Saskparty: Risk And Reward
The Saskatchewan Party recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of the foundation of the party and now that a new leader is in place and the future is being charted, it’s time to look back and reflect on how far things have come.
It was only 15 years ago that Saskatchewan looked doomed. The biggest problem facing the province was people leaving in droves. The economy was horrible with no end in sight and the future was bleak and seemingly beyond repair. The Saskatchewan Party under Brad Wall helped to turn things around and with the massive third-term win in 2016, a permanent culture shift has taken place that will allow Saskatchewan to thrive and grow for the next generation.
Gail Krawetz was there from the beginning. Her new book Risk and Reward: The Birth and Meteoric Rise of the Saskatchewan Party, is a wonderful portrait of the political events in Saskatchewan from 1995 to 2007. I had the chance to speak with her about the book over the Christmas break. The following is a transcript of our phone conversation.
Hodgson: I just finished reading your book and I thought it was really entertaining. It was a great recap of everything that happened during the formative stages of the Saskatchewan Party.
Gail: I’m glad you liked it! I’m not a political scientist so it’s written in a conversational style.
Hodgson: Yes, it’s a very easy read. What inspired you to write this book?
Gail: One of the founding members (June Draude) of the Saskatchewan Party asked me to write the history of the party and I knew it was a great story, but I didn’t think I’d have the opportunity to write it. I did a bit of research and realized that not much had been written about our history...just a few essays and articles.
Many of the founding members were getting older as well and leaving politics and I thought if I don’t capture this and get this information down, then these stories will be lost forever. I knew these were good stories, because I’d heard them talking since the beginning.
In August it was the 20th anniversary of the founding of the party and in October it was the 10th anniversary of the formation of government, so everything seemed to fit together and that prompted me to have this written.
Hodgson: What surprised you when writing this book?
Gail: My husband Ken was the eighth MLA to join the formation of the party. Those early days were a bit of a mystery even though I had a front row seat. I was surprised that they had approached Harvey McLane to join the party and the drama that unfolded could have derailed the party at that time.
Hodgson: That was a great part of the book. It was like something out of a movie with people racing back from Victoria...
Gail: Someone said it was a like a Cloak and Dagger account.
Hodgson: Yeah, it really did seem like that with all the spying with the staffers and whatnot.
Gail: The focus has always been on the original eight MLA founding members, but there were many staffers that put their careers on the line.
Hodgson: The behind-the-scenes accounts of the original parties (PC & Liberal) was also interesting.
Gail: My husband started as a Liberal and we’ve heard two things over the years. One was, “Why did you dump Lynda Haverstock?” I tried to capture a little of that by explaining that her public persona was very appealing and she was able to reach out to people and draw them in, but working with her behind-the-scenes was not easy.
The second thing was electing Jim Melenchuk as leader to replace Haverstock. People to this day come to my husband and say, “Oh my God we made such a mistake.” We look at things differently and say fate intervened for a reason, because it allowed for the formation of the Saskatchewan Party.
Hodgson: Was there any ideological problems merging the PC and Liberal parties back in 1997?
Gail: Surprisingly not. They had a common goal. There were more people in the province that didn’t want a socialist government than there were who did, so we knew we could come together and claim that middle ground.
Today there is more debate about right/left struggles within the party, but back in 1997 they were all on the same page.
Hodgson: We’re going through the same thing here in Alberta with the merging of the Wildrose Party and the PC Party.
Gail: Yes. The main thing is to park the ego at the door and we made sure that it wasn’t about the struggle for power within the party it was about getting rid of the NDP.
Hodgson: Tell me about the 2003 election. I worked at Global News at the time and I followed the election really closely and it was a nasty campaign. What was the feeling inside the party?
Gail: There was a strong feeling that they were going to win. Hermanson (party leader) made a bit of a gaffe in suggesting crown corporations wouldn’t be privatized, “at this time”. We didn’t think it would hurt us as badly as it did. Some in the party did say that the numbers weren’t holding and the chance for a loss was real. The last week of the campaign got really nasty and the unions got involved and fear-mongering took place.
There was another issue that was difficult to address in the book and that was Elwin Hermanson himself. He couldn’t come across to certain people. He’s a very nice man, but he just couldn’t come across to urban voters or women voters and it was a tough interview to do with him for the book. Asking him to relive one of the darkest days of his political life wasn’t easy.
Hodgson: You interviewed Roy Romanow for this book as well.
Gail: It was a wonderful interview! My editor asked me to reach out to him and he got back to me quickly and he’s a very nice man and easy to interview. We talked about a lot of things and I was glad that he was gracious enough to offer an interview.
Hodgson: No Lorne Calvert interview though?
Gail: I didn’t ask him for one, but it would’ve been interesting. This is a bit of a bias, but within the party there was a lot of respect for Roy Romanow that wasn’t there for Lorne Calvert.
Hodgson: When Brad Wall showed up what were your thoughts?
Gail: We didn’t know him that well, but I heard him speak at a roast and he was clever and quick and not mean-spirited even though it was a roast. When he announced he was seeking the leadership, Ken said that the more he got to know Brad Wall, the more he was convinced that he’s the face for the party. A new image, a new look... he goes out in the crowd and he’s very genuine. He’s not taking selfies! He started a new path. He did a policy review and surrounded himself with some new, smart people. A new message was crafted.
Hodgson: Did you think the party would ever go on to have this much success?
Gail: They felt very ready in 2007. We were hopeful that we’d do well and in 2011 we were shocked at just how well we were doing. In 2016 it was pretty much a pinnacle and you can’t hang on to those highs forever. There’s cycles to politics. Will the Saskatchewan Party be a dynasty the way the NDP has been? That remains to be seen.
Purchase Gail’s book through her website: https://www.