Saskatchewan

Jeremy Harrison's comments on GTH 'raised questions' for Sask. political scientist

A Saskatchewan political scientist says Jeremy Harrison's comments on the Global Transportation Hub "raised questions" for him about the independence of cabinet ministers and how much the public and media gets spin as opposed to fact.

Harrison plans to sell GTH, strengthen province's ethics laws if chosen as premier

Meadow Lake MLA Jeremy Harrison said the province should "be a national leader in transparency and ethics rules." (CBC)

A Saskatchewan political scientist says Jeremy Harrison's comments on the Global Transportation Hub "raised questions" for him about the independence of cabinet ministers and how much the public and media gets spin as opposed to fact.

On Thursday, the Meadow Lake MLA and Saskatchewan Party leadership hopeful announced a 10-point plan to strengthen the province's ethics and transparency laws.

Saskatchewan political scientist Charles Smith applauded Harrison's plans to update the province's ethics laws, but he took issue with the messaging, specifically this quote: "When confronted by a potential conflict, I will ask more than 'is it legal?' I will ask, 'is it right?'"

"My first question was: Wasn't that what you were doing before?" said Smith, an associate professor of political studies at the University of Saskatchewan.

Harrison plans to sell GTH

On top of his ethics plan, Harrison also said Thursday that if chosen as the Sask. Party leader, he would sell the government's stake in the GTH.

Harrison replaced Bill Boyd as both minister of economy and the minister responsible for the GTH.

I think it's tough for him to have significant credibility given how close he's been to the issue.- Charles Smith

He consistently defended Boyd, the GTH and the government's actions in question period and in speaking with reporters, repeatedly quoting a news release from the provincial auditor, which said "that there was no wrongdoing or no conflict of interest" in land deal transactions.

But on Thursday, he told reporters, "as far as the policy focus of what the GTH would be, and what should be developed at the very front end at the inception component to the development to the land acquisition, which obviously has drawn a lot of attention, there were very, very serious mistakes made that should never have happened."

When asked about changing his position publicly on the GTH, Harrison said, "I defended the position of the government and what I'm saying here today is what that position is going to change to, if I'm premier." 

Smith said, "If I was running for Sask. Party leadership and that comment was made, I would certainly pounce on that. It opens up a crack that the opposition candidates can say 'where do you stand?'"

Smith said Harrison's comments condemning the GTH ring hollow.

"I think it's tough for him to have significant credibility given how close he's been to the issue," Smith said. "He's trying to win over Sask. Party supporters and not at this point the general public, although they are watching because the stakes are quite high because whoever wins becomes premier."

As for why Harrison took this approach as his first major policy announcement, Smith thinks the leadership hopeful wants to separate himself from any GTH controversy and be seen as the candidate that is going to clean up any future scandals.

'Uncharted territory'

With four former cabinet ministers already indicating they are in the race and speculation that a fifth — Finance Minister Kevin Doherty — will soon join, Smith said the Sask. Party finds itself in "uncharted territory."

The party has only had two leaders, Elwin Hermanson and Brad Wall, and the latter was acclaimed in 2004. It has never had an open leadership race while in government. 

Smith said the best case scenario for the party is that there is new blood and renewal, which is what Wall has said the party needs.

"The worst case scenario is that it gets really ugly and the party fractures and they go into the next sitting not united," he said.

When it comes to questions around the GTH land deal and Boyd, Smith said candidates will not be able to avoid it from now until a new leader is elected in January.


About the Author

Adam Hunter

Journalist

Adam Hunter is the provincial affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. He has been with CBC for 12 years. He hosts the CBC podcast On the Ledge. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca