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Premier Brad Wall sits down for year-end interview
Published Thursday, December 31, 2015 4:50PM CST
CTV Regina’s Heather Anderson and Wayne Mantyka recently sat down for a year-end interview with Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall. The full interview is transcribed below:
CTV Regina: Mr. Premier, thanks so much for doing this with us and having a chat with us. Let’s begin and talk a little bit about 2015. How would you rank the year that was?
Premier Wall: Well, there were a lot of challenges economically for Western Canada and for Saskatchewan. The price of oil really started to fall precipitously about a year ago and it really hasn’t stopped, and so that’s impacted a lot of families in Saskatchewan, in southeast Saskatchewan, up the west side in my home area of Swift Current. And then, just because of the multiplier effect, other parts of the economy, I think have felt some of that, as well, some of the challenge. The good news is that throughout the year, Saskatchewan managed to create new jobs. Even in the last report here towards the end of the year from (Statistics Canada) we had modest job growth. Just before Christmas, the population numbers came out and we’re still growing. So, there are challenges that, I think, have marked the year, certainly. But Saskatchewan people, our resources, I think they’re rising to the challenge and we still see economic leadership in the province.
CTV Regina: You can never quite predict what’s going to happen. You mentioned the falling oil prices, things that have happened over the year, but overall, are you where you thought you might be as you head into an election coming up this spring?
Premier Wall: Well, we hadn’t predicted $35 oil, and so, we’re probably a little light in terms of the finances. We’re working hard to get things to balance – we’ve had consecutive balanced budgets since 2007 – and we’re working hard to make sure this current budget can be balanced, even though right now there’s a small deficit because of the fires up north and the costs of those, and also because of the falling price of oil. But economically, I am hopeful, as I’ve mentioned. Your question was are you happy or are we at where we thought we might be at. We were hopeful in thinking that Saskatchewan would continue to be economically strong, and that is the case still, notwithstanding those energy challenges, and we need to be vigilant about them and keep our eye on the ball economically. But overall, I think there’s still progress to report.
CTV Regina: Being vigilant of them is one thing, but how do you plan on making up for those shortfalls. Are we going to see tax hikes or what can we expect?
Premier Wall: Well, we want to avoid that. There’s been some national discussion towards the end of the year about carbon taxes or other, perhaps, new taxes. When an economy is facing challenges as ours is – and those who create jobs are working hard simply to retain their workforce, let alone worrying about creating jobs down the road – we don’t want to hit them with a new tax. That, certainly, has not been our track record over our time in government. We’ve lowered taxes. We’ve lowered income tax and property tax. We’ve lowered taxes for small business, women and men. And I think that’s part of the reason why there’s some economic strength in the province and has been for the last while, and we don’t want to risk that by tax hikes. So, we’re going to have to find more expenditure reductions, which are also difficult.
CTV Regina: A lot of things would have happened this year. You’re the premier, a lot of things cross your desk. Is there anything that really stood out as something really memorable, perhaps even in your personal life?
Premier Wall: Well, in my personal life, certainly. Our daughter got married. Our oldest child, our daughter Megan, got married in June in Cypress Hills, which is a place that we enjoyed camping when they were growing up and when I was growing up. So, that was certainly a highlight. Both of them are now studying overseas and we miss them, but that was a highlight this year.
CTV Regina: And, of course, we are in the midst of the Christmas holiday season. How are you and your family celebrating this year?
Premier Wall: Well, we are staying in Swift Current this year and hosting, I guess, my side of the family. We alternate every year like so many families do. I’m sure we’ll get around to seeing Tami’s side as well throughout that sort of week between Christmas and New Year’s. But we’re hosting this year and, to the extent I’m allowed to help with the Christmas meal, I’ll be in the kitchen.
CTV Regina: What might you be having?
Premier Wall: I think we’re going to have turkey. There’s some traditional things my mom always made growing up, my grandmas as well made, sort of mashed up turnips and carrots. And so, if you’re unfamiliar with that, it doesn’t sound too spectacular, but for some reason, I love this and so, I look forward to it, both at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and usually because I want and I put this on the list of things that we should maybe have. I’m usually in charge of the mashing. It doesn’t sound that wonderful, but it’s great.
CTV Regina: It certainly sounds like you keep some holiday traditions. I mean, some people have the same angel they put on their tree every year. I guess a lot of families go to church on Christmas Eve, and you’ve done that.
