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Bragging rights

Saskatchewan’s future, like that of its premier, is wide open


 

Bragging rightsThe province of Saskatchewan, which proudly holds down the far side of the gap between the self-satisfied East (Ontario) and the over-confident West (Alberta), is dismissed by most of Toronto’s hard-core literati as “flyover country.” They see it as a place out of mind and beyond prime time, irrelevant to their chi-chi Perrier agendas, peremptorily excluded from the larger scheme of things.

That’s a shame, because while they weren’t watching, Saskatchewan became the country’s fastest-growing province. The size of Texas, it contains close to half of Canada’s arable acreage and now tops the post-auto-pact remnants of Central Canada in almost every category—except smugness.

I recently spent most of an afternoon with Brad Wall, its 43-year-old hotshot premier whose recent past is impressive, and whose future—should he decide to exercise his Prairie tongue by learning to conjugate irregular French verbs and go federal—could be unlimited. A political firecracker, he has run the province as efficiently as a Wal-Mart franchise since he brought his conservative Saskatchewan Party to power in November 2007.

As hyperactive as a daytime game show host, he lacks the gravitas of a political heavyweight, but talks and acts like a big hitter, which he will one day become. Meanwhile, he’s a homebody who commutes daily to and from his family homestead in Swift Current, a two-hour drive each way from Regina.

His economic revolution that has transformed the province from a backwater into a winner impresses by almost every measure: at the moment, Saskatchewan boasts the lowest unemployment rate and is expected to have the highest average salary increases in the country next year. The Wall government reports it has cut the provincial debt by $2.5 billion (or 40 per cent), and provincial GDP for 2010 is expected to jump by 3.9 per cent, compared to 0.9 per cent for Canada as a whole. The U.S. buys more oil from the province than from Kuwait, and Saskatchewan is the world’s largest producer of two of nature’s most saleable commodities: uranium and fertilizer potash.

Despite the province’s boom, it currently has 10,000 white-collar job vacancies, and Wall has tried to bridge the gap by offering a $20,000 rebate on university fees for incoming recent graduates who promise to stay in the province for seven years. (Prospective applicants should note that January temperatures average nine below. “But it’s a dry cold,” Wall hastens to add.)

Wall’s most imaginative venture is the $1.4-billion refit of a coal-fired electrical generating station, which will use a unique carbon-capture technology that will store its carbon dioxide emissions underground, much like a research facility in Weyburn is already doing with greenhouse gases piped in from North Dakota. He is also sponsoring the development of nuclear technology to replace the burning of natural gas in the production of tar-sands oil. “I don’t think that you’ll find another jurisdiction that’s prepared to make the investment that we have signalled we are going to make in protection of the environment,” he contends.

Wall won praise from all quarters for refusing to condemn the government led by former NDP premier Lorne Calvert, who preceded him. On the contrary, he praised Calvert, especially for his environmental innovations, as well as occasionally praising Roy Romanow, another socialist predecessor, for cleaning up the province’s finances. “We should be in the business of trying to surprise people,” he told me. “People have an ugly stereotype of us as politicians and we have earned it, but now we have a chance of being reasonable, and give credit where credit is due.”

That attitude of limited but genuine inter-party co-operation, so rare in Canadian politics, won the support of voters. In the November 2007 election, Wall earned a turnout of 76 per cent, compared with 51 per cent in B.C. in 2009, where the provincial government still plays the blame game. “One of the problems with the rules of our legislatures is that you can be kicked out for calling a member a liar, yet you can lie,” Wall points out.

He is the first of a generation of New Politics provincial premiers who shudder at the toxic atmosphere of the federal Parliament. Brad Wall is just starting his run, but already he has earned the title of the country’s least angry Tory.


 

Bragging rights

  1. Newman continues the unfortunate tradition of central Canadian media types falling for Brad Wall's hype.

    First of all, if Brad Wall had an economic revolution, it wasn't televised or otherwise shared with people in Saskatchewan: far from being an economic success, he has squandered the strong financial position in which the outgoing NDP had left the province.

    Thanks to disastrously irresponsible predictions of potash revenues in the last budget, the government is in a deficit position, hiding the fact with fiscal sleight of hand. A fortune has been raided from the "rainy day fund" and the Crowns to make the books look balanced when they aren't.

