“Conservative governments have a hard time explaining why growth is important,” former premier Brad Wall said in a speech to Saskatchewan Party supporters in 2013.
That night, Wall said conservatives are actually wrong to say the reason for focusing on economic development is that the GDP will be higher, or that there will be more jobs.
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While those are certainly nice to have, it’s not the true reason for focusing on growth and the economy. As he put it, conservatives have a hard time “finishing the sentence.”
The purpose of a growing economy and a growing population, said Wall, should actually be to create a better quality of life for people in Saskatchewan.
More jobs, higher GDP, a strong economy and more people living in the province all lead to a broader tax base that can be used to improve health-care services, build new schools, fix potholes on highways and give a bit more dignity to the less fortunate.
For a decade now, this idea of focusing on economic development to create a better quality of life has been embraced by the Saskatchewan Party government, and emphatically so by Premier Scott Moe since he became premier in 2018. Put simply, it is doctrine for the team in green and yellow.
Only a few months before the pandemic began, with the release of the province’s 2030 Growth Plan, Moe said in his own words that “Our government has always maintained that growth itself is not the goal; rather, growth will afford the ability to invest in a better quality of life for Saskatchewan families and communities. That is the purpose of growth.”
But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, where the focus understandably shifted from a 10-year economic growth plan to more immediate matters, there hasn’t been much talk of “finishing the sentence” recently.
While there have now been months of good economic news in our province, including solid employment numbers, the announcement of several private sector capital projects like canola crush facilities and the opening of the BHP Jansen mine set to open a year earlier than expected, I haven’t seen this tied more to its importance in creating a better life for Saskatchewan residents.
Our government hasn’t been finishing the sentence to the best of its ability.
With the pandemic now in the rearview mirror, and with a boatload of recent good economic news for the province, the premier and his caucus need to get back to hammering this message.
For example, the statistics of thousands of immigrants who have come to Saskatchewan in the past decade aren’t the end of the sentence.
These newcomers have come to Saskatchewan to seek freedom, safety, opportunity and to create a better life for themselves and their families. Saskatchewan’s ability to provide that for them is the end of the sentence.
Another $20 million to enhance surgical services isn’t actually the end of the sentence either; getting a grandfather in for surgery sooner to relieve his back pain so he can sit comfortably in the stands and watch his grandson play high school football — that’s the end of the sentence.
The $500 affordability cheque that the premier announced in August may look like the end of the sentence, but it’s actually not.
It’s the single mom who receives that $500 and is now able to buy her kids some new clothes or pay for their activity fees, and maybe still have a few bucks left over for herself — that’s the end of the sentence.
Finishing the sentence by creating a better quality of life for Saskatchewanians does something wonderful for the Saskatchewan Party: it shaves off the hard edges some may see in the party, that the government is focused solely on GDP and nickel-and-diming to balance the budget at all cost.
It kills the argument that business-focused governments aren’t just in it for the highly paid CEOs, but rather that they’re for “growth that works for everyone” (the Saskatchewan Party’s new slogan). It has certainly turned out well for them come election time, too.
The government is at its best when it’s focused on finishing the sentence. Let’s get back to doing that.
Dale Richardson is the former director of digital operations to the premier of Saskatchewan, and currently hosts The SKoop Podcast.
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