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Thursday, August 31, 2006 

The REAL Reason For Harper's Saskatchewan Visit

Stephen Harper spent the last day and a half in Saskatchewan. He spent one hour doing a cameo appearance on ‘Corner Gas’, he rubbed shoulders with his 12 local Members of Parliament, and he re-announced the $161 million for the RCMP that was already announced in the spring budget. Then he left.

He didn't meet with any provincial politicians. He did not appear on any radio or TV shows. He did one tense scrum with reporters where the only topic they wanted information on was the outstanding Tory promise to follow through on the Equalization promise.

So with nothing actually achieved .... what was the point of the trip? Allow me to speculate.

Mr. Harper’s goal was simply to 'hold hands' with his very nervous 12 Conservative MP’s. Why are they nervous? There is a twofold reason:

The equalization promise IS a big deal for Saskatchewan. It could amount to upwards of $800 Million per year of non renewable resource money staying in this province. For a province of one million souls, that is not chump change. Since the election, people here have sensed a hesitation to deliver on the promise and the 12 Tory MP’s are under pressure to ensure things flow as hyped by their own campaign.

The decline of the Liberal vote in Saskatchewan during the election, allowed 12 of 14 seats to go to the Conservatives and any resurgence of Liberal support would knock some of them out, both directly and by allowing the NDP to go up the middle and claim some seats.

You have to understand Saskatchewan’s tenuous relationship with ‘conservatives’.

The last time this province had a ‘conservative’ government was under the Grant Devine administration during the 1980's and early ‘90's . During their nine years, they did not balance even one budget and grew the provincial debt by billions, nearly forcing the Province into receivership. The final cherry on the old conservative cake was the trials and convictions of 16 Conservative Cabinet Ministers and Members of the Legislature for fraud and breach of trust! There is NO functioning provincial wing of the Conservative Party. The official opposition, Saskatchewan Party is their heir. A few token fallen Liberals in their ranks allow them to deny any connection with the Conservative Party.

So back to the reason Mr. Harper was in Saskatchewan for a couple of days: To soothe and calm the nerves of his 12 apostles who are nervous about things that have been promised.

For a Prime Minster who may be trying to hold on to minority government status after the next election, every seat is going to count. A number of his Saskatchewan 12 may not be a sure bet.

So ... what's your number $700 million or $900 million? I don't think I am far off the number that even a couple of the Conservative MP's said when they were still in oppositon.

Here is a Regina Conservative MP in the House of Commons:

"There is no equalization deal for Saskatchewan, which is what the Conservative Party has been consistently demanding from the government. To put it into perspective, a new equalization deal would have meant an additional $750 million for Saskatchewan, my province, this year alone.
- Mr. Dave Batters (Palliser, CPC) Hansard

Here is another Conservative Member of Parliament on Eqalization:

"This is not something just unique to the Conservative Party, but we believe there is a tremendous flaw in the current equalization formula… It is estimated that Saskatchewan, had it received that same deal a decade ago, would have received an additional $8 billion for the province from non-renewable resource revenues…. In regard to equalization, Saskatchewan is being treated very unfairly…. By not providing a fair deal for Saskatchewan, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance have turned their backs on our province"
Mr. Maurice Vellacott (Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, CPC) Hansard

It is the technical part of the Equalization issue that makes the average voter's head hurt to unravel. I do not want to murky the waters, and perhaps thereby allow Harper some slack on this issue. They know what they promised. Now they are into weighing all of the risks. Will breaking the promise affect their seat count in Saskatchewan if they do not come forward with the goods? We shall see.

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