Dick Collver, PC party leader, 1978

PC Party leader Dick Collver speaks to supporters during the 1978 general election. (CBC)

Dick Collver, who led the Saskatchewan Progressive Conservatives out of the political wilderness and into Official Opposition status in the 1970s, is dead at 78.
 
Collver died Aug. 7 in Thailand where he had been living, the Saskatchewan government said Monday in a news release.

In the statement, Premier Brad Wall expressed his condolences and described Collver's role in Saskatchewan politics as an important one.

“Dick Collver was a strong conservative voice who led the PC Party from zero seats when he became leader to Official Opposition status in the Legislature,” Wall said.

“Although he had not lived in Saskatchewan for many years, he certainly made a huge impact on Saskatchewan politics in the 1970s.”

Early years

Collver, an accountant who was born in Toronto, moved to Saskatchewan in 1965.

He ran for mayor of Saskatoon in 1972 and did not win, but his bid attracted the attention of the PC Party.

He became leader of the PCs in 1973.

In the 1975 election, the party won seven seats, which included Collver’s seat in Nipawin. He also convinced two Liberal MLAs, including Colin Thatcher, to join the PC caucus.

In 1978, Collver’s party won 17 seats and Official Opposition status. Collver had hoped to do better, however.

"I'm naturally disappointed," Collver said on election night. "We lost many exceptional, excellent candidates all over the province — but we didn't lose our dignity and we didn't lose our self-respect."

He stepped down as leader shortly after the election.

Collver later testified at Thatcher's murder trial that Thatcher talked about wanting to find someone to kill his estranged wife JoAnn Wilson.

Thatcher, who denied he said that, was convicted of the murder and spent more than two decades behind bars.

Unionest Party

After parting ways with the PCs, Collver formed the short-lived Unionest Party, which advocated having the four western provinces splitting from Canada and joining the United States. It didn't field any candidates in the next general election.

The PCs would go on to win the general provincial election in 1982 and again in 1986 under leader Grant Devine. The party lost power in 1991.

Four of its members merged with four Liberal MLAs in 1997 to form the Saskatchewan Party. No provincial PCs have been elected since.

In a news release Monday, the PC Party of Saskatchewan described Collver as a "very unique individual who changed the political landscape of this province in so many ways."

Collver deserves credit for laying the groundwork for the PCs' landslide victory in '82, current PC leader Rick Swenson said.

"He taught many of us the necessary political skills and values that led to electoral success," Swenson said.

"Whether you loved him or hated him, no one ever forgot the passion that drove Dick Collver when he was at the top of his political game.”

Following his exit from politics, Collver retired to his ranch in Arizona, and later to Thailand.

The cause of his death wasn't available.