It appears Premier Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party government has tapped into the formula for political success in the province.
Or at least, the Sask. Party leader and his party have tapped into the formula of saying what people like to hear from their government and then massaging public opinion so that voters can more easily see things the government’s way.
Prior to embarking last week for the government caucus’s annual summer retreat at the lovely Elk Ridge Resort, Wall explained that his MLAs recently asked their constituents the following three questions: “How do we keep growth going?” “How do we make sure people are benefiting from the growth?” “How do we deal with the challenges related to growth?”
Perhaps to no one’s surprise, infrastructure,specifically, the state of Saskatchewan roads, was at the top of that list. “There are more potholes than pavement right now and we have to deal with infrastructure concerns,” said Wall, whose strength may be his ability to come across as relatable and humble. He added that the two other re-occuring themes that emerged from the MLAs’ questionnaire were health care and debt reduction.
On the surface, this would seem neither surprising nor a particularly great use of government time and energy when it comes to policy development. To have such obvious generalities like “highways”, “debt reduction” and “health care” emerge, as the most pressing issues would hardly seem enlightening.
But if it isn’t great policy development, it is subtle, smart politics all about massaging voter opinion so it’s more aligned with your own philosophy. After all, it’s always good to ask people’s opinion in this province, but it’s an especially good idea to frame the question sin such a way that it cross-sects the great left-right dichotomy that is Saskatchewan politics.
Since the early days of this province when people risked it all for the chance of prosperity, there has always been an entrepreneurial spirit that appreciates the need for wealth creation. That said, the recognition that Saskatchewan people might not have survived this harsh climate without a highly co-operative approach plays into the notion that we should all benefit a fair share from the benefits of growth.
From these two contrasting ideals has emerged the tug-o-war that has been Saskatchewan political debate between the right and left ... although what’s often missed is how willingly both sides pay homage to other party’s philosophical viewpoint to appease the majority.
For example, even Wall admits that the NDP government’s substantial income and corporate tax reductions and generous royalty holidays for potash mine expansions and oil well drilling have been critical to Saskatchewan’s economic growth these past eight years. And among the Wall government’s first order of business was to raise the income tax exemption (most benefiting the working poor) and raise allowances for seniors and disabled. Meanwhile, one can’t even begin to discuss with Wall and the Sask. Party the notion of selling money-losing STC or even public liquor stores and other major Crowns.
While there is little subtlety when it comes to how the left-right political divide in Saskatchewan is played out in the legislature or on coffee row, talk radio or the internet, there is a actually lot of subtlety when it comes to massaging people’s views so that it is more in line with government thinking.
This, too, seems like a big part of the meeting in Elk Ridge as Wall talked about dealing with the “infrastructure deficit” that may need to be addressed “in more innovative ways” like partnerships with municipalities and private sector that have the expertise “so that we can get more work done.”
Gone are the days of the clumsy. bull-in-the-china-shop approach of Grant Devine’s highways minister Jim Garner who sold off government highway equipment and explained fired highways workers were being “transferred to the private sector.”
Wall seems significantly more skilled at the more subtle nuances of the political game.