Saskatchewan Party leader Brad Wall has spent the vast majority of the 2016 campaign in Saskatoon and Regina.
It makes sense that Wall would focus on these vote-dense urban centres; the Sask Party has almost every rural riding in Saskatchewan locked down, but is running the risk of losing seats in Saskatoon and Regina.
With the exception of a highways announcement made by the side of a particularly crappy stretch of country road, Wall has been helping his urban incumbents make sure they’ve got this thing on lockdown.
Until Monday, when Wall surfaced in La Ronge.
The riding of Cumberland is one of the staunchest leftwing strongholds in the province, having been held by the NDP, and the CCF before them, for a whopping 65 years. It’s not even been a particularly contentious riding, with the NDP candidate winning with margins of anywhere from 30 to 60 per cent, right up until and including 2007.
After former Cumberland NDP MLA Joan Beatty stepped down in 2008, newcomer Doyle Vermette did get schooled in the byelection by Sask Party candidate Dale McAuley, squeaking through with only a 5 per cent lead. In 2011, however, Vermette fell back in line with his historical counterparts and took the riding with a 30 per cent lead.
So why would stumping for Sask Party Cumberland candidate Thomas Sierzycki be high up on Wall’s list of things to do? It’s an entire day’s commitment, benefiting only one candidate.
With another projected landslide on the horizon, but a few good Sask Party incumbents (including at least one former Minister) staring down the barrel of losing their jobs, what’s the point of trying to snag Cumberland?
Well, there’s this:
Could Thomas Sierzycki be the intended heir to Brad Wall’s throne?
It’s widely speculated that Brad Wall will not be running for a fourth term in the Saskatchewan Legislature, meaning he has to announce his resignation, and the Sask Party has to hold a leadership race, well before the 2020 writ drops.
Consider a recent timeline from our neighbor to the west.
Former Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach announced his intention to resign in late January of 2011, kicking off an Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership race that had been quietly simmering for months, even years. On October 1, 2011, Alison Redford won on the second ballot, and a few days later was installed as the Premier of Alberta. She went on to properly earn the job from the Alberta electorate six months later, when the PCs were elected to (their final, for now) government in the province’s 2012 general election.
Same deal in BC, after Gordon Campbell announced his resignation in November of 2010. Christy Clark won the BC Liberal leadership at the end of February 2011, and became Premier a couple weeks later. In fact, Clark became Premier of BC despite not having an elected seat, which she won two months later in a byelection to replace Campbell as MLA. Two years went by before Clark’s government won a provincial election with her at the helm of the party.
Point is, if Brad Wall isn’t running in 2020, the odds are we’ll know by early 2019, and we’ll have a different Premier for at least six months in the run up to the election call.
Sure, an unelected individual could throw their hat into the Sask Party leadership race. They won’t win though, because that would be disastrous for the Party, which will already be under tremendous strain to rebrand itself as a viable choice – even a viable party – without Brad Wall.
Ultimately, the Sask Party leadership candidate who has the best shot at winning the race is the candidate who receives the vital endorsement of Brad Wall himself. Given the imprint Wall has made on Saskatchewan and vice versa, and how important it is for his party to get this right, I’d be willing to bet Wall will be quietly training his personal choice for months, even years, in advance.
Which brings us back to Sierzycki.
All I have is a hunch, and I’ve had this one for a while, but the highly-publicized, well-staged appearance by Wall in La Ronge cemented it enough for me to put this out there.
This isn’t to say that other contenders won’t come forward just because they don’t have Wall’s personal blessing. They will, perhaps even out of spite. I’m not sure many people understand how deeply divided the Sask Party is at the moment, down old ideological lines and newer, deeper rifts.
Did you really expect anything less of a 48 member provincial government caucus?
There will be plenty of candidates from all sides of the battlefield; rumors are already swirling. Looking at the list of incumbents, and even the newcomers, including Sierzycki, no one is really jumping out as an obvious frontrunner. Personally, I hope we see a female candidate, and I would love for her to win (but I won’t hold my breath).
The fly in Wall’s ointment is that it’s far from certain that Sierzycki, former mayor of La Ronge, can win Cumberland.
It’s definitely far from certain that this baby-faced rookie would make the best next Premier of Saskatchewan.
And I cannot imagine how monumental a task it will be for anyone to try to fill the giant, uber-popular shoes Wall will leave behind.
I am sure, however, that buried deep inside this election race another is being run just as vigorously, and the stakes are as high for the spectators (that would be us), as they are for the contenders.