Brad Wall rode good political and economic waves and survived turbulent waters
Discussions of the legacy of any premier or prime minister in Canada invariably revolve around two things: Their ability to provide good governance, and ability to provide good political management.
Unlike some premiers and prime ministers who are very adept at providing one of these but not the other, Premier Brad Wall was one of the leaders who was quite adept at providing both.
In thinking of his decision to resign this week, I side with those who believe that he did so not because he could not surf anymore or that it was time for a change, but because he was tired of surfing in turbulent economic and political waters and that he wanted to take a rest and then do something else.
The fatigue and frustration had taken its toll, particularly in light of the ongoing Global Transportation Hub scandal and the 2017 budget.
He had served the Saskatchewan Party and the province and gave a lot of himself to both in doing so. He is clearly a family man who came to the conclusion that the time had come to give more time and attention to his family, than to anything else.
Wall’s ‘astute promotional skills’ helped province
His successes both in political management and governance were driven by his character, charisma, and competence.
In pointing to his accomplishments in terms of good governance commentators point to the positive investment climate and entrepreneurialism that were engendered by a combination of his government’s policies and his own astute promotional skills in marketing the province.
Pundits also point to various constructive policies and programs such as the investments in essential infrastructure, the aggressive and progressive immigration program, and the student retention program. Many also point to his ability to advance the provincial interest in various sectors within the federation.
The prevailing view is that he fought hard and generally well for what he believed was in the provincial interest.
In pointing to his strong political management skills observers tend to point to several accomplishments, including the following:
- Establishing and maintaining a high degree of unity, harmony and peace party consisting of a combination of members of the Progressive Conservative and Liberal parties.
- Producing three successive majority governments.
- Establishing himself as one of the premiers with highest approval rating among people living in the province.
- Creating and articulating a constructive narrative that Saskatchewan was “open for business”.
- Fostering and facilitating a spirit of entrepreneurialism.
- Raising Saskatchewan’s profile as a significant province nationally and internationally.
Wall often ‘unduly optimistic’
Despite his remarkable and laudable skills and qualities, the premier had some characteristics or tendencies that ultimately created some significant challenges for him and may have limited his ability to achieve even more for himself, his party and the province.
One of these characteristics or tendencies was being unduly optimistic. This may have had some implications for the surprising fiscal position that the government and the province found itself in when the natural resource revenues started shrinking.
Another was his inability to resist being pulled down from behaving like a sage and prudent statesman to behaving like an unduly pugnacious partisan politician even when he had little reason to so (i.e., between elections). This is particularly true during the latter part of his 10 years in office.
Wall went public ‘ahead of the pack’
The other characteristic evident in the context of federal-provincial and inter-provincial relations. He had the opportunity to be a significant leader and force in those two contexts.
However, some of his strategies, approaches and temperament while engaged in such relations were not conducive to gaining the degree of influence and power that he had hoped in his efforts to determine priorities and to shape the policies and programs.
On some significant issues he tended to go public and sometimes get ahead of the pack before the pack had reached a consensus and was willing to follow his lead.
One wonders how much more successful he would have been if he had opted for different strategies and approaches. When he humbly conceded that he made mistakes, it leads me to wonder whether he may have any particular mistakes in mind regarding these important relations.
None of the foregoing observations regarding his characteristics or tendencies is to suggest that he was not a very capable premier who achieved a lot; rather, it is to suggest that he may have achieved even more, and over a longer period of time.
Moving the party forward
The sign of a good leader is one who cares enough about the mission to continue to serve and be constructive on the way out. Premier Wall’s speech announcement of his impending resignation is a case in point.
In that speech he laid out a very thoughtful and positive narrative for the incoming leader and for moving the party and the province forward.
It is a speech on which the platform or the upcoming by-elections and the next provincial election can and will be built.
In thinking of the next general election we are left wondering whether anyone other than Premier Wall will be able to use it to lead the Saskatchewan Party to form a fourth majority government.