Premier Brad Wall stands at a crossroads.
His cabinet is fractured by the loss of Deputy Premier Don McMorris and the cabinet resignations of Environment Minister Herb Cox and Economy Minister Bill Boyd. The pipeline spill on the North Saskatchewan River and the drunk driving charges against McMorris have left the party’s reputation hanging by a thread, regardless of whether or not an impartial observer would blame the Sask. Party for either incident.
It is likely that the future of the Sask. Party will be largely determined by Wall’s upcoming cabinet shuffle and the appointment of his new deputy premier. (Jim Reiter is currently performing the deputy premier duties in addition to being Minister of Nearly Everything.)
Wall’s cabinet shuffle could go one of two ways: he could either stay the course and appoint established party veterans to his cabinet, or he could shake things up with some newer, younger blood.
If he decides to take the safer and more moderate approach, inviting only the most loyal, known and proven candidates to the cabinet table, Wall risks repeating one of the biggest recent mistakes in Canadian politics – leaving a party without a legacy.
I’m not anticipating Wall disappearing from the Saskatchewan political scene any time soon, but unless he wants to leave behind a party as fractured and headless as the federal Conservative Party of Canada after Harper’s departure, he had better start building a lasting legacy right now.
The Conservative Party had long been “the Harper party,” and the Sask. Party is currently at risk of becoming “the Wall party.” With the untimely departures of McMorris, Cox and Boyd, Wall is quickly becoming the only widely-known face and name associated with our provincial government.
The trouble with one-man parties is that while they can be extremely effective during their time in government, they are effectively doomed the minute the leader steps aside. When Rona Ambrose was elected as interim Conservative leader in October, she was undoubtedly qualified, yet the reaction from the public could be summed up as “Rona who? Never heard of her.”
If Wall decides to take the shake-things-up approach (as I am hoping he does), he will appoint younger, less well-known members of his caucus to cabinet positions, and possibly even appoint a deputy premier whose name is not Reiter or Morgan.
Some cabinet positions will require a proven hand on the wheel, most notably in the Ministries of Environment and Education where the fallout from the Husky Energy oil spill and the party’s education cuts in their most recent budget will still require some nimble politicking.
Other cabinet positions are less crucial to the Sask. Party’s day-to-day operation. When, for example, is the last time a news cycle was dominated by the Ministry of Corrections and Policing? Now is Wall’s chance to move Cabinet Minister (and former Saskatoon Police Sergeant) Christine Tell into a more prominent role in the party and appoint someone new into her former role.
Wall might likewise see fit to promote Jennifer Campeau into a more visible cabinet role. Campeau ran as a voice for Aboriginal Canadians and recent immigrants in her riding of Saskatoon Fairview, a mandate slightly restricted by her current role as Minister of Central Services and Minister Responsible for Saskatchewan Transportation Company.
Increasing the prominence of Tell or Campeau would also serve to demonstrate that the Sask. Party is not totally dominated by old white men. Merit must always be considered first, naturally, but no observer could fail to notice the shocking number of grey moustaches bristling among the Sask. Party caucus. Wall, who condemned racism in Saskatchewan in a Facebook post last week, could not fail to see the benefits of such an appointment in backing up his speech.
The list of ministers who might be ready for an upwards move also includes Jeremy Harrison, who is currently Associate Minister of the Economy Responsible for Trade, Tourism, Innovation and Immigration. Harrison is no longer as young as we was when he became the youngest Canadian to have been elected as both MP and MLA (he’s 38) but the party would still benefit from a younger face in a major cabinet position. Wall should consider moving him into Boyd’s newly-vacated chair.
For the deputy premier position, the obvious choices are Jim Reiter, Don Morgan and Kevin Doherty; any of them would do a fine job. A couple of less-obvious choices include Donna Harpauer, who has quietly been doing excellent work on improving the status of women in the province, and Gordon Wyant, whose work chairing the Saskatoon Public School Board leaves him well-placed to deal with the annual crisis of educational funding which is sure to arise come September.
In truth, Wall will probably land somewhere in the middle, hitting a balance between safe appointments of seasoned vets and appointments the public and media will find more exciting. Will he do enough to gain back some much-needed political capital? Time will tell.