    Meanwhile, the number of EI recipients in the province is near historic highs. Building permits are down for August; the CMHC announced today that housing starts are sharply down in Regina. All of these indicators are headed in the wrong direction under Wall.

    Meanwhile, rents skyrocket, tuition rises, and farmers are gouged by high natural gas prices as they try to dry their grain.

    Some boom.

    Politically speaking, Wall has just lost his third by-election in a row, despite running one of the nastiest negative campaigns in recent memory in the province. Perhaps if by-elections were decided by surveys by out-of-province, out-of-touch reporters, Wall's candidates would win, but fortunately the voters at ground zero of the "boom" aren't buying it.

    Firecracker?

    Try Damp Squib.

  2. Thanks for bringing this to a national stage, Steven.

    Just so that everybody knows, there are still 17 remaining socialists from the Tommy Dougals era in Sk. These people do very little except criticise the Wall government on internet forums. And I suspect that's because our boom has left them behind. (There is, after all, less demand for cantankerous bureaucrats whose skill sets end at poisoning the blogosphere with thier cry-baby complaints in the SK economy than there was, say, two years ago.)

    Luckily, no one here really listens to those guys anymore. Thier time has passed.

    • No response to any of the figures, except an invented one about 17 "socialists," for obvious reasons.

      700 more people found out they were losing their jobs today at Potash Corporation.

      The entire premise of the last budget was a robust potash market.

    • No response to any of the figures, except an invented one about 17 "socialists," for obvious reasons.

      Meanwhile, it was announced today that 700 more people were losing their jobs at Potash Corp today.

      Are they cry-babies? Has the boom left them behind?

      A booming potash sector, remember was the entire premise of Brad Wall's budget last year, or has that been forgotten?

      • OMG Stephen, so you're telling me that resource industry in SK is volatile. Wow, that's ground breaking. I had no idea.

        I wonder if that's why this government has spoken at length about moving towards a knowledge and technology based economy. Maybe that's why we're actually becoming a world leader in things like carbon capture technology.

        It might help if you actually knew anything about the respective parties' platforms instead of regurgitating the same old tired criticisms.

        You guys are old and uninspired, Stephen. We don't want to hear it anymore. This province is ready to move forward; you're not. You should just pack it in.

        • It's not a problem that you had no idea about resource volatility.

          The problem is that Gantefoer had no idea when he made his revenue projections for the budget. Hence the deficit position we're now in.

          I know you don't want to hear this, either, but the latest employment figures continue to show that good-paying full-time jobs are being replaced by part-time work: 10,000 full-time jobs from August to September.

          If this is the Wall government's "forward" moving direction, I suspect some people might want to put on the brakes.

          • Our population is growing. Employment remains strong. Things are good here.

            Good people with good skills can find good jobs, which makes things way better than they were under your watch.

            If you guys don't like it, you should do what all the young people did when you had your chance at governing: Move to a differant province!

  3. All I know is that these numbers look okay to me__80,000 people taken off the tax roll in Saskatchewan__Raised the Income tax Exemption putting millions of dollars back into the pockets of the hard working people of Saskatchewan.__2.5 Billion dollars paid down on the provincial debt dropping the provincial debt by (40%)__lowest employment rate in Canada 5.0% September 2009 source – http://www.statcan.gc.ca/subjects-sujets/labour-t… __And Saskatchewan will be one or possibly the only province that will not table a deficit budget. All while the world was in a deep economic recession, I know that Saskatchewan is not totally recession proof, but the record of Saskatchewan under Wall and the Sask Party doesn't look that bad.____I think that come a general election they can still count me in as a supporter.

  4. "the only province that will not table a deficit budget."

    There is currently a deficit. The government is hiding it.

  5. Avg temp in January of minus 9? That's a blasphemous typo – I think -29 is more realistic!

  6. Good to see Sask's parochial naysayers making comments now on a national stage. Having lived in Saskie since 1973, coming from Ontario, it's not the cold or the volatile commodity prices that have held the province back as it is the ability of so many people here to determinedly find the grey cloud, rather than the silver lining. A large part of the population is risk-averse and resistant to change for a number of historical/political/climatic reasons, and it's going to take a while to NOT being a have-not in Confederation.
    As for those who think of Saskie as a fly-over zone, boy, are they ever wrong. Their loss.

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