Leaving after a bad budget is not leadership

By in Opinions

Is fleeing the scene after making a mess leadership? Nope. Brad Wall saddled the province of Saskatchewan with an unfortunate budget in 2017, then left his post as the Jolly Roger crashed and burned on Regina’s mighty shore.

In 2007, the Saskatchewan Party swept into the legislature just as the province’s economy was on route to a boom. It was morning in Saskatchewan, and for many years following, that illusion of morning in Saskatchewan was ever-present. Premier Wall and his government have had ample money and resources to play with.

The revenue of the provincial government for the 2016-17 year was nearly $11 billion. In the last revenue year under the New Democratic Party government that preceded Wall, that number was about $8.6 billion. And yet, the debt of this province is higher today than it was in 2007 — or even in 1993, when Saskatchewan nearly went bankrupt.

By the end of 2017, the province’s public debt was around $16.1 billion. That number is predicted to rise to $22.8 billion by 2021. How exactly does a government get handed a royal flush and still somehow lose the hand?

But, enough with the boring — albeit important — fiscal evidence that Premier Wall’s government did not appropriately manage money. Let’s talk about leadership. It is my opinion that Premier Brad Wall was not a true leader after all.

Yes, I have respect for the office that he held for over a decade, and I’ll admit it is true that he is the most popular conservative Saskatchewan premier in modern memory. And yes, I have met him — he is a very nice man who treated me with respect on the few occasions we had the chance to speak, despite knowing I was not on his team.

However, I would argue that anyone, even a very nice man like Wall, can manage a province when they are presiding over record high revenues. I cannot stress enough how integral the resource revenue boom from 2008 to 2015 was to Wall’s success.

Wall’s Graduate Retention Program — which originally gave graduates up to $20,000 towards their student debt if they stayed and worked in the province — might not have been possible without that boom. And yet, beginning in 2012, the province’s debt — which was previously being paid off — started to rise rapidly. In fact, six out of 10 of Premier Wall’s budgets were deficit budgets.

Which brings us to 2017 — arguably the worst budget in Wall’s time as premier. This dumpster fire of a budget contained a five per cent cut in base operational funding for provincial post-secondary institutions. Additionally, Saskatchewan’s health regions were amalgamated in what was likely a cost-saving measure, and the Provincial Sales Tax was raised from five to six percent and applied to everything from your date-night supper to the clothing kids wear.

I placed a bet with my friends that Premier Wall would resign in January 2019. My rationale was that he would take at least two bad budgets, own them, and go out having gone through the true test of leadership — governing in bad times. I lost this bet.

Less than five months into this very bad budget, Wall announced his retirement from politics near the end of summer — when no one was paying attention to the news — on Aug. 10, 2017. To me, leaving after delivering the worst budget in his history as premier is cowardly. He did not own his mess.

Premier Wall and his government are responsible for the fiscal challenges that Saskatchewan is facing today. The plaque that Wall placed above the cabinet office as he left reads: “Did you leave things better than you found them?” He hasn’t.

Austin MacNally

Graphic: Lesia Karalash / Graphics Editor