Alan Blakeney Premier of Saskatchewan - 1971-1982
Grant Devine Premier of Saskatchewan - 1982-1991
I have written in previous blogs that Douglas, Romanow and Wall were the right men, in the right place at the right time. Now I want to explore two men that meant well but arrived on the scene at the wrong time. Both men had a strong vision for Saskatchewan, and both were passionate and excited about their opportunity to achieve their goals. But sadly, their timing was off and the decisions they made cost Saskatchewan two consecutive decades of under performance. I speak of Premiers Alan Blakeney and Grant Devine.
What might have been had been the circumstances of Saskatchewan’s wealth had Grant Devine and Alan Blakeney changed places in time as our Premier? Of course we will never know but in the last of my series of leaders I couldn’t leave out these two men who led our Provinces with two very different visions, and were in power when I was at a impressionable age.
Consider the fact that Blakeney took in 1971, the same year as Peter Lougheed was elected Premier in Alberta. Blakeney had a vision that was far different than the” open for business,”- “let loose the capital markets” of Lougheed. Blakeney wanted to finish up what Tommy Douglas started.
Blakeney was a supporter of the Waffle Manifesto, a more left version of the NDP which among other policies resented American ownership of Canadian business. As premier he raised royalty rates on oil chasing out the drillers and threatened expropriation of the American owned potash companies which made them easier to nationalize. In both cases he created new crown corporations, Sask Oil and the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan. He literally chased capital out of Saskatchewan on purpose. And thus begun the great exodus of Saskatchewan people moving to Alberta.
In the meantime, in neighbouring Alberta things were booming. From 1971 to 1981 world oil prices went from $3.17 a barrel to $37.10 and Alberta was thriving and growing. Alberta’s economy was on fire and their population increased by 37%. Saskatchewan’s population increased by a mere 7%.
But this was Blakeney’s vision and it mattered not to him about comparing economic growth, ideology took precedence. History has treated him well despite this as he was a likeable man that cares, he simply was carrying out his vision despite the lost abundance for the people of the province.
Things would certainly have been different had Grant Devine swapped decades with Blakeney. I cannot speak on how the scandal around the communications allowances would have changed, we must assume not, but this is not a blog to discuss that humiliating issue for the former premier. Rather, it is to discuss how Devine tried to “get some of what Alberta” had been getting for the past 10 years and at the same time unwind 40 years of socialist policies that had hindered Saskatchewan’s growth. And I remember well, Devine was in a hurry.
Devine announced that Saskatchewan was now open for business. But what awful timing. Interest rates were at record highs, the Prime Lending Rate in Canada was over 19% and they stayed in the double digits for his full term in office. Oil prices, which had risen 1200% the previous decade, were cut in half from $37/barrel to $18/barrel.
As if falling commodity prices and record high interest rates weren’t enough, the farm crisis of North America took full grip by 1985. Wheat prices had crashed to $3.00 a bushel in 1982 and dropped to $2.50/ bushel by 1985. Saskatchewan, which had missed out in a once in a lifetime bonanza a decade early was in a full-blown recession. The Devine government scrambled and tried to buy their way out of the recession, but it was not to be. The recession was more than just Saskatchewan, it was one of the most worldwide severe recessions since World War II.
If only Blakeney had followed Devine, just think what might have been.
But Devine, as Blakeney before him, chose ideology over practicality. The times for both of their visions was off by a decade. Romanow was front and center for both men’s terms and he did not make that mistake when he followed Devine as the next Premier.
Make no mistake, both men cared, both men did not cower from their vision and whether you agree with their visions or not we must applaud their courage, even if history shows the errors of their ways.
Yours in love of this great province we call Saskatchewan