Premier of Saskatchewan 1991-2001
Let’s cut to the chase and get this out in the open as to why I chose Romanow as one of the leaders that has inspired me, and had a lasting, positive impact, on Saskatchewan and Canada. The answer is simple; like Douglas before him and Wall after him, “he was the right man at the right place at the right time.”
No, he never had a grand vision like Douglas, nor did he open the door to the capital markets like Wall. Yes, he made unpopular decisions like cuts to rural hospitals and universities, froze civil service wages and increased utility fees at the Crown Corporations. But folks, he did what he had to do, and he stuck to his guns.
Romanow was a proponent of the pragmatic Third Way of governing which I personally am a big fan. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_Way ) His actions spoke louder than words and he made decisions that needed to be made for a Province teetering on bankruptcy. He never governed in fear like so many political leaders do, which was somewhat easy given the disarray of the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives at the time. If one had to summarize, he was a Liberal that wore orange for political purposes. He leaned right of centre on economic issues and leaned left on social issues. These are characteristics I believe Saskatchewan and any government should aspire to.
His diplomatic strength shone through in keeping the far-left wing faction, that has always been prevalent in the NDP, happy while operating as a centrist, and he did so with a calm and cool approach. He gained respect for his personal integrity and he carried that statesmanship to the national stage where he was prominent in working on the Charlottetown Accord as well as other federal-provincial matters.
While Premier, Romanow’s government sold off the remaining Crown owned shares of Cameco which helped the beginning of balancing the books. When he assumed office, the province had the highest debt per capita in Canada totalling $15 billion. He was fiscally conservative, and his austerity measures were observed and copied by many other provinces. At the time, he also had the luxury of Saskatchewan being a “have not” Province according to the Federal equalization program and as such benefitted from federal transfer payments. But to his credit, by 1994 he had balanced the books and they were balanced every year until he retired from politics in 2001. A feat not equaled since.
Shortly after his retirement from Provincial politics, Romanow was asked by his close friend Prime Minister Jean Chretien to head up the Royal Commission of the Future of Healthcare in Canada. That was in 2001 and Romanow went to work right away holding meetings across the country and doing substantial research. When the report dubbed the Romanow Report was released in 2002 I was personally disappointed.
I understand that Romanow has been a great defender of public healthcare, and rightfully so, but I hoped he would bring the boldness he brought to his early days as Premier and go against conventional politics. Yes, he made 47 recommendations, many of which were implemented yet each one called for the taxpayer to pony up more money.
He understood Tommy Douglas intentionally waited 16 years before implementing universal healthcare in Saskatchewan because Douglas wanted to make sure that the province could afford it. And as a man that spent 10 years balancing the books, he knew that the demand on the taxpayer was only going to worsen as the baby boom population started to strain the public health system as it is today, and is deteriorating exponentially everyday.
I am not suggesting anything radical but there could have been a “Third Way,” after all, he governed like no other Premier of this province had before by shedding ideology for the greater good. And he had nationwide respect, the moral authority, and the opportunity to make a big difference in shaping Canada’s healthcare system to be a model for the rest of the world in the 21st century.
Romanow gave 30 years of his life to serve this Province in the Saskatchewan legislature and he did it with dignity. He never governed out of fear, he balanced our books setting the Province up for future prosperity. His statesmanship did Saskatchewan proud, his love of Saskatchewan and Canada may not have come through in his words, but he wasn’t much for wasting words on silly clichés, like someone else we know these days. And of course, he showed us how a governing style, “The Third Way,” that we can apply in so many other institutions than just government.
Yours in love of this great province we call Saskatchewan