25 years later, Devine looks back on his legacy

It was 25 years ago today that Grant Devine, a folksy, upbeat-sounding university professor from Regina, led a band of political upstarts to power in Saskatchewan.

It was 25 years ago today that Grant Devine, a folksy, upbeat-sounding university professor from Regina, led a band of political upstarts to power in Saskatchewan.

And although critics recall the Progressive Conservative years as a time of scandal and out-of-control spending, a quarter century later, Devine is defending his legacy, which included subsidies and programs thathis critics say tookthe province to the brink of bankruptcy.

"You can be criticized with how you've dealt with it, but you haven't walked in those shoes until you've dealt with it," Devine told CBC News in a recent interview.

On April 26, 1982, the PCs won 55 of 64 seats and turned the formerly powerful NDP into a shadow of itself.

For the next decade, rather than nationalizing companies as the NDP wanted, Devine was privatizing and building— paper mills, heavy-oil upgraders, a fertilizer plant, and the Rafferty and Alameda dams.

His government brought in expensive new subsidies for gasoline, mortgageratesand home improvements.

According to Regina Leader-Post political columnist Murray Mandryk, the Conservatives ended up running the worst government in Saskatchewan's history, one that left taxpayers with a $14 billion debt.

"Devine was in an awful hurry to do a lot of things awfully fast, and we paid a huge financial price," Mandryk said. "I certainly think we'll be paying for it for the remainder of my lifetime."

That PC era can also claim credit for the province's two oil upgraders, the SaskFerco fertilizer plant and the privatization of the province's potash and uranium businesses. For Devine, these are emblems of success.

"I wonder if history will sort of see his grander vision as the right one, just conducted way, way too fast," Mandryk said.

There were also scandals, big ones, during the Devine years.

The first three ministers sworn in in 1982 were Eric Bernston, Colin Thatcher and Bob Andrew — all ofwhom would end up convicted of criminal offences.
Thatcher was found guilty of murdering his estranged wife.

Meanwhile, Bernston, Andrew and 11 other MLAs were implicated in the infamous caucus fraud scandal — a scheme to siphon off caucus communication money for personal and political purposes. Eight Tory cabinet ministers were convicted and more than $800,000 of public money was involved.

Devine was never charged in the scandal, which came to light after he left office, but it has come to symbolize his government.

"It was hundreds of thousands of dollars, not hundreds of millions of dollars, as we've seen at the federal level," he said.

Still, he wishes he had kept a closer eye on his caucus, he said.

He also wishes his government had brought in balanced budget legislation before the debt became a major problem.

Devine misses platform for his views

In 1991, after two terms, the PCs were swept out of power by the NDP.

Today, the 62-year-old Devine oversees his farm and cares for his cattle at his Moose Jaw-area ranch.

He's on the road a lot, tending to various businesses. He's chairman of Live Global Bid, an internet auction business based in Moose Jaw that employs 25 people.

He's on the board of a junior petroleum company based in Calgary and he's a director of Agrium, a large, publicly traded fertilizer company.

But he's out of politics.

The two things Devine misses most about being premier are having a platform from which to express his views and the ability to make them happen, he said.

But Devinehas been dismissed by people in politics who were once his supporters.

The party name, forever linked to Devine, now exists mainly on paper. Today, the Saskatchewan Party pulls much of the small-c conservative vote in the province.

When Devine tried to run federally for the Conservative Party in the last election, he was turned away.

Twenty-five years after his controversial era began, he can look himself in the mirror and he isn't bothered by the voices of old foes who try to vilify him, he said.

"I tell my children, 'Be quick to forgive, [don't be] carrying grudges… move on.'"