Premier Wall: We absolutely have. I grew up with candlelight service on Christmas Eve, which is wonderful. When you’re young, I remember being young and actually being quite patient through it all because you knew what was next was Christmas Eve back home with everyone and then Christmas morning with the presents. And now, with family, it’s a great moment for reflection on Christmas Eve, and then we have great times together as a family. One of the Mennonite traditions that I grew up with or Low German traditions is we don’t always use stockings. Mennonites use… a bowl, which typically when I was growing up was a big Tupperware bowl, and inside that would have been whatever you’d find in your stockings. And I remember as a kid sort of lamenting to mom and dad, just wanting a stocking like all the other kids, and she did switch back to that, to a stocking, I should say, and then not very many years after that, she went back to those traditional bowls. I kind of like that. Sometimes, when we go back over to mom and dad’s place, they still use that. So, that’s maybe a bit unique of a Christmas tradition.
CTV Regina: Mr. Wall, we are inching closer towards that provincial election. If elected, this will be your third term in office. How are you going to keep that momentum that you’ve built up over the past eight years?
Premier Wall: Well, you know, that part is probably easier than some folks would think after the two terms, as you mentioned, just because we’re constantly reminded as MLAs why we’re there in the first place when we go back home. And it’s no different for me, we still live in Swift Current, and so, I’m surrounded by friends and family, and you get lots of encouragement. You even get some constructive criticism at Safeway or just being around the community, and I just think it’s a constant reminder of why we ran in the first place. You don’t lose that energy or perspective as long as that contact is happening, and it is because I’m living in Swift Current. So, that’s pretty helpful.
CTV Regina: You mentioned that people come up to you, they talk to you; they give you feedback. In the world of social media, that seems to be the way that it goes, too. How are you finding interacting with people on a different platform? I’m sure that’s changed much over the last eight years.
Premier Wall: I have to stop looking at my Twitter account. I’m kind of a habitual tweeter, and I do, I’d say about 90 per cent of my own tweets and look at them. You know, in fact, we’ve done case work as a result of a tweet, and quite a bit of it. In other word, someone will tweet to me and say look, my mom or my loved one had this experience in the health care system or is having this experience, and something’s gone, perhaps, wrong or not as well as it should have, and so we can follow up and we do. Whether it’s highways, I get a lot of highways-related tweets, or health care or specific issues people are raising and, sometimes, you use Twitter to have a little fun, as well. But no, you’re right, with social media there’s more instant connection and instant communications, and it’s a way for us to try to get our message, perhaps, if we have one, if I have a message to get out that day. But it’s a two-way street and, so, we’re hearing back from people both the criticism, the asks for some focus on some particular issues and then, every once in a while, a compliment.
CTV Regina: You would think the premier wouldn’t have much time for Twitter. But, I guess, in your case you commute a lot, you do spend a lot of time on the road with someone driving, so it’s a way to fill in the journey, I’m assuming.
Premier Wall: Mostly, there’s someone driving. Sometimes, I’ll go myself. Those are good moments of quiet reflection or just sort of returning some calls hands-free. But you’re right, there is the opportunity to do that, and with Facebook or with Twitter, it’s a bit of the modern-day equivalent of correspondence. And I know that correspondence, the letters that we receive, those are still continuing into the premier’s office. But, I would argue that over the last eight years, they’ve gone down in number and the amount of social media interactions or emails have gone up. So, really, if you’re responding to Twitter and you’re dealing with issues people are raising, it’s really no different than the work of an elected person dealing with letters that they might have gotten years ago, versus the emails and the social media interaction that we’re getting now.
CTV Regina: And you do try to stay in touch with the people, I mean, on Twitter, on Facebook and also in your home constituency. You talked about going to Safeway and talking to the people there. You do spend a lot of time in Swift Current, I understand. You are still based there.
Premier Wall: Right, I go back and forth most days. When the legislature is in session, I’ll drive back and forth, except for Wednesday nights, I’ll stay in because Thursday morning, we sit early in the legislature. The session starts early and so, typically, I won’t go home then. We’ve done that pretty consistently for the last eight years or so and, well, beyond that since I was first elected, and just found that works for me. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it seems to have worked well for us.
CTV Regina: Looking forward to that provincial election, some of your experienced MLAs aren’t running again this year. In fact, some of the founding members of the Sask. Party won’t be returning. What kind of challenge does that present when you’re looking to rebuild, perhaps, your party.
