Wednesday November 26, 2014

Wall’s mix of passion and politics


At first glance, Premier Brad Wall’s mild bashing of U.S. president Barack Obama last week seems nothing more than the same old politics.

Forgive a grizzled, old reporter for assuming this. I’ve seen a lot of politics over the years, even some from Wall when I would have preferred to be watching a football game.

Our Premier decided to steal a bit of pre-game national television time on TSN at the last Roughrider home game by announcing the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding for a new open-air, 33,000-seat stadium west of Taylor Field by 2017.

There was little that we didn’t already know at this announcement other than the proposed date for completion and that a $100 million loan from the province to the city would cover the remainder of the cost. More to the point, there seemed like a whole lot that wasn’t answered, like the interest rate for that loan, who would pay the cost overruns and why there wasn’t a direct private sector contribution (as suggested there would be) or even a little money from the feds (even though Ottawa ruled out that possibility long ago).

But the point of Wall making the announcement before a crowd of surely appreciative ‘Rider fans wasn’t to explain details to reporters. The purpose was to get campaign-ready TV clips of the crowd cheering behind the Premier, the kind of thing that tends to add to the cynicism in politics.

So pardon my suspicion that Wall was playing more politics two days later when he took his shots at the Obama administration at the Pacific Northwest Economic Region PNWER summit in Saskatoon, a gathering favoured by right-wing politicians and business types from both sides of the border.

“People think in this country, perhaps they do, that the Obama administration is good for Canada,” Wall told reporters after the gathering. “The facts say something else.”

The issue here isn’t so much that Wall doesn’t have a point. He surely does. The current U.S. government has acted in a protectionist manner by inserting a “Buy American”-only clause in contracts for U.S. government’s economic stimulus package. Such protection is frustrating for free-trading Canadians. (Although maybe this one is little understandable. Imagine the outrage if Canadian tax dollars aimed at economic recovery were going to foreign companies.)

Wall also expressed his frustrations at Obama overriding the Keystone XL pipeline. He is also angry with American environmentalists who view oilsands and pipeline as “dirty Canadian oil” (although it’s not as if Obama and the Americans are serious about not buying our oil.)

Admittedly, it’s the job of Canadian Premiers to express their concerns when foreign government policies can potentially hurt our economic. But to imply that the Obama administration isn’t good for Canadian in the way Wall did seemed to have a tinge of politics. After all, we’ve faced far worse from American presidents.

Canadians were hammered by tariffs against our wheat, lumber, uranium and even potash in the Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush years. The U.S. farm bills subsidizing agriculture hammered rural Saskatchewan, as did BSE embargo of Canadian beef during the George W. Bush years. Were these Republican governments also not bad for Canada?

Wall was playing at least a little politics before the PNWER business crowd. But while this was undoubtedly the case, we also need to remember that, with Wall, there is always more to it than just that.

One also shouldn’t forget that what Wall is also driven by his passion for his province and his beliefs. There is no doubt he believes a stadium is a great thing for Saskatchewan and that he has a job to do convincing the taxpayers to pay for it. Similarly, he undoubtedly sincerely believes Barack Obama isn’t so great for Saskatchewan trade.

And one of the tougher things is sort through whether it’s the politics or the passion driving politicians like Wall.



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