It was circa 1996ish, in the lobby of Centennial Auditorium (today TCU Place) when I first saw former Saskatchewan Premier Grant Devine in person. I was surprised to note there were no horns protruding from his forehead. He wasn’t skulking or hiding his face; in fact, it lit up as he strode through the crowd to shake someone’s hand.
I think I remember this so vividly because in my mind at the time Devine was a villain, though I don’t know why I thought that. I was into Pearl Jam and partying, not politics. My family wasn’t political, though my parents voraciously consumed local news, so I’d likely absorbed scads of headlines casting Devine and his government in a less than flattering light.
Grant Devine’s PC government fell to the Saskatchewan NDP in 1991 after driving the province into a record $14-billion debt (that’s almost $28-billion in 2017 dollars). Devine became synonymous with corruption after 14 of his MLAs, including eight (EIGHT!!) Ministers, and two party workers were convicted for fraud. Six went to jail. Another, former Assiniboia-Gravelbourg PC MLA Jack Wolfe, tormented over having to testify against his friends and former colleagues, and by the fact he was potentially facing arrest himself, killed himself.
At the time, Devine blamed the NDP, despite the fact it was the RCMP investigating and laying charges. He described the situation as a “large witch hunt” and warned reporters not to “ever even think that they (NDP) are above strategic defamation, political defamation of the PCs – that’s a given.”
Some folks high up in the SaskParty today still blame the NDP for what happened, including Wolfe’s death, and that blame still drives, in some small part, the unhealthy and undemocratic hatred we see today in the Legislature.
Devine was never charged, but has said he still accepts overall responsibility for the actions of his people, which resulted in the theft of $800,000 of public money ($1.4 million today). Yet not even that long ago Devine seemed to minimize the crimes.
“It was hundreds of thousands of dollars, not hundreds of millions of dollars, as we’ve seen at the federal level,” he told the CBC in 2007.
Oh. Well then.
For the next fifteen years the Saskatchewan NDP – and make no mistake, a significant portion of the general public – castigated the “Devine Tories”, as they’re often referred, as crooks. The PCs flamed out, and from their ashes rose the SaskParty.
Grant Devine faded into obscurity. He ranched cattle, sat on a couple private boards, and raised delightful children (including one of the best teachers my kid has ever had).
The problem he faced, and always will, is that Grant Devine is no longer just his given name. Grant Devine is the name – the trademark – of an era in Saskatchewan defined by sleaze. That is why the federal Conservative Party blocked his bid for nomination in 2004. It’s why you don’t see him door-knocking for the SaskParty, which shouldn’t be outside of the realm of possibility, given a young Brad Wall was once a loyal Devine government staffer.
By choice or otherwise, Devine vanished from the Saskatchewan political and governmental realm for almost thirty years. Until this week, that is, when the SaskParty exhumed him with an appointment to the high profile, powerful U of S board of governors.
Exhumed, because after ten years of the first right-wing government since Devine’s, it’s not like you see any monuments to the former Premier, or any buildings named after him.
Speaking of which…
Grant Devine has a longtime connection to the U of S College of Agriculture, including his government’s funding of the completion of its contemporary glass home on campus.
According to very credible sources close to the situation, certain individuals in the upper echelons of the Saskatchewan government wanted to name the Ag Building after Grant Devine. To make the move more palatable the government also proposed naming the Law Building after Roy Romanow.
Recognizing a terrible idea when they saw one, sources say the U of S declined, but told the government that if a third party came forward with a pitch, they’d certainly consider it. Though valiant efforts were made to find one, unsurprisingly no group agreed to back the proposal, and the plan went nowhere.
Then, in October 2016, the U of S Senate, which is totally autonomous from the provincial government, voted unanimously to appoint former Saskatchewan NDP Premier Roy Romanow as the school’s Chancellor.
The SaskParty government was thrilled. #sarcasm
In early June 2017 Romanow was formally installed into the role at the U of S’s spring convocation, in front of thousands who, to the chagrin of SaskParty MLAs in attendance, gave Romanow a rather loud and lengthy standing ovation.
The SaskParty government was even more thrilled. #sarcasm
Shortly afterwards the plan to leverage Devine, somehow… anyhow, into the U of S went full steam ahead.
Normally U of S Governors are appointed for a three-year term, with the understanding that they will serve three consecutive terms by automatic reappointment, or nine years total. Not Reappointing a Governor (AKA Firing a Governor) is unheard of; the only time it has happened in recent history was related to the TransformUS debacle.
This summer there was only one Governor’s seat due to vacate after a standard third term expiration, and it had already been filled, therefore another seat needed to be freed up for Devine.
It would look really bad (worse than it already does ) if only one Governor was
Fired Not Reappointed, to make room for Devine – so two were Not Reappointed, over the phone by the always eloquent Minister of Advanced Ed, the day before the news was released about the Devine appointment.
Inexplicably, one of the unceremoniously dumped Governors was Saskatoon investor, successful businessperson and philanthropist David Dube, who had just finished his first term.
Think about that.
Dube and his wife Heather Ryan are two of the biggest donors in U of S history – they’ve given millions of dollars to a number of its colleges.
Further, in addition to the hours he spent on the Board of Governors, look at what Dube has done for the U of S Huskie football team and their game day experience, which is undeniably one of the best in Canada. The team has played terribly in recent years, yet thanks to Dube’s hard work, funded generously out of his own pocket, the stands at every home game are jam-packed.
Pretty much every other university on the planet would kill for that kind of support.
In anywhere else except Saskatchewan, apparently, that type of personal philanthropy – the kind capitalists and conservatives love to hoist up to defend their economic policies – would be treated with the utmost respect and consideration.
I mean, the New Saskatchewan would never treat wealth with jealousy and contempt, would it?
If not, then what on earth could Dube have possibly done, besides pour his heart and wallet into the university, to warrant that kind of treatment?
The moral of the story is the Board of Governor’s appointment is not a consolation prize for Grant Devine (a popular rumor) because he couldn’t get a U of S building named after himself. Instead, it’s a consolation prize for the Saskatchewan government because they couldn’t get a U of S building named after Grant Devine, and because they couldn’t stop the U of S from installing a former NDP Premier as Chancellor.
Look, today’s Grant Devine is likely a perfectly good, nice and competent man. Seriously – even if he had killed someone 30 years ago, he’d be a free and rehabilitated man today, so I’m not going to judge him based the actions of his caucus 30 years ago.
The problem with Grant Devine really has nothing to do with the man himself – it’s what those three syllables that comprise his legal name represent: frankly, corruption. Unlike a first-degree murderer, his name has never been rehabilitated after three decades. If it had been, the SaskParty government would have been honoring and appointing him years ago.
If you’re tempted to believe the rantings of washed up partisan pundits… don’t. The “left” are not the only ones whose eyebrows shot through the roof and heads shook in disgust at this decision. With the exception of the most diehard, elderly, red meat, likely male conservative loyalists – all four of them living on ranches in southern Saskatchewan – everyone, including the SaskPartiest SaskPartiers, is wondering #WTF.
The fact it’s happening today tells me one of two things: this is a move made by a Premier in his last year, or this is the move of an unopposed party, confident it will always remain that way, that doesn’t give a hoot what anyone thinks anymore.
For those of you who care, I’m Tammy Robert. I’m a writer, but pay the bills consulting in media and public relations. Email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org
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