Saskatchewan·Opinion

Brad Wall's shoes 'impossible' to fill for newly-minted Scott Moe

With an outcome that was impossible to predict right until the final moments of voting, it is only now that Saskatchewan residents can begin looking to the future with any certainty of how that might be shaped by the new premier-designate’s ideology and motivations.

Here’s what the premier-designate means for different sectors in Saskatchewan

Scott Moe pictured Saturday before his final speech to party members before voting for the new party leader was closed. (Alex Brockman/CBC News)

So Scott Moe is Saskatchewan's new premier-designate, and the Saskatchewan Party's new leader.

What does that mean, exactly?

With an outcome that was impossible to predict right until the final moments of voting, it is only now that Saskatchewan residents can begin looking to the future with any certainty of how that might be shaped by the new premier-designate's ideology and motivations.

Moe, MLA for Shellbrook-Rosthern, gave us little to go on regarding the future throughout his campaign.

His backing from 23 MLAs, including Deputy Premier Don Morgan in the eleventh hour, combined with little to go on by way of new policy — or any that differs from Wall's former regime — seemed to indicate status quo would hold if and when Moe won the race.

Outgoing Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, left, lifts the arm of Scott Moe — who won the party leadership and will soon become the new Saskatchewan premier — during the Saskatchewan Party Leadership Convention in Saskatoon, Saturday, January 27, 2018. (The Canadian Press/Liam Richards)

Brad Wall's shoes 'impossible to fill'

The contrast in presentation between Moe and Wall will be stark from the outset, moreso than it would have been with any other candidate.

But, we knew Wall's popular shoes would be nearly impossible to fill, and that Saskatchewan's new premier will have an uphill battle to fight.

"And I always say if a farmer just outside Saskatoon can build a dispenser for Saran Wrap, which was a particular trouble for me over the years, we can build anything in this province," is a gem from Moe's response to the 2017 Throne Speech.

Perhaps it best captures his worldview of Saskatchewan's potential, or at least demonstrates a kind of the same folksy humility that people in this province loved about Wall.

Moe's leadership campaign platform contained remarkably thin gruel with virtually no new ideas or major change, which is likely the best course for him, or would have been for any new leader.

Whether it is the best thing for his province and party will become evident in the days and weeks ahead.

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      Moe non-committal on GTH inquiry

      On the issue of any internal inquiry into the government scandal hanging over the Global Transportation Hub, Moe was one of the more non-committal candidates.

      Despite the fact that, anecdotally at least, the GTH scandal was one of the top questions asked of every leadership candidate, not once did the Sask. Party bring it up in any official capacity, particularly involving sanctioned debates.

      When he was confronted by the Melfort Journal with the question of whether he'd mandate an investigation into the controversy, Moe demurred, falling back on the tired government talking points regarding the findings of the Conflict of Interest Commissioner and provincial auditor.

      "I know others have suggested there may be opportunities for public inquiry and things of that nature," Moe told the Journal.

      "I wouldn't preclude the option, but I think it's important to first of all allow the RCMP time to do their investigation and come out with the results of that investigation…We need to ask the questions as well…  is that the appropriate amount of energies to look at this and start to accept what the findings have been if they start to line up."

      No idea what findings Moe is referring to, nor what "if they start to line up" means, but the "appropriate amount of energies" line speaks volumes over whether, or more likely not, Moe would prioritize giving Saskatchewan residents — of all political leanings and demographics — the answers they really want.

      Scott Moe celebrates winning a vote to become Saskatchewan's 15th premier after a tight vote Saturday night. (Alex Brockman/CBC News)

      Moe consistent on opposition to carbon tax

      On the environment and the federal government's proposed carbon tax, Moe was consistent with the same position he held when he walked out of a 2016 climate talks meeting of Canadian environment ministers with federal minister Catherine McKenna, who used the opportunity to launch the notion of the tax.

      At that time Moe told reporters, "Many westerners will see this as 'national energy program 2.0'… it's not a good day for federal-provincial relations."

      He echoed those sentiments in his leadership victory speech, when on the topic of a carbon tax he warned: "Justin Trudeau, if you are wondering how far I will go — just watch me."

