When a political party spends a decade in power, the government MLAs tend to get arrogant and entitled. What’s happening in Saskatchewan is a case study in this.
Unifor has recently called Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall a liar. It is basically the worst thing you can call a politician, whose main currency is trust. Has Unifor gone too far you may ask, or has Brad Wall entered new territory that befits the label?
The charge that Brad Wall has lied to voters is based on fact. It is rooted in Wall’s public statements made during the 2016 provincial election, legislation that his government later passed in the spring 2017, and new revelations that the province’s cabinet ministers are busy finding buyers for public assets, including Saskatchewan’s popular Crown corporations.
Let me recap to explain why in fact Wall deserves this label. It all starts with a fairly predictable moment in the 2016 election. On March 15 last year, then-Leader of the Saskatchewan NDP Cam Broten called on Brad Wall to say whether or not the Saskatchewan Party would sell off Saskatchewan Crown corporations. For decades, one of the important policy distinctions between the NDP and right-wing parties in Saskatchewan was their position on the province’s Crowns.
The NDP wanted to highlight the fact that, during the first nine years of Brad Wall’s government, many publicly-owned assets and entities have been privatized. The NDP also wanted to solidify their position as the defenders of Saskatchewan Crowns corporations.
In responding to this tactic in the past, the Sask Party has either 1) hinted that they would consider privatization—arguably costing them the 2003 election, or 2) taken the populist position to keep Saskatchewan’s biggest Crowns public.
On that day, Brad Wall appeared to be taking the same tack as he did in recent elections. In an interview with the CBC, Wall said:
"There's something we signed on to called the Crown Corporation Protection Act, or to that effect. Basically, it protects Crowns from being privatized," he said. "If elected, we will make one change to that: that's to the liquor retailing in the province. And we've already announced that." (NDP vows not to sell off Crown corporations, CBC.ca, March 15, 2016)
That’s pretty clear. A man running to be re-elected as Premier of Saskatchewan explicitly stating that, aside from liquor distribution, legislation preventing privatization of Crown corporations will not be changed.
Wall didn’t stop there. He went on to name the Crown corporations that were explicitly off the table:
"Will [the Act] be changed with respect to [SaskTel]? No. SaskPower? No. SaskEnergy? No. SGI? No," he said. "With respect to the major Crowns, we will not be changing it if we're re-elected again." (NDP vows not to sell off Crown corporations, CBC.ca, March 15, 2016)
There is no ambiguity in Wall’s statements. He told voters in the clearest terms: if you vote for me, I will not privatize Crown corporations.
Evidently somebody at the CBC in Saskatchewan was still skeptical, so they followed up with an email to Saskatchewan Party headquarters. Just to be sure. Triple sure. They got confirmation:
In an email to CBC, a Sask. Party representative clarified that they would not privatize Crowns mentioned in the Crown Corporations Act, 1993. (NDP vows not to sell off Crown corporations, CBC.ca, March 15, 2016)
Case closed? Voters that wanted Saskatchewan’s Crowns to remain public could feel confident in casting their ballot for Brad Wall, right?
Just six months after the election, the Sask. Party tabled Bill 40, which enabled the privatization of up to 49% of any Saskatchewan Crown corporation. Cabinet ministers got right to work on seeking buyers, as Wall’s minister for Crowns recently admitted to CTV.
So Brad Wall lied. But what’s at stake?
The birthplace of publicly-owned utilities, Saskatchewan’s many Crown corporations are both successful and popular. The Crown corps save residents money every day on costs like energy and phone bills. Core public services like hospitals and schools are partially funded through dividends received from Crowns. Finally, Crown corporations are a source of good unionized jobs in the province.
A poll conducted for Unifor in 2016 found that 87% of people in Saskatchewan think it is important that the government own and operate Crown corporations.
Calling Brad Wall a liar is not hyperbole—it is supported by the contrast between repeated public statements and his post-election actions.
His deception undermined the 2016 election results and threatens the fundamentals of Saskatchewan’s economy. His lies during the election means that he has no mandate to move ahead with privatization. He should step down and call an election if he intends on following through with privatizing any portion of a Crown corporation.