Gorm­ley takes aim at pro­vin­cial NDP

Regina Leader-Post - - WeekEnder - By WILL CHABUN Leader-Post


Let’s start with the day John Gorm­ley de­clared him­self a Fabian so­cial­ist.

(That sound you now hear is the col­lec­tive “Thunk!” of Saskatchew­an left­ists, union lead­ers and NDP back­roomers faint­ing at the news the grand in­quisi­tor of all things left­ish and po­lit­i­cally cor­rect once shared their be­liefs.)

It was, as he re­calls, in the mid-1970s, when he was en­rolled in the po­lit­i­cal stud­ies pro­gram at the Uni­ver­sity of Saskatchew­an and ad­mit­ted his new­found be­liefs to his fa­ther, an Ir­ish doc­tor with a healthy dose of po­lit­i­cal cyn­i­cism, as they drove along.

This po­lit­i­cal con­ver­sion was, Gorm­ley ad­mits, all about try­ing to get a girl’s at­ten­tion. “It lasted about a week,” he said.

Post-uni­ver­sity, Gorm­ley worked as a Saska­toon ra­dio re­porter and hot­liner, then did a four-year stint as a Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive MP. De­feated in 1988, he went back to uni­ver­sity and earned a law de­gree from the Uni­ver­sity of Saskatchew­an. He prac­tised labour law, on the em­ployer side, in Ed­mon­ton un­til 1998, when he re­turned to Saskatchew­an as the morn­ing talk show host for Rawlco Ra­dio’s sta­tions in Saska­toon and Regina.

If you haven’t heard his pro­gram, then you’re in a mi­nor­ity. If you’ve boy­cotted or com­plained about it, then you’re likely a mem­ber of Saskatchew­an’s NDP and union es­tab­lish­ments, which are in­fu­ri­ated by his en­thu­si­as­tic and pointed needling of these or­ga­ni­za­tions and their vi­sions for this prov­ince.

This book had been bub­bling away in­side of him since about 2005.

“I thought Saskatchew­an’s cen­ten­nial was mag­nif­i­cent, but we were los­ing peo­ple; there was still all of this talk about ‘po­ten­tial’ and not ‘ac­tual.’”

Therein this book’s prime point: What he sees as Saskatchew­an’s eco­nomic and pop­u­la­tion stag­na­tion un­der suc­ces­sive CCF and NDP gov­ern­ments. In ad­di­tion, he ar­gues the NDP has a net­work of al­lies in govern­ment, the me­dia and, es­pe­cially, trade unions and academia that sup­port the NDP — no mat­ter what.

The tip­ping point to­ward writ­ing this book came in May 2008 when Gorm­ley was look­ing for an update on the ar­rest of for­mer NDP aide Mark Sto­bbe for the 2000 slay­ing of his wife in Man­i­toba. But ev­ery sin­gle Google hit on “Sto­bbe” in­stead de­liv­ered a ref­er­ence to the 1991 book Devine Rule — A Decade of Hope and Hard­ship, which was co-edited by Sto­bbe and, as the ti­tle sug­gests, thor­oughly bashed Grant Devine’s Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment.

All this Googling oc­curred fully 17 years af­ter Devine’s govern­ment (which Gorm­ley ad­mits was, “ob­vi­ously an easy govern­ment to go af­ter”) had been de­feated. But it galled him to think the era’s his­tory was still be­ing de­fined by a par­ti­san book “writ­ten as a cam­paign tool in 1991” — and, point­edly, never sup­ple­mented by a less po­lit­i­cally self-in­ter­ested book.

“This is ev­i­dence of a ma­chine, a ma­chine that is so well-seated through Saskatchew­an that it even has its own au­thors,” Gorm­ley fumes, with “an ap­proved ver­sion of his­tory.”

“I thought for my­self, it’s not go­ing to be long be­fore some­one at the U of R writes the de­fin­i­tive book on the Calvert era — and the Calvert era will be re­mem­bered as yet an­other high-wa­ter mark in Saskatchew­an’s so­cial progress and eco­nomic as­cen­sion of be­com­ing a ‘have’ prov­ince and I thought, ‘You know, we’ve been through seven years with the Calvert govern­ment that were so pro­foundly dis­ap­point­ing in con­trast to what else was go­ing on in western North Amer­ica.”

Mean­while, Al­berta (“with the same oil and the same re­sources — in fact, fewer re­sources” was lur­ing away thou­sands of young and mid-ca­reer Saskatchew­a­ni­ans. “Here’s a place that we’ve con­tin­ued to ex­port our chil­dren to and in Saskatchew­an, the en­tire di­a­logue is al­ways about ‘set­tling’ — in the sense that, ‘Don’t get your hopes up, low ex­pec­ta­tions, these things. So, lit­er­ally, it was a night in 2008 when I thought, “OK, you’ve had this stuff in you for a while, Are you go­ing to do some­thing? So I though, well, I’d bet­ter.”

Gorm­ley is not al­ways crit­i­cal of the NDP. He ad­mits he’d like to have watched Saskatchew­an pol­i­tics, in, say, the late 1930s, when the CCF was emerg­ing — or per­haps in 1944, when he could have seen first­hand, “the en­ergy of Dou­glas and the party and the elec­tion and those things.”

He praises Roy Romanow for restor­ing the prov­ince’s fi­nances in the 1990s and Calvert’s govern­ment for re­vised oil and gas roy­al­ties; lead­ing to ad­di­tional drilling, rev­enue and jobs.

But he in­vari­ably re­turns to his theme that the NDP long has con­sciously fos­tered a spirit of medi­ocrity and “Saskatchew­an ex­cep­tion­al­ism” that held this prov­ince needs to be per­pet­u­ally out of step from the rest of Canada, lead­ing to pol­icy de­ci­sions that have badly hurt the prov­ince’s, its pros­per­ity and its peo­ple.

Gorm­ley is par­tic­u­larly galled by the be­lief among the NDP and its al­lies in labour and academia (he en­thu­si­as­ti­cally names names) that Saskatchew­an’s “nat­u­ral pop­u­la­tion” was some­where around 975,000 — and it’s just swell if it stays there; damn the con­se­quences.

“As a re­sult, we’ve cho­sen at a pol­icy level to be the poor cousin to Al­berta. Whether or not vot­ers made that choice, I think the po­lit­i­cal elites ac­cepted that we would be num­ber two.”

That, he adds, has led to a men­tal­ity of “Fortress Saskatchew­an” or, to bor­row a phrase from the early CCF’s po­lit­i­cal bi­og­ra­pher, Sey­mour Lipsett, “Saskatchew­an Ex­cep­tion­al­ism” — namely, that we ab­so­lutely, pos­i­tively, have to do things dif­fer­ently here. But he sees this at­ti­tude end­ing as Saskatchew­a­ni­ans travel more, ac­cess the ’net and watch more TV chan­nels. As well, the gen­er­a­tion of el­ders who re­mem­ber the CCF’s early days is dy­ing off.

Of the pro­vin­cial NDP and its fu­ture, he says, “de­mog­ra­phy is not help­ing them.”

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