Sask. Party race an op­por­tu­nity for re­newal

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - OPINION - JOHN GORM­LEY

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.

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