REGINA — The old saying that the only constant in life is change may best sum up the coming year in Saskatchewan politics.
The governing Saskatchewan Party, the Opposition New Democrats and even the seatless Liberals are to elect new leaders in the coming months, and that could affect the decade-long political status quo in the province.
Opinion polls in recent months have suggested the gap of support between the Saskatchewan Party and the NDP has narrowed considerably, especially after last spring’s tough-medicine budget. And the governing party is losing Premier Brad Wall, whose personal approval ratings have continued to score high, to retirement.
“The type of leader that the Sask. Party needs is essentially a Brad Wall without the negative aspects of the Brad Wall legacy,” says Joseph Garcea, who teaches political studies at the University of Saskatchewan.
“To some extent, they need a Brad Wall without baggage.”
Garcea pointed to last spring’s budget, which raised the provincial sales tax and included cuts to libraries that were later reversed following public protests.
He also cited ongoing controversy into a $21-million land purchase west of Regina. The auditor general found the government overpaid for the land and did not follow proper procedures. That prompted an RCMP investigation.
The NDP is hoping to capitalize on the controversies and sees an opening with Wall’s departure.
“For the last 10 years, the premier — Brad Wall — has been the brand of the Sask. Party and … with him stepping down and a new leader taking over, it’s going to be very different, I think,” says interim NDP leader Nicole Sarauer.
Garcea says a lot will depend on how much each party can unite following the leadership campaigns, which can often be divisive. He also says the spring budget could help shape voters’ minds for the 2020 election.
As for Wall, he has some advice for whoever takes over: stay humble, avoid rigid ideology and admit mistakes, such as the library cuts.
“Be humble and be pragmatic,” he says.
“We’re a free-enterprise party. We believe in markets. But we also have to respect that Saskatchewan people aren’t really interested in ideology … they’re interested in results and they’re also interested in a government reflecting their priorities.”
Wall also suggests his party should avoid getting into debates over socially divisive, federally governed issues such as abortion.
Three of the leadership candidates running to replace Wall recently talked about their anti-abortion views to a group called Right Now, which is dedicated to electing anti-abortion politicians.
One candidate, Ken Cheveldayoff, told The Canadian Press that abortions should be allowed only for women whose lives are in jeopardy and not for victims of sexual assault. He later walked back from that stance and said any sex assault victim has the right to make the choice to have an abortion.
Wall said provincial leaders should stick to provincial matters.
“There will be (some people) that are interested in socially conservative or socially liberal issues, and that’s fine. But at the provincial level, where we don’t really have jurisdiction over these things, I don’t understand why we would … focus any great deal of resources on these issues.”
“We do have a lot more to do with the economy and with health,” he said. “Let’s focus on those. I think that’s reflective of the priority of the vast majority of Saskatchewan people and that would be my advice.”
Wall, who announced his resignation in August but is staying on until his successor is chosen at the end of January, says he has yet to line up a new job.
“When the new leader is chosen … I’m going to probably take a it of a break, but I’ll be looking for work in earnest thereafter.”