One of the first political events I ever attended in Prince Albert occurred in the 2016 provincial election, at one of the Chamber of Commerce’s regular “Get to know your candidate” sessions. In those days Brad Wall was already making absolutely no attempt to hide his contempt for any opposition being expressed towards the party’s rule. To him, this “neutral site” in which no questions would be asked that were controversial or provoke heated debate was ideal – especially given the weakness of his slate in the Prince Albert ridings.
Wall’s strategy was very simple: “hide” the candidate from public scrutiny. Thus, shortly after the Chamber’s session Wall announced that “his” representatives would not be participating in future public scrums, especially in front of policy-focused groups including unions, health care workers, university students, or others advocating progressive style legislation.
The rationale for campaigning this way is definitely anti-democratic and laughable, but spun with the snake oil enthusiasm Wall’s speeches generated, corny enough to be believable in the voter’s mind. Media sources were told that candidates only wasted their time attending such sessions, as they only re-generated “the same old questions” posed in previous elections. To Wall, it was far more productive of them being out and seen campaigning with and by voters more in touch with the economic and social concerns of Saskatchewan.
Once put in place, media representatives soon found themselves without leads or pithy comments inadvertently voiced by frustrated candidates that made campaign stories worth reading. What remained for publication of Sask Party commentary thus degenerated into journalists re-digesting press releases replete with the same half-truths and outright lies pitched in earlier campaigns: schools closed by a heartless NDP, and fifty rural hospitals having “disappeared” as though a 1930’s dust storm had dumped their debris in some vacant Manitoba field.
Since the mid-1980’s so-called “conservative” campaigns have heavily embraced historical revisionism, tactics made notorious by the former Great Helmsman, Chairman Mao and Josef Stalin. We no longer teach History by focusing on the “why” of events occurring; as such, unless you’re as old as me, voters have absolutely NO idea as to what it was like living here when Grant Devine was premier. Government workers cheques were regularly held until they cleared the bank, farm credit loans carried interest rates at 20% or higher, and our winter roads were plowed and sanded by private contractors who’d bought their equipment at Department of Highways auctions at Salvation Army prices. Forgiving older rural voters still like to portray Devine as some “good old boy” whose “unique” turn of phrase was more story-worthy than were real events, betrayed by Cabinet members who’d “lied or deceived him” in supervising policy implementation.
Thus, when the NDP made any effort to counter the Saskatchewan Party’s press releases, those voters unfamiliar with the tactics of Eric Berntson and company and favouring the more capitalist-focused agenda of Wall’s campaign would only laugh, countering with phrases of ridicule such as, “What’s that? Roy Romanow’s NDP government had to deal with a $24 billion deficit? Almost half of Devine’s Cabinet ended up in jail? A member of the Devine government committed suicide in embarrassment over the pillage left by his own party? Nah – that’s not how it was…”
Even though it really was that way until 1991, when the Roy Romanow-led Opposition finally rid us of the “Devine flu”.
Once in power, the Romanow government faced a massive deficit that left them little room to initiate more progressive policy ideals. Devine had deliberately avoided dealing with health care service reform, fearing voter retaliation for local jobs being streamlined out of existence, particularly those involving support services in rural health care centres where most hospital beds were no longer being utilized. Approximately 50 rural communities were targeted for the reorganization, but job loss concerns were minimized by supplementing these centres with government services that provided preventative health care advice and mental health counselling.
Critical health care needs were strengthened by centralizing specialists and critical care workers in our larger cities, and ambulance services by ground and air were streamlined to expedite emergency needs coming from rural and isolated areas of the province – decisions that have since saved the province tens of millions of dollars. Similar savings also resulted from the NDP consolidating many school divisions, but Premier Romanow, and later Premier Calvert made a critical mistake by deciding to let the new school board members serving these larger divisions off the hook in choosing which schools should also be closed by making this a Cabinet decision.
The NDP made a further mistake in setting aside for the moment implementing school policy that would provide the revenues needed for smaller schools to better function, actions that were being heavily pushed at the time by the British Columbia Teachers Federation. These included insuring that small school staffs have at least one senior mentor to new teachers, every division staffed by at least one subject-specific consultant, as well as literacy and mathematics specialists, and supplemented small high schools with above-standard numbers of teachers and aides, so that students had access to more than the 24-credit minimum level that the province required for graduation.
Starting in 2005, the Calvert government, while recognizing that the federal equalization formula was discriminating in its now “have” state of economic recovery, instead turned its attention into stimulating growth by lowering royalty payments from resource-based companies, while further encouraging petroleum exploration efforts along the Alberta border and around Yorkton. However, when the 2007 election rolled around, these economic changes were only beginning to show promising results and the Wall campaign committee, stressing the mistakes made in educational reform and health care reorganization, rekindled the economic blinders mentality of the Devine era, and a new era of budget deficit financing was begun.
The 2020 provincial campaign continued to be fought using 2007 rhetoric, but now many voters are finally realizing that to continue with the Saskatchewan Party ruling the province is an exercise in futility and budgetary debt weight gain. Premier Moe’s support levels at an all-time low, pummeled by a Covid-19 death rate statistically being the highest in Canada, and a climate change-induced drought this past summer creating disastrous crop yields in major portions of the province, with particularly younger farmers now facing the prospect of bankruptcy.
Premier Moe’s former allies in the province’s fight over the carbon tax have also deserted him, with Ontario’s former fiscal hawk premier Doug Ford now begging for the Trudeau government for billions of dollars to be spent on establishing a long term plan to deal with the inevitability of the Covid virus, like the flu, being here to stay and Alberta’s Jason Kenney trying to repair his own numbers by pushing people to “get the booster” and imposing new restrictions on public or private socializing.
Saskatchewan Rivers former SP MLA Nadine Wilson has created still another concern for the premier, in that her refusal to be vaccinated has elicited a small but vocal group of anti-vaxxers supporting her new campaign for “unity and inclusion of all citizens”. It is almost certain that most of these enthusiasts voted in the past for the Sask Party.
Wilson’s determination to remain as a sitting MLA is weakened by not only her having misrepresented her own vaccination record, but by her recent embracing of “white privilege” that saw legal issues punishable by jail time disappear into an ether of nondisclosure agreements. Equally depressing is her claim that people being inconvenienced by a government that urges full vaccination against the Covid virus is a governmental tyranny violating our supposed “rights and freedoms” under a UN Charter – even though Charter preamble excludes such interpretive convenience.
The death rate for non-vaccinated persons becoming ill from the Omicron strain is seventeen times higher than those fully vaccinated, while children recovering from similar infection are increasingly demonstrating symptoms that support susceptibility to future lives having Types I or II Diabetes – and STILL the government will not impose reasonable restriction of public movement to dampen this trend.
The public has grown weary of the strain that this pandemic has put on our lives, and are starting to demand our MLA’s be made accountable for their vacillation in pandering to minority fringes that do not respect the public will by embracing “libertarian” or questionable religious values.
Recalling a few of them, starting with Wilson, may be a good start in resolving this matter. Better still, Scott Moe should now recognize that he’s lost the faith of the electorate and call a provincial election.