Grant Devine appointment motivated by partisan interests

By in Opinions

Following the provincial government’s appointment of former Saskatchewan Premier Grant Devine to the University of Saskatchewan’s Board of Governors, concerns of partisanship and financial ineptitude have been brought up by the general public.

Let’s break down what this means and why it matters for students.

The Board of Governors at the U of S is the body that oversees all of the financial, administrative and managerial matters of the university. The board uses a voting system to pass decisions and is comprised of 11 members, with each member entitled to one vote. One of the major decisions that the board makes is approving tuition rates.

The board is comprised of different representatives, with seats reserved for the university president, the university chancellor, the U of S Students’ Union president, a faculty member, members of the university senate and five officials appointed by the lieutenant-governor of the provincial government.

The lieutenant-governor appoints the five officials on the advice of the cabinet, particularly the minister of advanced education. Minister Bronwyn Eyre, who is responsible for the university’s funding cuts, is also responsible for appointing Grant Devine. But who is Grant Devine?

Grant Devine is a former professor in the College of Agriculture and also the former premier of Saskatchewan, who is notorious for ballooning the provincial deficit. Additionally, a number of his MLAs were charged with fraud under his leadership. When Devine placed his bid for the federal Conservative Party in 2004, he was denied entry due to his poor record as premier.

Considering the Board of Governors is responsible for the finances of the university, and knowing Devine’s track record, how can the minister of advanced education justify this appointment? While Minister Eyre has responded to criticisms by insisting that Devine is qualified by virtue of his experience in academics and teaching, according to popular opinion, there are many layers of partisanship within his appointment.

It is important to note that the university chancellor is another former Saskatchewan premier. Roy Romanow was appointed as chancellor in November 2016 and was premier in 1991, following Grant Devine. Now, they will sit on the Board of Governors together.

Given that Romanow was the leader of the NDP Party, while Devine was the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, speculations indicate that the Saskatchewan Party’s appointment of Devine was for political purposes, perhaps as a mechanism to spite the NDP or as a way to even the score within the board.

While Devine was still the premier of Saskatchewan, Brad Wall was an assistant to members of Devine’s cabinet. Today, rumours persist that Devine acts as an advisor and mentor to Wall and continues to keep close ties to the Saskatchewan Party as a donor and supporter. The relationship between Wall and Devine points to cronyism, or the act of making an appointment that is favourable to the Saskatchewan Party’s interests.

The provincial government made an unprecedented move by ending the terms of two governors earlier than expected and installing Devine as one of the replacements. Historically, board members hold three-year terms that can be renewed twice. However, two of the former board members had their renewals denied. The only other time this has happened in recent memory was during the TransformUS initiative, a plan to examine and prioritize academic programs that was scrapped in 2013.

Failure to renew the term of a board member is akin to firing them. Additionally, it is incredibly rare for two board members not to be reappointed. Due to the whimsical nature of this move, the underlying motives are questionable.

With all of these ulterior motives in mind, it becomes clear that Devine’s appointment occurred for all of the wrong reasons. The university is an institution of learning, and the Board of Governors exists to steer the university’s strategic direction. If the provincial government is using the board as an avenue for political partisanship and threatening the university’s autonomy, are student interests really at the forefront?

Jessica Quan

Graphic: Lesia Karalash / Graphics Editor

  • Erik Carey

    So you acknowledge there was already a partisan appointment in Roy Romanov but insist this is just proof the sask party appointed Devine just to get even? How is Romanov’s appointment any less partisan or political? Devine served 2 terms as premier, he was a former prof, he currently works at the university and like Romanov is a kind decent person with experience. Personally I think it’s great we have bipartisan views on the board of governors. It’s a shame the NDP are that blinded by partisanship they overlook their own appointments. And the conspiracy theories regarding Devine as some sort of puppet master to the government in regina is laughable. They wouldn’t touch anything PC related with a ten foot pole. Even the federal conservative party prevented him from seeking a nomination in the mid 2000s. Speaking of partisanship Ms. Quan perhaps you should stop shilling for the New Democrats and try representing all students like the USSU is supposed to.

