MANDRYK ON WALL’S EXIT,

Regina Leader-Post - - FRONT PAGE - MUR­RAY MANDRYK Mandryk is the po­lit­i­cal colum­nist for the Regina Leader-Post. mmandryk@postmedia.com

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.

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