REGINA — One of Canada’s most high-profile premiers who rose to national prominence for his down-to-earth style, sharp wit and, more recently, his willingness to lock horns with Ottawa is retiring from politics after a decade in office.
Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall said he made the decision at the end of June after talking it over with his wife Tami.
“It’s a hard thing to even just start to talk about,” Wall said Thursday. “We decided now was the time for me to end my career in politics.
“I think renewal will be good for the province. I think renewal and a different perspective will be good for the government. I think renewal will be good for my party as well. Whatever I do after this — and I currently have no leads or prospects — this job will be the honour of my working life.”
Wall said he will stay on until his successor is chosen.
“And until then, there’s still a lot of work to do,” Wall said. “This was such a difficult decision to make … but it is time.”
Wall and his Saskatchewan Party have won three consecutive provincial elections, the last in 2016 where they took 51 of 61 seats. The party, which formed 20 years ago out of an alliance of disaffected Tories and Liberals, took more than 50 per cent of the popular vote in each of the contests.
Wall, who is 51, routinely places high in opinion polls ranking the country’s most popular premiers and his knack for the zinger soundbite has made him a national political figure.
But he’s faced headwinds in recent months, especially after his government tabled an austerity budget this spring.
With a bottom line battered by low resource prices, the budget cut library and education funding, as well as grants to municipalities, although cash for libraries was later restored.
It raised the provincial sales tax and added it to things that were previously exempt, such as children’s clothing and restaurant meals. The government also shut down the provincial bus company to help tackle a $1.3-billion deficit.
In May, a Mainstreet Research poll suggested Wall’s party had dropped steeply in voter support and had fallen nine points behind the leaderless Opposition New Democrats.
With trouble at home, Wall has been training his political guns afar, railing against opposition to pipeline projects that would see central Canada’s crude oil pumped to the coasts and markets overseas.
He’s also waged war with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over the federal government’s plan to force provinces to put a price on carbon, pledging to fight the move in court if necessary.
Wall said he is leaving the province in better shape than it was in when he first took office.
When deliberating his retirement, Wall said he told a senior advisor there were still things he would like to accomplish. The advisor told him no matter when he chooses to retire, there will be items left on the to-do list and that “better not be the reason why you’re deciding to stay or to go.”
“I really believe that Saskatchewan will benefit from a different style and a different voice and so will our party,” Wall said.
Wall graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a degree in public administration and has spent much of his time since in politics.
He was a backroom guy at first. In the 1980s, he worked in Ottawa in the office of Swift Current Tory MP Geoff Wilson. He returned to Saskatchewan and worked as a ministerial assistant in Grant Devine’s Progressive Conservative government.
He was first elected in 1999 under the banner of the newly formed Saskatchewan Party and made a successful bid for the party’s top job after it lost a 2003 election many felt it should have won.
In 2007, Wall led the Saskatchewan Party to victory in the provincial election.
A tape from his time in the Tory backrooms came back to haunt him soon after he was elected. The provincial NDP unearthed a video cassette of Wall yucking it up with fellow Tory staffers, criticizing NDP leader Roy Romanow in a thick Eastern European accent. Romanow is of Ukrainian heritage.
Wall apologized and the controversy didn’t stick.
Four years later, he cruised to his second mandate as the Saskatchewan Party took more than 60 per cent of the popular vote along with 49 of 58 seats in the legislature — the largest popular vote garnered by a party since 1912.