CTV Saskatchewan news anchors Dan McIntosh and Chantel Huber recently sat down leader of the opposition, John Nilson, to discuss the year that was and his outlook on 2013.

CTV News: It’s been a busy year in Saskatchewan politics. How would you summarize what this last year has been?

John Nilson: I think it’s been a year where a small caucus of nine of us worked well together to raise the issues of Saskatchewan people. We’ve worked very carefully to listen to the concerns of the people and make sure that they are registered in the legislature.

CTV News: Premier Brad Wall had said that this session did in fact work well because you guys did ask questions; questions they were able to answer. How would you characterize the success of the way the fall sitting went?

John Nilson: Well, the fall sitting was quite interesting because our law to protect late-night workers ended up being adopted, in part, by the government. The whole issue of the asbestos registry has been adopted partially and they’re going to look at further parts of that. So, those were very strong issues that we raised on behalf of individuals and they were accepted by the government. Now, on the other side, there were some issues where the government didn’t have answers, either for us or for the provincial auditor. That was about a billion dollars extra in debt that people didn’t expect. How do you end up spending money out of the rainy day fund in maybe one of the best years Saskatchewan has ever had? So there are things, both on the positive and the questionable side.

CTV News: What other issues did you take exception to?

John Nilson: Well, we were very surprised a number of times. But when they came forward to privatize ISC, the land titles and registry system, this was a big surprise to us and it shows a return by the government to its 2003 ideology of let’s sell the Crowns. We don’t think people in Saskatchewan really want that, especially when it handles so much of their personal information.

CTV News: You talked about some of the things you didn’t like, obviously – financial aspects; selling off of the Crowns. Is there a list of items that you did like, even though you had a relatively small group fighting for people?

John Nilson: What would happen quite often in the year is people would phone us up and say, I voted for the Sask. Party, but I don’t like what they did on the film tax credit and, therefore, we want you to ask questions like this. You know, I voted for the Sask. Party, but I’m concerned about how they’re managing our finances and so I want you to ask these kinds of questions on our behalf. I would want to say to all the Saskatchewan people thank you very much for helping us do our job, and I think that’s what the premier is referring to when he says that for nine of us, we asked a lot of very good, hard questions.

CTV News: You mentioned the film tax credit. If you were in power, would you change that now or is it too late?

John Nilson: No. We would immediately go and take another look at the film tax credit. It doesn’t make any sense at all for Saskatchewan to be so out of line with all of the other provinces and other jurisdictions in North America as it relates to support for an industry which has broad implications, not just for film, but for the arts and for businesses of other kinds – hotels, restaurants, lumber yards – all of these businesses benefitted from the film industry and to basically tell people your jobs are no longer wanted here, I think, was a big mistake. The premier had a chance to admit he’d made a mistake and actually redo this, but he’s refused so far.

CTV News: Has that ship sailed? A lot of these businesses are gone out of province. Is there a plan that you would put in place to resurrect it?

John Nilson: What we would immediately do is go to those people who were here before and say, well, what kinds of things do we need to put in place to have you come back and also talk to others who were thinking about coming here because of the very good crews that we had; the very good facilities that we had and what kinds of things do we need to make sure Saskatchewan will participate in that very important industry for the long term.

CTV News: You talked about the changes – things that you liked and didn’t like. There were a few changes to our liquor laws here in Saskatchewan and one of them was that alcohol could then be served at stripteases. What are your thoughts on that?

John Nilson: I think that some of the changes to the liquor laws were good. They were common-sense kinds of practical things that people recognized. What we raised in this whole area was the issue of making sure that you also deal with binge drinking; you deal with a number of the problems that arise around alcohol. Some of the issues related to entertainment and alcohol will continue to evolve after discussion. But I think that, practically, people in Saskatchewan are as mature and capable and have as much common sense as anywhere else in Canada and we need to recognize that.

CTV News: As you know, your time will be up in a few short months with a new leader being selected. What should a leader possess in terms of traits?

John Nilson: We’re very excited because we have four very capable people who have put their names forward as leaders. Clearly, they need to be common-sense, they need to be caring, they need to be listening to the people and they need to have a vision for where we’re going to be in 2020 and 2030 and as we move forward in Saskatchewan.

CTV News: I couldn’t help but notice, and this isn’t commentary on age or anything, but they’re all young candidates. Is the youth movement a necessary step that this party needs to go in?