Premier Wall: Well, there are challenges that that situation presents, but there are also opportunities. We are going to be missing some amazing people – women and men who literally founded our party and who have played key roles in our government, as well, who have been ministers. Ken Krawetz, the deputy leader and the deputy premier – the only one we’ve ever had. These are great individuals who have contributed much. On the other hand, we are going to be attracting new candidates, women and men that are running for the very first time, that come with all of the energy that entails. I’ve had a chance to meet them and they’ve already been door-knocking and working at it. But they’re excited for the chance, if elected, to serve. I have some ideas that will really help energize our party, should we form government, it would help energize the government, as well.
CTV Regina: Federally, it has been a year of change. What is your relationship like with the newly minted prime minister, Justin Trudeau?
Premier Wall: Well, I think it’s off to a constructive start. You know, we perhaps disagree with some of the early steps that the federal government has taken. We’ve also thanked the new federal government for some steps that they’ve taken already since being sworn in in early November, and I think that’s how we’re going to continue to conduct ourselves, as long as we’re given the chance to be the government of Saskatchewan. You know, being the Saskatchewan Party and having no federal allegiance, no federal party, in a formal sense, that we’re connected to allows us simply to look through the lens, through the filter, of what’s best for the interests of the province of Saskatchewan. And we disagreed with the previous government, using that filter, from time to time. Sometimes, we agreed with them. We’ll do the same with our current government, and I’ve shared that with the prime minister and had a chance to meet with Mr. Goodale – who is obviously a very able leader within the new government, based right here in Saskatchewan, in our capital city – to share that we’re going to perhaps agree to disagree sometimes, but we’ll try not to surprise anyone, if that’s the case. But we’ll also agree on much, and we’re looking forward to working together on some issues, especially around infrastructure and the investments we’re hoping to see come to the province to help us with our own plans for growth and infrastructure development.
CTV Regina: It seems as though you’ve been quite outspoken, and you’ve had a lot of confidence when you go into talking about some of those decisions that the federal government has made. Is that something that has maybe grown over the past eight years of being in office that you feel that you can take your voice to the federal table?
Premier Wall: You know, I think there is an advantage of having been to a number of those meeting in the past. I think there’s also an advantage if you’ve had the privilege and honour, as I’ve had, to serve for a while in this job. I hope to have developed a bit of a sense of what I think Saskatchewan people would want me to say, even if I can’t talk to a whole bunch of them before I have to say it in a scrum or an interview or even dealing with the federal government. So, I hope that helps. We are always going to be working to protect the interests of the province. And, you know, if there’s a new national tax coming, for example, around carbon that we think will be harmful to an economy at a time when it can least afford it, we’ll have to say that maybe now is not the right time for these kinds of policies. On the other hand, if the federal government stands up, as they did to the United States, and says if you don’t abide by the WTO ruling on country-of-origin labelling that was hurting our beef and pork exports to the United States… our federal government was firm in their response, they said they would retaliate, and we thank them publicly, and I’ll do it again right now, to congratulate Prime Minister Trudeau for being clear. To the extent we’re near a resolution of that issue is because the federal government continued a strong stance for Canada, and we should acknowledge that.
CTV Regina: Do you think you might find yourself agreeing to disagree more often with this new government? As the Saskatchewan Party, you are independent, but you were still considered to be somewhat aligned with the Conservatives perhaps a little bit more. Do you think you may be a little more at odds with this government than with the last?
Premier Wall: It really does depend on the initiatives that they take. You know, we were in Paris together with the premiers and the prime minister at the climate change conference, and I think it was pretty clear the prime minister want to use the next 90 days, the early part of this new year, to fashion targets, to fashion new policies and we’ll be constructive there. We have something to point to in terms of our historic investment in carbon capture; we have our own targets for more renewables that we’re going to move on, as you know. So, we want to do our part, but we need to also have a balanced approach in terms of our economy. And so, I think we’ll be finding things to agree on. The answer to your question, I think even in that file around the environment and climate change, we’re going to find things to agree on with the federal government, we have already, but there will be, perhaps, areas of that same policy that we think might be harmful to the province and, if we think that, we’ll say so.
CTV Regina: I believe you are the last premier or government that has a bit of a conservative philosophy. Do you think you might be speaking for more Canadians in the future who share that philosophy? I can think of a Twitter (post) just recently where it was a portable sign in Medicine Hat that said “Brad Wall for premier.” Do you think more Canadians are, perhaps, going to identify with you, who may be of a conservative background?
