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Saturday, October 12, 2013 

'Premier Brad Wall's Sask. Party government ‘does not play well with others’ - Says Leader-Post Business Editor

Progressive Bloggers    

In today's 'new' Saskatchewan, you generally find little criticism of Premier Brad Wall in the main stream media. Executives in Saskatchewan's corporate media simply love Wall and their editorial policy generally stays away from any criticism whatsoever.

But things are changing. Here is Bruce Johnstone, the Business Editor of the Regina Leader-Post::

"It might seem ungrateful, especially on Thanksgiving weekend, to criticize the Saskatchewan Party government’s economic development track record. After all, the Saskatchewan economy has posted average annual growth of 2.5 per cent since 2007 — the highest in the country.

But even Premier Brad Wall knows that government plays a supporting, not a leading, role in economic development. In his speech to the Saskatchewan Forum in Regina in May 2012, Wall admitted the province’s “stunning turnaround” since 2007 was “driven by commodity prices, driven by factors outside the control of government and you will never hear our government say, ‘Boy, because we got elected in ’07, look at how everything’s so much better economically.’ We know that there are external factors at play here.”

But the premier’s words raise the question: What role has the Saskatchewan Party government played in the province’s economic turnaround? It’s a good question to ask, since the Saskatchewan Party likes to portray itself as “business-friendly’’ and “pro-development,” as opposed to the supposedly “pro-labour, anti-development” NDP.

Don’t forget that Wall (named Saskatchewan Economic Developers Association’s economic developer of the year for 1998) promised to do economic development differently when the Saskatchewan Party first took office in 2007. Well, it’s different all right, but is it better?

From where I sit, the government’s track record in economic development brings to mind Stephen Leacock’s famous phrase “riding madly off in all directions.” You could say it’s been two steps forward and three steps back. A harsh assessment perhaps, but let’s look at the record.

Enterprise Saskatchewan — the cornerstone of Wall’s 2004 economic plan, The Promise of Saskatchewan: A New Vision for Saskatchewan’s Economy — was launched in 2008 with great fanfare and high expectations, pumped full of money, revamped and restructured, then unceremoniously dumped when it didn’t produce the desired results. ES was wound down in the 2013-14 budget and its $33 million annual spending disbursed to other ministries, mainly to Innovation Saskatchewan,

Even relatively successful government-industry partnerships, like Communities of Tomorrow, SpringBoard West Innovations, the Entrepreneurial Foundation, etc., have been shut down or allowed to wither away. The Film Employment Tax Credit, which generated $44.5 million a year in film and video industry activity at an annual cost to the government of about $8 million over its 14-year history, was scrapped and replaced by Creative Saskatchewan. How long will it last until the government gets bored with it and shuts it down?

The Ministry of the Economy, a “superministry” that combined tourism and trade, employment and immigration and energy and resources functions, was supposed to expedite decision-making, ensure a “clear path for people to invest here” and “remove barriers to growth of the economy,” Wall said. Has anyone noticed any improvement in these functions?

I could mention the government’s hostile takeover of Tourism Saskatchewan, sacking the CEO and turning it into a Crown corporation, or slashing the budgets for regional economic development agencies that were creating jobs and businesses in urban and rural Saskatchewan.

What it suggests is a government that “doesn’t play well with others.” In other words, the Saskies don’t like sharing power or tax dollars with any organization they don’t have complete control over. The common theme running through the Wall government’s economic development record is impatience with any group, program or policy that a) they didn’t come up with or b) isn’t controlled directly or indirectly by them.

One could accept the Sask. Party government’s small-c conservative philosophy that government shouldn’t be subsidizing business or “picking winners and losers,’’ if they actually practised what they preached. But for every program or organization they’ve shut down, a new one has taken its place, spending even more tax dollars than its predecessor.

Even that would be acceptable (if hypocritical), if the vehicles that the Sask. Party government has chosen to replace existing programs were more successful at creating economic activity or jobs. While the jury is still out on Innovation Saskatchewan and Creative Saskatchewan, recent history is not encouraging. All in all, the Sask. Party government’s economic track record is a checkered one, especially a government that prides itself in not picking winners and losers. Well, at least they’re half right."
Johnstone is the Leader-Post’s financial editor
© Copyright (c) The Leader-Post

-Another hit to economic diversity, government cancels innovation program

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