The resounding election win on November 7 for Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party not only represents a momentous change in Saskatchewan politics, but also reflects the growing internationalism of the New West and a model of Canadian leadership in the 21st century.
The Saskatchewan Party rolled on to its second straight majority government after 16 years of NDP rule and it appears to be making great strides to become entrenched as the natural governing party of a newly-emerging Saskatchewan. This is especially noteworthy because the CCF/NDP has always considered Saskatchewan as its ideological heartland and rock-solid support base.
For someone growing up in Saskatchewan the changes on the ground since 2007 have been earthshaking. Seeing cranes in the sky and ever-expanding neighbourhoods on this scale in the last four years were a sight unseen in the 1990s, let alone at any point since 1905. Saskatchewan is now a ‘have’ province, larger than at any point in its 106-year history, the leader in economic growth in Canada and a quickly emerging international player.
Past leadership in Saskatchewan took a much different view: to them the outside world was a place fraught with danger, immigrants with new practices and ideas were suspect and business harmed, rather than helped society. For the majority of the post-war era, Saskatchewan governments chased out talent (the running joke was that Saskatchewan’s main export was people) and moved to expropriate private enterprise in fiery rhetoric more reminiscent of the old Fidel Castro than anything North American. Labour unions dominated the political scene and prevented basic initiatives like secret-ballot certification or even essential services legislation from taking hold. Whenever the government would come under any political heat they would resort to the same-old scare tactics that worked in the past: non-socialists are “wolves in sheeps’ clothing,” Crown corporations would be sold off for pennies and capitalist fat cats would rule over the populace like ancient satraps.
Change began to bubble up in 1997 when the Saskatchewan Party was formed out of a merger between the provincial PC and Liberal parties. In the 1999 and 2003 elections the NDP used traditional scare tactics like those above to hold on to power. The mentality that Saskatchewan would never be a leader in Canada, let alone the world, as well as the constant acceptance of mediocrity prevailed. However, all this changed in 2007. The NDP was defeated in an historic election result, summed up the Wall’s “Hope Beat Fear” on election night. (Interestingly enough portions of this speech were used by Obama speechwriters a year later)
Since 2007 Saskatchewan has posted phenomenal economic growth numbers (projected at 4.4% for 2011). Private sector capital investment has increased to $14 billion/year, exports are up 50% and the provincial debt was reduced by 44%. Unemployment is the lowest in Canada and population numbers have burst the level stagnant since the Great Depression. The province is also investing in innovation: $273 million since 2008, $1.24 billion in the clean-coal Boundary Dam Integrated Carbon Capture and Storage Demonstration Project, ⅓ of Canadian bio-tech is based in Saskatoon, and the city is home to Canadian Light Source: the only synchrotron particle accelerator in Canada. Even the CBC went so far as to declare Saskatoon the “Science Capital of Canada.”
On top of the innovation agenda the Province is rapidly opening up internationally. Many new faces are now seen in Saskatchewan communities thanks to the wildly successful Immigrant Nominee Program. Employers are desperate to fill positions. Associations like the Islamic Association of Saskatchewan are bursting at the seams and must rent extra space for large events. For foodies, new restaurants now serve ethnic food only found in Toronto or Vancouver only a few years ago (Wall also spoke at a Tandoori chicken dinner in Toronto in 2008). In short, Wall is wildly popular with new immigrants, many of whom come for economic reasons, as scores flock to embrace the New Saskatchewan with a new international vision.
Furthermore, the Saskatchewan Party has been very proactive promoting Saskatchewan and the West abroad. After the New West Partnership was agreed to in 2010 the New West (B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan) opened trade offices in Shanghai and Mumbai. Trade missions went out to East and South East Asia, universities took in record numbers of international students, while major international events like the Pacific Northwest Economic Region Summit will take place in Saskatoon in 2012. As well, Public-Private Partnerships like STEP (The Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership) and the Global Transportation Hub are making major waves: STEP will send out over 80 trade missions next year. Saskatchewan’s importance has dramatically increased as well: over 40% of all of Canada’s trade with India comes from Saskatchewan and by the end of 2012 Saskatchewan will export more, in dollar value, than British Columbia (4.5 times the size). The U of S will be home to a new Food Security Institute. Finally, Saskatchewan is much less dependant on U.S. exports than most of Canada and poised to become the foremost exporting province, all this while having the hardest route to get exports onto ships.
How Wall has done it
The secret in its success is the ability to seamlessly fuse the political centre in a vision that comports with the vast majority of voters. Under Wall’s leadership the party has embraced a highly popular vision based firmly in a cosmopolitan outlook, a freer economy and solidly pro-immigration stance.
Brad Wall’s vision is one that not only fits with many in Saskatchewan, but also reflects a growing consensus in society that Canada is a major international player driven by the spearheads of immigration, natural resources, and innovation. The next four years will prove an exciting time in Saskatchewan, as each day in the previous four years has been better than the last. It is often said that Wall’s vision is one for a “New Saskatchewan,” however, one could not help but think that he possesses the right mix to propel the West and Canada into true international leadership in the 21st century.