Sask. Party race an opportunity for renewal
Among questions facing Saskatchewan Party members as they choose a successor to Premier Brad Wall is “What should a ‘new’ Sask. Party government look like?”
With five candidates midway through a series of debates before choosing a new leader on Jan. 27, the contenders agree on general defining issues, which is not uncommon in any party’s leadership race.
Watching the latest debate, I was more convinced than ever that the three frontrunners are Alanna Koch, Gord Wyant and Scott Moe.
The remaining two candidates are good and hardworking but, in the case of Tina Beaudry-Mellor, lack experience and, for Ken Cheveldayoff, face too many policy and skills gaps.
Among the front-runners, the array of similarities and subtle differences has made handicapping this race none the easier in the first couple of months.
Alanna Koch, with a lifetime of political experience in the backrooms but never elected, has probably attended more cabinet meetings than the other candidates combined, given her background in the Grant Devine government of the 1980s and her role in the highest levels of the civil service for the past decade of the Wall government.
She is informed, smart and committed to continue the legacy of Wall, but a challenge for Koch will be to slow down wanting to tell voters what she’s doing and instead be seen consulting and openly engaging people in the creation and selling of her message.
Gord Wyant is smart and polished, and with experience ranging from school board to city council and cabinet, his smooth and considered demeanour would work as premier.
The biggest challenge is to overcome the perception that Wyant’s moderate and cool style is a cover for indecisiveness and a policy weakness that could see him pull back from important Sask. Party principles like shutting down the Justin Trudeau carbon tax.
The most impressive performance — or perhaps the candidate I had allowed my expectations to fall too far on — was Scott Moe. A farmer who has been an intelligent and quiet all-star performer in cabinet as Environment Minister, Moe strongly and compellingly set out his issues, as he switched on a stemwinder speaking style that seemed to come naturally.
More than the other two front-runners, Moe’s greatest challenge will be that he’s not Wall, in appearance or style.
Three distinct challenges face the new Sask. Party leader if they are to define their own approach and bring their party with them.
First, they want to continue the Wall policy legacy of low taxes, growth and non-interventionist government which, save for a couple of recent issues, has been a Saskatchewan game changer in all the right ways.
Second, the new leader must pull the party back to redefining (or re-doing) the government’s deficit reduction plan, which has been a negative on the party brand. There must also be a clear path through and out of the land purchase controversy surrounding the Global Transportation Hub.
Third, the path to the next election in 2020 must be mapped in advance with the new leader putting their own unique vision and style forward through an approach that makes it clear that she or he is not Brad Wall and has no intention of trying to be.
At the same time, the new leader’s personality and style must embrace the Wall hallmarks of understanding voters’ priorities, being on their side and looking out for their interests.
The other part of the 2020 plan is to distinguish the new Sask. Party leader and renewed party from the NDP, which has remained both unexamined and essentially unchanged during a decade spent in opposition.
Leadership transitions are more than a new pilot in the cockpit; they are often the rerouting to a new destination. It is as important for the candidates to communicate this as it is for Saskatchewan voters to know it.
John Gormley is a broadcaster, lawyer, author and former Progressive Conservative MP whose radio talk show is heard weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on 650 CKOM Saskatoon and 980 CJME Regina.