To be a good Premier, you have understand that a Premier’s job is to represent what is best for the majority of the people in your province and execute that responsibility.
It sounds simple enough, but you would be surprised how many things get in the way. For instance, self-interest/political interest always get in the way as Premier Brad Wall found out this spring. This is pretty much why we wound up with three more MLAs in the legislature and a film industry that will likely to shooting movies and TV series in Manitoba instead of places like Rouleau, Gravelbourg and Kipling.
One can argue that occasionally doing the bidding of allies in the federal government instead of your people is another example of a Premier losing sight of his job. This spring, it became a lot harder for immigrants to sponsor relatives — not necessarily because that’s best for Saskatchewan but because it’s what Ottawa wanted.
But while Wall has clearly had a few bad missteps this spring, he also showed he still has a pretty good grasp on what it means to be a good Premier when it matters most. Or at least, this is what a couple important national issues seem to indicate.
The first example is his on-going battle with federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair over whether a high dollar driven by oil production is killing Canadian manufacturing.
Mulcair and the NDP have been quick to criticize Wall for doing the bidding for Prime Minister Stephen Harper — something that Wall did seem to be doing on the immigration file and even the Canadian Wheat Board file.
And in fairness to the NDP leader, one can certainly make a case that a high Canadian dollar isn’t helpful to the exporting manufacturing sector (although what seems lost in the debate is that a high dollar doesn’t help the oil sector and that a strong resource sector has been the saving grace for the entire Canadian economy).
But this one debate where there isn’t much gray area — especially if you’re from Western Canada and are being asked to swallow Mulcair implication that we’d all somehow be better off if we just shut off the Western oil taps. It’s not right to suggest that Wall is only doing Harper’s bidding when his position best suits all of us in Saskatchewan.
Even if Wall wasn’t being true to his own political beliefs (and it’s interesting how New Democrats here aren’t exactly criticizing Wall’s position or even completely agreeing with Mulcair) he would still be doing what a Saskatchewan Premier should do. He is defending our key economic engine.
However, a better example may be the more challenging file involving Glencore International’s takeover of Viterra Inc. While Wall might philosophically believe that government’s shouldn’t meddle in free-market affairs, it’s become crystal clear that the nature of this particular deal will take its toll on Viterra head office jobs in Regina. Even more significantly, there could be huge negative repercussions on the cost of fertilizers and other farm inputs stemming from a decrease in competition.
Fortunately, though, these are precisely the points that Wall has been making on Viterra deal — exactly the concerns raised in the Sask. Party government’s independent report.
Interestingly, that study didn’t go into the questionable business dealings of Glencore and its former owner that included years of sanctions over illegal trading and current questions about its human rights and environmental record in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But as disconcerting as these issues may be, a provincial Premier needs to stick to the issues specific to his jurisdiction.
Wall has clearly done that, demonstrating a pretty good grasp of understanding what his responsibilities are. On these important files, he has stepped up for Saskatchewan.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 15 years.