  • Joshua Brand

    Erik, I think you completely missed the point on this article. It is clearly shown through many ways, that the Devine appointment is incredibly troublesome. Yes, he was a professor with links to the university, but I would argue that he is far from a “decent person” when looking into his fraudulent track record, especially because he now will be a vote on major university finances. As well, it is clearly evident that the Sask Party does actually keep connections with him, through Brad Wall; Wall has followed in Devine’s footsteps and makes political moves just like Devine did, not to mention that he worked and idolized Devine while he was in office. This article is not “shilling” for the New Democrats, but rather pointing out the obvious that Wall’s decision to put a friend in the Board of Governors is an utterly wrong move that only serves to benefit Wall when his government is finally ousted and when he’ll need friends in places all over Saskatchewan to protect his ass when the accusations of misconduct and lawsuits come in.

    • Erik Carey

      Like Ms. Quan you are skipping around the fact another former premier of the New Democratic variety currently sits on the board of governors. The man responsible for prudent investments such as SPUDCO. Mismanagement and corruption can be found in any government. Are you suggesting Roy Romanow should maintain his position because he just wasn’t quite as incompetent or corrupt as Devine? Either you’re okay with political appointees or you’re not. Otherwise it’s extremely hypocritical and biased to advocate we keep left winger Roy Romanow but turf a conservative like Grant Devine. Again If you think Devine has anything to do with provincial politics you are living in a fantasy world. This is shilling for the ndp plain and simple.

    • David D’Eon

      Erik, the appointment of Roy Romanow is done through a vote in the University Senate, and was passed unanimously, by a room of more than 100 people representing different organizations and businesses with stakes in the University. I’m not making an argument ideologically, just saying there’s an obvious difference just in the way that these people are chosen.

    • Joshua Brand

      I think again, you’ve missed the point. Romanow’s appointment through the univeristy was extremely transparent which included thorough process – including multiple discussions (centering around him being a political figure as well as a professor) which lead to a vote. Devine on the other hand was appointed after unprecedented removal of other board members and absolutely no discussion with the university – there was zero consultation. This shows that the act Devine’s appointment does not actually care for the university at all, but rather is in pure interest to the current Wall government.

  • Mark Stobbe

    Make no mistake about it. I opposed many of the policies of the Grant Devine administration – even to the point of co-editing a book about it (Devine Rule in Saskatchewan – A Decade of Hope and Hardship). That being said, I was happy to hear of his appointment to the Board of Governors of the University of Saskatchewan. He is a smart guy with a wealth of experience that has been underutilized by Saskatchewan for the past twenty-five years. Further, he is a man who treats those around him with exceptional grace and consideration. Quite simply, he is a great appointment.

    So we come to his record in office. I personally don’t believe that he’ll ever be considered as one of Saskatchewan’s great premier’s, but so what? Most students on campus were not even born when he was defeated in 1991. Have we reached the point where policy disagreements should form the basis for perpetual shunning and hatred? If we have reached the point where political disagreement means effective exile from polite society, we are not far from jailing those who we disagree with. That path leads to tyranny.

    Finally, Quan raised the issue of the caucus office fraud convictions as a reason to shun Mr. Devine. This is both stupid and morally wrong for two reasons. First – Mr. Devine has never been convicted of any corruption offense. He’s never been charged with one. To my knowledge, he’s never even been accused of one – even by his most bitter political foes. Quite simply, he is a man of great personal integrity – as have been all the Premiers of Saskatchewan that I have had the privilege of meeting (six). Using the crimes of others as a reason for banishment is lynch-mob guilt by association stupidity. Second, as crimes go, the majority of those convicted of fraud arising from the operations of the Conservative caucus office in the 1980s’ were not criminal masterminds. Most of the offenses that people were charged for were petty and the result of being dumb or distracted rather than duplicitous or dishonest. There were a few that did genuinely corrupt things, and they were punished in an appropriately harsh way by the justice system. That should end the matter.

    One of the prerequisites of a healthy democratic society is the ability to work with people with whom you have political and policy disagreements. For those agitated about Mr. Devine’s appointment, get over it. He’s got a lot to offer, and after twenty-five years there should be some end to treating him like the boogie-man under your bed.