Tuesday September 02, 2014

Political issues not what they seem to be


The problem in politics is issues are never quite as they seem ... or better put, never really about what politicians say they are about.

Or so Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall demonstrated on a couple issues of late.

The first is the on-going problem moving prairie grains, oilseeds and pulses to port by rail. Wall dashed off an angry missive earlier this month to the federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, demanding she intervene in a potential grain handling dispute.

In fairness to the Saskatchewan Premier, one gets his frustration with grain-handling unions at the ports because it’s one we all have seen in our lives.

But the very fact that CN Rail and Teamsters reached a deal the very day that Wall sent his letter suggests that some of Wall’s outraged was a little misplaced.

After all, the lack of cars designated for grain movement in this year of a record crop on the Prairies has been a frustration since the crop came off.

It makes one a little suspicious that Wall just found it politically easier to rail against unpopular grain-handling unions that do something about the rail companies themselves.

In fact, after his letter, Wall announced that Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart, Economy Minister Bill Boyd, Highways and Infrastructure Minister Don McMorris would meet with the rail companies in the hopes of dealing with the backlog in grain movement that the Premier now acknowledges had precious little to do with labour trouble in the railroad industry.

“This grain movement backlog is a very serious situation for the entire province and it is a high priority for our government,” Wall said.  “The delays in moving grain have led to lower prices for our producers at the farmgate and are harming our reputation as a reliable supplier.”

This is all true, but shouldn’t this problem have been recognized and/or addressed sooner? Or was it simply more convenient and a better story to blame the unions?

There again, the stories politicians tell aren’t always the whole story, are they? Consider Wall’s bid to sell Casinos Regina and Moose to the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority (SIGA).

To hear Wall tell it, the sale — estimated to be between $100- and $200 million — would mean more jobs, better educated First Nations people and a better a return on investment among the touted benefits. And, evidently, the only thing standing in his way is NDP leader Cam Broten and the NDP’s unanimous approval.

The thing, is though, Wall doesn’t need the approval of the nine-member NDP caucus to change a law in the 58-seat Legislative Assembly. Wall’s real problem is that it’s a law (and an election promise) he promised he wouldn’t change without first consulting the voters.

And as for Wall’s rush to get this great business deal completed before SIGA changes its mind, is it really that great a deal for taxpayers when the casinos provide $50 million a year or so to the provincial coffers? Gee, what happened to the Sask. Party’s “No special deals” for First Nations?

The suspicious among us might think that Wall is trying to deal with his own budget cash crunch problem ... while also attempting to trap the NDP with its own silly legislative forbidding the sale of such Crown corporations. If so, Broten is then doing what Opposition leaders should do — holding the government to account.

There again, why should Broten stand in the way of the aspirations of First Nations people, considering the NDP campaigned on resource-sharing with First Nations? Isn’t this a resource that could be shared? And why were the casinos put on the NDP government’s list of untouchable Crown corporations in the first place?

Or, like so much in politics, is this just another issue that’s really being about something else?

Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 22 years.



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