Why did it have to be Brad Wall?
After past B.C. premier Gordon Campbell stepped aside from the project when sexual assault allegations came to light earlier this year, past Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall has taken up the mantle of commissioner of the new Manitoba Hydro review.
The right-leaning politician will review the already highly politicized Keeyask generation and Bipole III transmission projects.
"The appointment of Mr. Wall, the second conservative premier to take this position, emphasizes the fact that this review is just a political exercise meant to justify Mr. Pallister’s cuts to Manitoba Hydro," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said in a statement, as reported by the CBC.
Few things say "political exercise" as succinctly as hiring a like-minded politician to review the file — someone already adept in partisanship, a.k.a. the ability to skew and mould facts into whatever image they wish to create.
Wall certainly did this to the people of Saskatchewan, and the misdirection he offered as it related to Saskatchewan’s Crown corporations makes his handling of a Manitoba Crown all the more troubling.
According to the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, two months before being elected as premier in November 2007, Wall pledged: "Crowns are not going to be privatized and (subsidiaries) are not going to be wound down."
The very next year, SaskTel privatized SaskTel Max and high-speed internet installation.
Much later, following various other steps toward privatization highlighted online at sellingsaskatchewan.ca, Wall introduced Bill 40, which would have redefined what "privatization" means, allowing the government to sell up to 49 per cent of Crown corporations. The bill was eventually thrown out in reaction to negative backlash, but the fact it was introduced remains troubling.
Wall’s Saskatchewan Party is also responsible for shutting down the Saskatchewan Transportation Company, a Crown corporation that many people relied on for inter-community travel throughout the province.
Yet most problematic as it relates to Premier Brian Pallister allowing Wall to review Manitoba Hydro projects, is Wall’s proven track record of poor fiscal management.
Where the actions of Manitoba’s leading political parties dictate the Manitoba NDP run massive deficits and the Progressive Conservatives clean things up, the Saskatchewan Party has the exact opposite relationship with their Saskatchewan NDP opponents. The NDP ended their term more than 10 years ago with a provincial debt of $8.8 billion, which as of last year reached $17.75 billion.
The Saskatchewan NDP ended their last run by posting a surplus, which the Sask Party answered with multiple years of deficits. Sure, Wall claimed they were posting surplus budgets and would assert as much with a sense of authority most people believed, but his province’s own non-partisan arms-length auditor disagreed.
Further, by fudging some numbers, Wall was able to claim balanced budgets while increasing the province’s debt by billions, offering that it was "good debt," unlike the operational debt their political opponents posted prior to reaching their surplus.
Postmedia columnist Murray Mandryk covered the Sask Party’s mismanagement perhaps the most succinctly of any writer, describing their actions as part of a "decade-long mindset that spending every tax dollar that came in was a heroic thing because the previous NDP administration left an ‘infrastructure deficit.’"
The following are a few of the higher-profile examples of this spending:
• The Sask Party’s $1.8-billion Regina Bypass project was initially costed at $400 million.
• The Sask Party’s $1.5-billion Boundary Dam carbon capture and storage plant failed to capture enough carbon, costing taxpayers an additional $20 million in penalties.
• A Sask Party effort to find efficiencies in Saskatchewan’s health-care system, called Lean Saskatchewan, both failed to improve patient outcomes and cost $1,511 for every dollar allegedly saved, according to the International Journal for Quality Health Care.
Given this record, what business does Wall have overseeing Manitoba Hydro megaprojects? His example is clearly not one our province’s Progressive Conservatives should follow.
As a side note, another red flag in Wall’s handling of Manitoba’s energy Crown is his dubious understanding of climate science. Wall’s track record of stating that climate change is a serious concern and then turning his head and proclaiming that Canada’s total share of global greenhouse gas emissions makes whatever we might do irrelevant, is the kind of manipulative rhetoric our politics could do without.
Wall’s 2016 throne speech included the line: "some in this country who, given the opportunity, would shut down major parts of Saskatchewan’s economy and put thousands of hard-working Saskatchewan people out of work, all in the name of some misguided dogma that has no basis in reality."
"Misguided dogma" was not defined, but it’s pretty easy to interpret this as a dismissal of the objective reality of climate change, as recognized by the vast majority of climate scientists.