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Monday, October 17, 2011 

A Slow Burn Underneath Saskatchewan's Ruling Party - By Brian Topp , September 2010

The following article was written a year ago by Brian Topp ... prior to his election as President of the New Democratic Party of Canada and prior to the death of Jack Layton and Mr. Topp's subsequent run for Leader of the NDP. This great article sheds light on a major problem that smolders beneath Brad Wall's Saskatchewan Party:

A slow burn underneath Saskatchewan's ruling party
Brian Topp
Posted on Saturday, September 18, 2010
Globe & Mail

"To my good fortune, I got to go back to Regina for a few days last weekend to attend some interesting meetings at the request of New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton.

Mr. Layton demonstrated some important truths about the value of deliberative democracy at those sessions. At the end of the day, adult political debate produces the best results, even if some of our country's columnists find them difficult to endure and prefer the discipline of phony "majority government". The alternative they prefer, on offer from both Michael Ignatieff and Stephen Harper, is about infantilizing our Members of Parliament and our democracy. This commentator put things very well.

Meanwhile, visiting the province gave me an opportunity to catch up with some friends and with the always-fascinating world of Saskatchewan provincial politics. The elm trees lining the city's downtown residential neighbourhoods are at their most beautiful this time of year. The marble Legislature gleams. And Conservatives are fighting each other over the net proceeds of a generation of bagmen.

What's with that?

As is explained here, in 1995 Saskatchewan's Progressive Conservative Party set up a trust fund. They reportedly tucked about $3-million into that fund, left over from many years of fundraising by their party among Albertan oil companies, on Bay Street, and among various other (shall we say) stakeholders of the former government of premier Grant Devine.

In 1995 the Progressive Conservatives were four years out of office. They rarely polled in the double digits. They were about to be clobbered again in another election. And so they decided they needed to bring some better order to their sole remaining asset -- that big pile of cash, raised from persons unknown.

In 1997, some Liberal MLAs left their party and formed a coalition with the Progressive Conservative rump in the Saskatchewan Legislature. This new entity, the "Saskatchewan Party," allowed the province's conservatives to slowly turn the page on their lamentable record in office. After a decade's work, they finally took power under Premier (and former Devine political aide) Brad Wall in 2007.

As for the province's Progressive Conservative Party, it took a two-election hiatus.

But then, it turned out, the Saskatchewan PCs had some life left in them. Progressive Conservatives were proud of their long record. As is recounted here, they first elected an MLA in 1887, and played a central role in Saskatchewan politics ever since. They were the party of John Diefenbaker. They didn't see themselves in the soft-focus "Saskatchewan Party" brand. They didn't want to disappear. And so they elected a new leader (former PC MLA Rick Swenson, a formidable politician), and ran some candidates in the 2007 election.

And they asked for their money back.

However, key figures from the "Saskatchewan Party" control the $3-million fund. They declined to make the fund available for its purpose, which (as spelled out in its charter) is to "support the operations of the Progressive Conservative Party of Saskatchewan."

So as you'd expect, the whole matter has ended up in court.

Premier Wall's Saskatchewan Party has advanced numerous ingenious legal arguments to avoid handing these funds over to their former co-religionists, but have so far fared poorly. Most recently, on July 22, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruled against the Saskatchewan Party, preventing the whole matter from being thrown out.

It's Saskatchewan politics at its best. And it is a gift that gives in a number of ways.

The Saskatchewan Progressive Conservative Party may turn out to have the better legal arguments, in which case a formidably-financed new political player may eventually resurface on the Wall government's right flank. Many Conservatives would celebrate this return of their party, and the ability to vote for an option untainted by Liberals.

Meanwhile, the increasingly successful New Democratic opposition, led by former deputy premier Dwain Lingenfelter, have been handed a useful prop to demonstrate the direct link between Mr. Wall's government and Mr. Devine's former administration and record.

Mr. Wall seems to have a problem with money. His government made a $2-billion mistake estimating the province's revenues this year, patched over through a set of desperate expedients. He must be tempted to take the $3-million in that fund and burn it in the parking lot in front of the Legislature -- not unlike what he has done to the provincial finances. Instead, the fund is doing a slow burn inside the "Saskatchewan Party's" carefully-reconstructed brand."

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