John Nilson: I think it’s also interesting to see that every one of these candidates is at least a decade younger than the premier. So, what we do have is a whole group of very exciting people who are willing to put their names forward as leader. I also see the others who don’t get to be leader also forming part of the leadership of the New Democratic Party in the coming decades. That’s important for New Democrats, but it’s also even more important for Saskatchewan.

CTV News: You mentioned they’re all at least a decade younger then the premier. Is that a good thing? Will any of the four be a good match for Brad Wall?

John Nilson: I think that any one of the four would be a good match for Brad Wall. They’re all very strong policy people; they’re all very strong on ideas and they’re all good listeners, and they have a New Democratic Party common-sense perspective, which I think will help them.

CTV News: You would be considered, I guess, a cagey veteran – someone who has been in the fight for a long time. You’ve had a chance to sit in the top chair and you’ve gained a little bit of experience. What is some of the experience that you’ve gained while sitting here, what did you learn and is this stuff that you can pass on to these individuals who are eventually going to take over?

John Nilson: The answer is absolutely, I can pass on the information and the ideas that I’ve learned in this past year and a half. But even more so, what I’ve learned over the almost 18 years now in politics and it’ll be important for me and my colleagues and former colleagues to be participants with the new leader as we move forward and set out a vision for Saskatchewan.

CTV News: Did it ever cross your mind or did you seriously ever consider becoming permanent leader of the party?

John Nilson: Yes, I had thought about that, as well. There are times when you look and see some of the older leaders we’ve had around the world and recognize that I’m still relatively young, I’m 61 years old. But what I also know is that by the time the next election comes, I’ll be close to 65. You basically need a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm, and you need to portray a modern sense of where the New Democrats are going. I’ve had my time, I’ve had some very good things that I’ve been able to do and I will be able to continue to contribute. But I think it’s important that we get the next generation of leader from Brad Wall. I said at the end of the session this time that it was surprising how old and tired government looked after five years. There’s a lot of ideas and things that just aren’t there, they’re worried about money and we’re seeing some things that should be concerning for all Saskatchewan people.

CTV News: What was your biggest takeaway sitting in the top chair? Did anything surprise you?

John Nilson: The biggest surprise was being the leader of a nine-member caucus which was a real team. We’d sit in our seats across the way and I felt like the conductor of an orchestra because you had all 48 plus the Speaker watching every move that you made, everything that you said. But also what you find as leader is that there are many issues on a broader scale that come to you in the phone calls and letters. But you also have people come and pull you aside at dinners or other places and really appreciate the fact that they can talk to somebody who is the leader. I’ll continue to do that, but there’s a special role that you have when you’re the leader of a team.

CTV News: We’re going to give you an opportunity to be a teacher to yourself. You get to grade how you think you did sitting in the top chair in terms of the NDP. Is an A-plus what you’re going to hand yourself?

John Nilson: I think that when you take on a job like this, you do everything to the best of your ability and you listen to people and try to convey their concerns, and I think I’ve done that. I also have spent quite a bit of time with a small caucus to make sure we all operate as a team, and I’ve worked very well with the party to basically get the party ready for a new leader and get us ready for the next election. I’m one of those people who went to university at a time where they didn’t really give grades, for many different reasons. But I think that you set out the task that you need to do and you do them and I have been getting many good comments from people for what we’ve done so far.

CTV News: You had mentioned the nine MLAs, having a small caucus, and you talked about how it was like looking out to an orchestra. Was there ever a time that you looked out at the ranks of government and felt discouraged because your side was so small? Was it hard battling back?

John Nilson: Yes, and there are some very specific things and often they were the surprises of the government. The film tax credit elimination which devastated a very important industry, they didn’t run on that, it wasn’t in their platform and we didn’t have the votes to stop it. Three more MLAs – nobody in the province asked for the extra expense of three more MLAs, we didn’t have the numbers to stop that. The labour legislation proposals came out of the blue right at the end of the spring session, and we don’t have the numbers to stop that now. We’re working with the draft that we just got in the last couple of days of the fall session, and that will be something that we’ll be listening to people about as we go out and get ready for the spring. But all of those kinds of things are a big frustration because you just don’t have the votes to stop what you think are inappropriate policies for Saskatchewan.

CTV News: Votes aside, do you feel that you vocalized enough. If you don’t have the votes, you can definitely say your piece. Do you think that you did that?

