Brad Wall Is Saskatchewan and That’s Why He Handily Won the Election
Brad Wall chalked up a third consecutive majority government for his lean, green, NDP-stomping machine. Here's why.
Well, there you go. To the surprise of absolutely nobody, Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party steamrolled their opponents yet again, setting up a third consecutive monster majority government. Saskatchewan is firmly locked down as the new homeland for conservative politics in Canada.
Meanwhile, the NDP have totally fallen apart. After running one of the sleepiest campaigns in recent memory, they managed to snag one more seat than they did in 2011. But they took less of the popular vote, just over 30% this year compared to 32% in 2011. And their leader, Cam Broten, lost his seat—making this is the second election in a row where the NDP leader has lost a seat to the Sask Party.
To put it politely, this is a goddamn trainwreck for the NDP.
So how did this happen? Why has the NDP collapsed so badly, so deeply, in the historic homeland of Canadian socialism?
Basically: the Saskatchewan NDP is not very good these days, and people fucking love Brad Wall. But let's back up a bit first.
The NDP Just Can't Get Past the 90s
GIF-based nostalgia for the 90s is all the rage in our current cultural zeitgeist, but you can forgive Saskatchewanians who are hesitant to get on board. The 1990s were an extraordinarily shitty time for the province, and it still casts a long shadow on the provincial NDP.
Ironically, this is largely thanks to the Saskatchewan Party's forebears: the Progressive Conservative party and its last premier, Grant Devine. Devine's government was famously terrible. Among other things, Devine's government brutalized the public sector, moved government buildings to totally irrational (and inefficient) rural areas, and saw a whopping 13 government MLAs get charged with expense account fraud. Another of Devine's cabinet ministers was convicted of killing his ex-wife.
They also totally bankrupted the province. Finances were so rough that by the time 1991 rolled around, the government was refusing to release a budget. Instead, they circumvented democratic oversight, prorogued the legislature, and governed through special warrant until they were turfed in the next election. It's legitimately impressive how badly the Devine PCs fucked up considering they were only around for nine years.
This was the shape in which Saskatchewan's last Dipper dynasty found the place when Roy Romanow took power in 1991. The books were so bad that credit agencies in New York were threatening to come in and take over the finance ministry. Throw in Canada's grueling recession, and the NDP were stuck cleaning up the mess for the better part of the of their 15-year run.
Not satisfied to see the social democrats returned to power, the last four MLAs from the Devine PC rump joined up with four disgruntled Liberals in 1997 to form the Saskatchewan Party, the Prairies' mean, green, NDP-stomping machine.
Even so, it took a couple elections to get properly revved up. Like, for instance, then-leader Elwin Hermanson had to tearfully explain to voters in 2003 thathe was not, in fact, a Nazi. But once young firebrand Brad Wall came on board in 2004, everything started coming up Saskatchewan.
It's Actually Pretty Easy to be Green
Even if you hate his politics, it's genuinely hard to hate Brad Wall. How can you hate someone who does such a killer rapping Ronald Reagan impression?
This is a killer rap video.
Brad Wall is also genuinely good at playing the political game. He is head and shoulders above his competition both inside the legislature and out on the campaign trail. He has a knack for sloganeering ("We'll make Saskatchewan the place to be, rather than the place to be from") and a gift for political theatre. In opposition, the Sask Party started something called "the patient of the day"—bringing some poor, long suffering individual into the gallery to showcase the horrors of healthcare under the socialists. It's a profoundly cheap and cynical move, but it works—so well, in fact, that the opposition NDP is now doing it themselves.
Obviously, it also helped that the dying years of Lorne Calvert's NDP government was characterized by a wholesale institutional shitting of the bed. In its last term, Canada's preeminent labour party doubled down on austerity, failed to renew itself, and alienated a generation of up-and-coming young professionals and party activists. Even if Wall had been the sort of charmless hack that every provincial political scene has in spades, the premiership would have been his on a silver platter.
But that's the other thing: people fucking love the guy on a personal level. He is the closest thing this country has to a bonafide man of the people since Danny Williams rode his 65%-plus approval ratings into the Atlantic sunset. Wall briefly managed a country music museum in Swift Current and regularly appears on sports shows to talk shop about the Roughriders. He is pure, distilled Saskatchewan.
