UP AGAINST THE WALL: A Pre-election Series

By Jim Harding

Saskatchewan will have a provincial election this coming April, and with only a few seats in the legislature the NDP could be said to be “up against the wall”. If we look beneath the political narrative coming from the Sask Party, we may find that we are all up against the wall.

It’s clear how the Sask Party will frame its campaign. Premier Wall is already featured in ads saying we can’t go back to the bad times of the NDP. And his popularity and knack for getting into the national news could work for him.

It remains to be seen whether Saskatchewan people want to be so associated with an increasingly lone-wolf premier who seems out of step with progressive national and international trends. Wall’s continual defense of the fossil fuel industry and recent statements about Syrian refugees may be sounding a little too much like U.S. Republicans. With Alberta announcing a carbon-reduction plan, Wall’s Saskatchewan is pretty much left alone in “right field”. It’s not much of a shift to see Wall’s Saskatchewan not as “the new” but “the old” Alberta.

WALL’S NARRATIVE

We are all familiar with the story which we learned as children. Wall is the white knight in shining armour who will take the desperate people out of the dark days of the past, into a better future. The “dark days” are being associated with the NDP being in power. Such mythic stories can play a powerful political role. Whether having to do with the “economy” or “security” Harper constantly appealed to a patriarchal fairy-tale about the strong father figure.

If Wall can convince enough voters that things have been getting better since he’s been premier and that voting NDP would be “going back” to darker times, then he’s a shoe-in. But can such simplistic messaging work again in 2016? We’ve just come through the “dark days” of the Harper government where wedge politics kept us from tackling the climate crisis and the growing gap between rich and poor. Will the Saskatchewan voter be a little more discerning this time round?

THE SERIES

In this ongoing series I will concretely explore Wall’s narrative. Was everything bad under NDP governments? Are there things accomplished by our predecessors, including the CCF, that still benefit us? What about the crowns? And why isn’t Wall talking about the “dark days” of Grant Devine and the huge deficit he left us?Are there things happening today, after several terms under Wall, that are not good signs for our province?

I won’t write from a partisan view, but rather from what the research reveals; I’ll “commit” a lot of sociology and let the historical and social facts speak for themselves.

QUALITY OF LIFE

Wall’s speeches often suggest that his open-for-business embracing of the fossil fuel and non-renewable resource industries is a means to improve our quality of life. So it is fair to look broadly at indicators of this.

I’ll not only look at public health and Medicare, but at the arts, income distribution, long-term care, affordable housing, treaty rights, multiculturalism and the evolution of human rights here.I’ll look at aboriginal incarceration and at family violence, watershed protection and safe drinking water, especially in indigenous communities. I’ll look at heritage protection. And of course I’ll look at the carbon footprint in Saskatchewan.

There will be some things about our history that may come as a surprise. There will also be some things happening today that should shock us.

“CLEAN-COAL” AND NUCLEAR

My previous column was about the folly of Wall embracing carbon capture and storage (CCS). Such a white knight policy would supposedly take us towards enlightened energy policy and away from the dark days of the NDP. Wall continually bragged about CCS on several trips across the border lobbying for Keystone XL. But what are the facts? It was actually the NDP that initiated a pilot project on so-called “clean coal”. And there were already signs that this technology wasn’t cost-effective. So if the Sask Party is so enlightened, as its pre-election ads suggest, why didn’t Wall leave this behind?

The duality that “we’re good and they ‘re bad” breaks down. Both past NDP and the present Sask Party governments followed the wrong policy when trying to salvage coal plants. Ontario and now Alberta are on the right track phasing out their coal. The $1.5 billion Wall spent on CCS could have converted thousands of homes to low-carbon solar energy.

The important question now is which party is most likely to take us forward. It is encouraging that Sask Power just announced that it will aim for 50% renewables by 2030. It’s about time. For years some of us have been saying that 20% of our electricity could and should come from wind alone. The price of solar continues to fall. So why has Wall’s government stubbornly persisted with a pro-uranium-nuclear policy, when the rest of the world has discovered that nuclear is neither cost-effective nor “green”. Nuclear continues to shrink as new, sustainable technologies gain ground.

Our past shouldn’t be rewritten to become a political football. We must be honest about our past but also about what is wrong with present trends. Will Wall’s simplistic knight-in-shining-armour narrative work in the coming election? Are we really that gullible? Or, might we return to a more balanced understanding of what’s progressive about Saskatchewan’s past? And build upon this? And if so, how might this affect the election outcome. Stay tuned!

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