      Of course, that "just watch me" line was used by Trudeau's father, Pierre, during the October Crisis in 1970, when he was asked how far he would to go to maintain law and order in Quebec.

      It was the second dig at the Liberals of the evening. The first coming from former premier Brad Wall himself in his final speech. None of this is particularly helpful for Moe, a member of the Conservative Party of Canada, who has to lead what is supposedly still a coalition party of liberal and conservative members.

      Moe might be best served by the sentiments he shared in a March 2015 committee meeting.

      "I suppose with any initiative, not specifically this one, that was not able to move forward, the very first thing I think we would all do as responsible, elected people is to sit down with precisely those stakeholders and discuss with them what the next moves would be."

      If there's anything Saskatchewan residents would like to see out of their soon-to-be premier, it's responsibility.

      Business community will watch Moe closely

      On the economy, Moe is passionate about the notion that population growth and exports are key to its strength. But this is not exactly new information.

      The Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership agency was created 25 years ago by the province to promote, well, trade and export, and has done an incredible job. Moe acknowledged this himself in his response to the 2017 Throne Speech, which he gave last October when he had already declared his leadership intentions.

      "Mr. Speaker, (exports are) our source wealth in our province… And why it is important for us to engage to attempt to grow that even further to 35 billion to 40 to 45 billion in the years ahead," Moe said.

      "As we grow those exports or the value of those exports through value-added agriculture, through opportunities that we have to export our energy products, through opportunities that we have to support our sustainable mining products here from the province of Saskatchewan, Mr. Speaker, that then in turn creates careers in our communities across this great province of Saskatchewan… the opportunity to attract people from across Canada, from across our nation in North America… from around the world."

      Those are grand statements, and undoubtedly Saskatchewan's business community and beyond will now be watching keenly as Moe rolls out his plan to deliver on them.

      Moe made big promise on educational assistants, but will he deliver?

      During his campaign Moe made another big promise, this one to education, and one that some are crediting for his down-ballot support, ostensibly from teachers.

      Scott Moe pictured in September, 2017. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

      The teacher theory is highly unlikely, but the promise Moe made still stands: a commitment to hiring 400 educational assistants and other professionals for classrooms, and $30 million in added funding for education.

      It took only minutes after his election for at least one Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation executive to ask Moe for the $30 million cheque — presumably in good-natured jest, but still, it's out there, and all eyes will be on the premier-designate, who did not commit to a timeline for this promise, to make good on it.

      Moe could struggle to gain support in cities

      Born and raised on a grain farm in rural Saskatchewan, Moe—along with his wife and two children—still live in his hometown of Shellbrook.

      He has an agriculture degree, and throughout his campaign his team placed heavy emphasis on his farming background, using country-western music and farm imagery liberally and kicking off his campaign in front of a giant combine. The majority portion of the Sask. Party's country-living voters will very likely be satisfied, if not pleased, with Moe's win.

      Moe is going to struggle to fare so well in Saskatchewan cities, specifically Saskatoon and Regina, which are largely considered at risk for the Sask. Party in the next general election, a theory backed by recent poll numbers.

      Moe will need to establish himself quickly and efficiently as a man who knows more about Saskatchewan than issues that affect rural residents.

      Moe needs to demonstrate commitment to First Nations

      Another issue glaringly absent from Moe's campaign was anything regarding Saskatchewan's First Nations and Métis residents, who were also conspicuously absent from the Sask. Party leadership convention. People of colour were also a rare sight in the crowd. 

      As the truth and reconciliation process continues to gain some momentum in Canada and Saskatchewan, albeit at what can feel like a glacial pace, there will be less and less tolerance for their exclusion from public policy and dialogue.

      Moe needs to demonstrate, early and from the very beginning, that he has not excluded almost 20 per cent of this province's population from his plans. His mandate as premier must and will be driven by everyone, not just the 0.7 per cent of the population that put him there.

      About the Author

      Tammy Robert is a public relations expert and political blogger in Saskatoon. She has held Saskatchewan Party and Saskatchewan NDP memberships.

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