John Nilson: Well, we’ve raised questions and continued to work with people and make sure that the information gets to the media and gets to the public. That’s the role that we have right now, and we’ll continue to do that. But it is frustrating when the government doesn’t have a clear plan. Although, it is interesting that we saw that the premier introduced his booklet in Saskatoon at a paid luncheon, and then the throne speech was kind of a rehash of that. But that whole initiative really didn’t take with the public, so the government, and they’re good at PR, ran 10 ads every night about the economic plan for Saskatchewan. But we’re still kind of mystified as to what that is.

CTV News: There’s a lot of things that you have to deal with coming out of the blue, of course, when you’re the opposition – the defeat of Dwain Lingenfelter; how your party was kind of decimated. Were you shocked that you were thrust into the role of leading the party after that?

John Nilson: In politics, 24 hours is a long time and so, what you recognize after many years in politics is that your whole world can be very different the next day. I think that’s clearly what happened in that election. Then, as we sorted through who could do what, we all sat down and thought, well, OK, John, you can take that job; Dave, you’ve got this job, and we have a strong caucus, but we also have people throughout the province with the party who have stepped up and provided leadership. We’re going to build on that as we set out a common-sense perspective for the future of Saskatchewan.

CTV News: We talked about the next leader having youth on their side. Do you think it will take a mix of both experienced politicians as well as some of the youth? Do you hope to bring more youth into the party? Is that what it’s going to take?

John Nilson: Well, we already have seen many more young people involved in the party, both provincially and federally, and we see it in our meetings and in different events. But we also have well-experienced people who are there to say, well, let’s not quite go so fast on this part because we’ve seen that scenario before. But I think that very much the New Democrats will be led by a young, capable, exciting leader, and we’ll include people of all ages.

CTV News: So what are your plans once your interim leadership is done?

John Nilson: I plan to continue to serve as the MLA for Regina-Lakeview. I’m sure I’ll be a mentor for the new leader. I will take a look at all my options as I go towards the next election and, depending on what the party needs, I’ll make some decision probably as we approach that next election.

CTV News: We’ve talked a lot about John Nilson the politician. Now, we want to know about John Nilson the person. What is one thing that the public does not know about John Nilson the person?

John Nilson: I’m a great fan of opera, especially Wagner’s ring cycle. I’ve seen two-and-a-half full cycles and I’m looking at possibly, when I’m out of this busy job, seeing if I can’t go for another cycle in Seattle next summer.

CTV News: What sparked your interest in opera? Well, in my family we were always interested in music, but I think when I was in Grade 3, I wrote a report about Wagner and was always intrigued by his music. I like all kinds of music, but that’s something that people don’t know about me.

CTV News: Do you have any other extra-curriculars that might pique people’s interests?

John Nilson: Well, I studied as a historian and I’ve always been an amateur historian. Actually, what happened was my uncle who was a professor of history at Brandon University wrote me a letter and said, John, you can get a PhD in history, but you won’t get a job for 20 years, so I went to law school and I got a job. But I’ve always had a strong interest in history and I continue to work, especially on Norwegian-American history, Norwegian-Canadian history and immigration history in Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. So, I spend my leisure time studying those kinds of things.

CTV News: You’ve got to be a Rider fan?

John Nilson: Yes, we’ve had Rider tickets for many years and I used to play football when I was in high school. In college, I played basketball, not football. One thing that I sometimes let slip is when I was learning to play basketball, my best friend’s father was a coach and he got us jobs, my friend Paul and I, as the ball boys for the St. Louis Hawks NBA team. That’s the Atlanta Hawks now, which kind of dates me.

CTV News: With your height, I figured basketball had to play a role. Did you have a go-to move?

John Nilson: I suppose it was something called the “Oregon crossover,” which is one where, with big long legs and big arms you can go a lot of distance in one direction and do an immediate turn and step right around the defensive player.

CTV News: It is the festive time of the year, the holiday season. We’ll give you an opportunity to address the people of Saskatchewan.

John Nilson: I would like to wish all the people of Saskatchewan all the best in this holiday season from me, my family and also from all of my caucus and party colleagues. I know that sometimes people will have some trying times at Christmas, but all of us enjoy the chance to relax a little bit and celebrate the holiday times that we have. I wish all the best to all the people of Saskatchewan.