For decades in this province, Saskatchewan and its politics shared one common trait.
Both were rather predictable.
The province as a whole was all too dependent on the uncertainty of the agriculture and would suffer from both the whims of Mother Nature and the commodity markets.
Good years would inevitably be followed by bad years. And Saskatchewan would slip from “have” to “have-not” status as a result.
We always seemed destined to be the poor cousins to our Alberta neighbours with their oil wealth — the place our kids went to find decent-paying jobs. For this reason, the population rose and dipped somewhere just shy of the million-population mark.
And our politics seemed to follow a similar pattern.
For as naturally free-enterprise-minded as most Saskatchewan people were, the uncertainty in agriculture led voters to elect provincial government sympathetic to providing producers and rural Saskatchewan communities with support programs.
Of course, that resulted in some positives like the establishment of medicare, more rural hospitals and Crown corporations that still generally provide competitive utility rates.
But the combination of an inconsistent agriculture economic base and governments focused on filling in the shortcomings resulted in rather predictable stagnation.
Well, the few developments in the past week suggest today’s Saskatchewan may no longer be in this same predictable pattern.
Recently released population number showed an additional 22,154 people in Saskatchewan in July 2012 compared with a year earlier — the largest single-year increase this province has experienced since 1921.
What’s truly amazing, however, is this does not appear to be one of one- or two-year growth spurts we experienced in the past that tended to be followed by decline. The province’s population of 1,079,958 is nearly 80,000 more than when it again cracked the million-person barrier in July 2007 under the previous NDP and 100,000 more than its most recent low ebb of a decade ago.
This is phenomenal growth that we haven’t experienced in 80 years — something that’s moved beyond the usual up-and-down cycle.
Of course, with it comes to challenges and the need for adjustments.
That many new faces behind this population boom are new Canadians who are changing the very face of Saskatchewan itself. These new arrivals are coming here determined to make a better life for themselves are forcing governments to re-focus on issues that accommodate the needs of this growth.
There is more infrastructure and housing demands — especially, in our cities. And neither house prices nor rent in this province are as cheap as they once were.
In fact, with demand driving up the price of such things, other things that were once predictable in this province like a relatively low minimum wage are no longer as acceptable. After all, with a job shortage in this province, it is only logical to make the minimum wage more competitive.
To that end, the Sask. Party government recently announced last week the nation’s lowest $9.50 an hour minimum wage would be increased by 50 cents to $10 an hour.
Gone are the days of predictably lower wages doled out in a sluggish Saskatchewan economy, which takes us to another big indicator of our newfound unpredictability.
A decade or more ago, no one would have predicted that the province’s still-agriculture dominated economy would be handing out salaries comparable with anywhere else in the country.
The government also recently announced the average weekly Saskatchewan wage of $939.21 is now the third best in the country — only behind Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador (another province experiencing change because of new oil wealth).
Again, one might expect to see social problems that tend to follow high wages. This, too, is the changing face of a less-predictable place.
But there may be something to be said for this newfound unpredictability.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 15 years.