Two weeks after Wall was first elected in 2007, the Riders actually won the Grey Cup for the first time in 18 years. The Riders have never won the cup while the NDP were in office, but they've won it twice under Brad Wall. God's will has never been more clear on earth. Small wonder rural Saskatchewan bleeds green.
To a point, it doesn't really matter what the Sask Party does, good or bad, pounding its chest for the Canadian oil industry or pissing away millions of dollars on a cultish group of consultants selling a snake oil called "Lean management." The government is the Party, the Party is the premier, and the premier is the province. This thing called Saskatchewan is doing good and Saskatchewan is Brad Wall and everything is awesome.
That, and their opposition is absolutely useless. Nowhere was this more obvious than in the tedious grind of the 2016 election.
Another Brick in the Wall, Part 3
The Sask Party may be sitting in a fortress on top of a hill, but no government is indestructible—the longer they're in power, the more dirt accumulates. For instance, no one has any idea how bad the economic situation in Saskatchewan actually is in the wake of the oil crash, because the government hasn't released a budget yet. In addition to the problems with Lean, the provincial government had a hand in some sketchy land deals near a Regina industrial park called the Global Transportation Hub, which spawned an impressive grudge match between Sask Party Sith Lord Bill Boyd and his former business partner Jason Dearborn. And last month, a provincial social services worker shipped two homeless men out of the province with one-way bus tickets instead of, you know, providing social services.
None of these things were likely to bring down the government, but they at least proved there were some cracks in the Sask Party's foundation.
But rather than seize on any of this, Cam Broten's NDP opted to run a tepid, uninspired campaign to "cut the Sask Party waste," a slogan that could have come straight from Rob Ford. A week into the NDP campaign, they dropped four candidates due to dumb social media posts and replaced their campaign manager. What's a good Canadian political campaign in the 2010s without a someone getting fired for posting stupid shit on Facebook?
Much like their federal cousins in the fall, the NDP failed to articulate a genuine vision for the province. Instead, they opted to try and scare the shit out of people by telling them that the Sask Party was going to hock off every public service in a fire sale.
Which, sure—except that Brad Wall has run two monster majorities in nine years and Sask Power, Sask Energy, Saskatchewan Government Insurance, and Sask Tel are all still good old-fashioned Crown corps. He's either playing one hell of a long game, or the Sask Party's anarcho-capitalist streak has been greatly overexaggerated.
Broten was rewarded for his efforts by losing his seat and seeing his party implode. The NDP was never going to win this election, but that makes the tediously safe campaign they ran even stranger. If you're David going up against Goliath, you may as well swing for the fucking fences. Fortune favours the bold. It certainly wouldn't have turned out any worse.
In a weird way, Broten seemed to be trapped by the weight of the NDP's history. He was managed to death by handlers in a party apparatus without an energized, organized base and the poor guy was endlessly judged according to his predecessors, his federal counterparts, and living up to whatever neurotic ideas the party has about its own "brand." The collapse in Saskatchewan is a microcosm of the identity crisis at work in the NDP all over the country right now. It's a bad omen for both Thomas Mulcair's upcoming weekend in Edmonton and an NDP government in Manitoba fighting for its life in their election later this month.
Brad Wall, meanwhile, doesn't have any of these problems, because he is the Saskatchewan brand—the party, and the province. He is the lodestar of Western, conservative alienation, the bulwark against the twin threats of Justin Trudeau's Ottawa and NDP-occupied Alberta. He also loves your favourite CFL team as much as you do. This guy is not going anywhere unless it's on his own terms.
But that's the thing—he will, eventually, go somewhere. He'll either try to make afederal break to lead the Conservatives back to power, or he'll just retire from the game altogether when he's had his fill of the grind. And there is a brutal downside to running a one-man show.
Danny Williams left Newfoundland six years ago, and now the island is sinking into the sea. The Sask Party should be wary of orbiting the Brad Wall superstar too closely. When it's gone, a black hole opens in its wake.
But hey, that's probably not going to happen for a while, right? Let the good times roll. I hear the Riders are looking pretty fucking good this year.
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