Premier Wall: I have to find which of my relative put that sign up. You know, I think maybe from a western Canadian perspective, there are certain issues that we’re concerned about in Western Canada around the state of the energy economy and the fact that maybe we ought not be doing it any further harm through policies, either provincially or federally, and we’ll be speaking out about that. And so, that might find resonance in other parts of the west and with other Canadians. I honestly don’t sort of go through that calculation because I really have one job, our government has one job, and that’s to do as much as we can and the best we can at representing the interests of the province of Saskatchewan.
CTV Regina: The year ahead will be very busy, of course, with the upcoming provincial election. We don’t want to give away all of your secrets, but we are curious, what is the Sask. Party going to offer up when it comes to its platform and how will you entice voters this time around?
Premier Wall: I think we’ll probably be saying, in a general sense, the best indicator of future behaviour is past behaviour, and so, we will be pointing to a record. While we’ve been in office, you know, in the about eight years prior to us forming government, the province lost 56,000 people, now we’ve added over 80,000 people. We had the worst job creation record in Canada, now it’s the best. By the way, this isn’t all due to government, but I hope we’ve set the right kind of environment, business climate, for some of these improvements. In health care, we had the longest wait lists for surgery in Canada when we took office and now they’re the shortest – the report came out here just at the end of 2015. That doesn’t mean there isn’t things we can do better, and I think you may see that in the campaign, where we want to highlight some of the things that have gone well, we think, some government policies that have worked, perhaps, but some other areas where we need to do more work – seniors’ care, highways, for example. We spend a lot on highways, but if you drive them, you know there’s still more potholes than pavement in some spots. And so, we have more work to do, and I think people can expect to see that sort of an approach in the campaign, as well.
CTV Regina: Over the last eight years, I think the people of Saskatchewan have got to know you relatively well, especially on a political front. But is there something that stands out to you that maybe they don’t know?
Premier Wall: Well, you know I’m interested in cars. We’ve been grateful for the charity car we got from this station and from Wayne. I don’t know if they know, I like outlaw country music, so maybe that’s pretty old school. I’ve got a couple of Waylon Jennings gold records I bought at an estate auction that I’m kind of proud of, and a plaque – he was actually nominated in ’72 for his song “Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys”… it was a duet. He lost, actually, that year so it’s just the plaque. But, anyway, I have a few of these keepsakes and I kind of like that kind of music – Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kistofferson.
CTV Regina: Of course, your son is entering the music business. Do you think he has a Waylon Jennings influence or a bit of a Brad Wall influence? Does he some of that talent from you?
Premier Wall: No, I’m biased because I think he’s very talented, so clearly, he’s uninfluenced by me. His mom, Tami, is a much more accomplished musician. She’s on the music festival committee still in Swift Current, she’s been involved. Yeah, he’s doing well, he’s pursuing his music dreams and he’s kind of into that Americana/roots music genre and he’s a singer/songwriter, and it’s a tough business to try to crack, but he’s working at it hard and we’re proud of him. As I mentioned off the top of the interview, our eldest daughter got married and she’s studying overseas with her new husband, and our youngest, Faith, she’s in the 12th grade.
CTV Regina: Sounds like they are keeping you very busy. One fun question for you: If you were to buy (Saskatchewan NDP Opposition Leader) Cam Broten a secret Santa Christmas gift, what would it be?
Premier Wall: Hmmm… I would offer to Mr. Broten a really good government permanent appointment maybe that he couldn’t resist just to kind of get him off politics here just over the next few months or so. At least until after April 4th.
CTV Regina: We would like to give you the chance to address the people of Saskatchewan. Is there anything you would like to leave them with?
Premier Wall: Well, just greetings on behalf of Tami and our family, and really all of the government MLAs, the Saskatchewan Party, to all the viewers, hope you had a great Christmas and all the very best for a healthy and happy 2016.
CTV Regina: I can’t get away from this interview without asking you one question in particular I’m sure you’ve been asked over and over. But after you’re done with this provincial election and it’s in the books, either way it may go, is federal politics in your future? Is that something you’re looking at?
Premier Wall: No. I have the best job in Canada, if you’re interested in political jobs, this is the best one. I’m going to work hard to keep it. We’ve got a job interview process coming up in March and, you know, our opposition will run a good campaign and we will too, and I’m working hard to keep the job I have. In fact, they should be asking people in federal politics when they are interested in becoming the premier of Saskatchewan because this is the best job, working for an amazing province and alongside great people, and I’m not interested in any other political job.