With January marking Brad Wall‘s retirement, it’s a good a time to assess Wall’s 10-year legacy as premier of Saskatchewan.
The former radio DJ, economic development officer and leader of the Saskatchewan Party since 2004, was a few weeks shy of his 42nd birthday when first elected premier on Nov. 7, 2007.
Street-smart and quick-witted, Wall was also a social conservative. But he kept his personal views to himself and generally hewed to middle-of-the-road policies as party leader and premier.
However, in recent years, Wall revealed himself to be a tough fiscal conservative determined to balance the budget and he fiercely opposed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s climate change plan for Canada.
At the same time, Wall maintained good relations with former prime minister Stephen Harper despite disagreements over equalization and Harper’s blasé attitude toward the hostile takeover bid for Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan by the world’s largest mining company, Australia-based BHP Billiton Ltd. Many residents believe Wall’s successful defence of PotashCorp was one of his finest hours as premier. Ultimately, PotashCorp remains a Canadian company headquartered in Saskatchewan, while BHP continues to pour billions into its Jansen Lake potash project near Saskatoon, thereby giving Wall a rare win-win.
Less successful were Wall’s attempts to diversify the province’s economy, as repeated efforts to establish economic- development agencies, such as Enterprise Saskatchewan, ended in failure.
And Wall didn’t leave behind many signature projects – unlike his political mentor, former premier Grant Devine, who oversaw several megaprojects, including the SaskFerco Products Inc. (now Yara Belle Plaine Inc.) nitrogen fertilizer plant and the Rafferty-Alameda hydroelectric dams.
The big projects undertaken during the Wall years – the Global Transportation Hub, the Regina Bypass highway project and a carbon capture and storage plant at the Boundary Dam Power Station in Estevan – are tainted by cost overruns and scandal.
In addition, the 2017-18 provincial budget, with its massive cuts to social programs, education and municipalities, has left a legacy of bitterness and betrayal that will linger long after Wall’s retirement.
Still, Wall leaves the province in relatively good fiscal shape, with a solid decade of economic and population growth behind him. His government rode the commodities boom for seven years, wisely using the windfall revenue to pay down the province’s debt and to lower income and property taxes for most Saskatchewan residents.
However, Wall failed to bring in a plan to save even a modest portion of the province’s non-renewable resources revenue, despite promising to do so.
Wall is proud that Saskatchewan is now a “have” province after decades of “have-not” status, but his endgame of fiscal balance remains elusive. The economy is still tied tightly to the boom-and-bust commodities cycle, a significant stumbling block to the province’s continued growth and the stability of social programs.
Overall, Wall’s legacy is mixed: growth, but failure to diversify the economy; a strong spokesman for the West, but a polarizing figure in some parts of Canada; and a fiscal conservative who left the province with a large deficit and no heritage fund. Still, he was a larger than life figure on Canada’s political scene.
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