only exceeded by the 149 government Liberal MLAs elected in 1917, 1921 and 1925.
Clearly, Wall rearranged the furniture in the chamber.
However, here is a more important question — one Wall noted in his own farewell speech Thursday — that is summarized by a sign he had posted above the door of the cabinet meeting room in the legislature: “Did you leave things better than you found them?”
Of course, whether Wall has left things better of late is a matter of political debate — one that may take years to determine.
Certainly, recent events like the Global Transportation Hub (GTH) scandal and Wall’s misplaced loyalty to Bill Boyd haven’t helped that image — especially if allegations of wrongdoing go any further. Bigtime spending that has produced a string of deficit budgets and a record $17.9 billion in provincial debt also won’t look favourably on that legacy. Nor is the recent slide in job numbers encouraging, and will be even less so if this trend continues.
But in one of the few moments of political self-indulgence in his farewell address Thursday, Wall certainly made his case for how he has made Saskatchewan better in these past 10 years: 3,400 more nurses; 750 more doctors; surgical wait times no longer the longest in the country; new hospitals in Humboldt and Moose Jaw, the new Saskatchewan Hospital in North Battleford and the new children’s hospital in Saskatoon; 12,000 kilometres of improved highways; a seniors’ income plan now $270 a month instead of $90 a month; the elimination of a 440-person list of intellectually disabled people waiting for residence; $1 billion less in the operating debt; 167,000 more people.
Noting all past Saskatchewan administrations — including the previous Roy Romanow/Lorne Calvert NDP governments that battled debt and deficit budgets — Wall said Thursday that if each administration leaves this province better than they found it, “we will always have progress.”
And when it comes to Saskatchewan politics, it’s safe to say Wall leaves the place better than he found it.