The defeat of the NDP Saskatchewan Provincial Government on November 7th 2007 after sixteen years in power was a victory for private business interests bent on excluding the majority of the people from sharing in wealth generated by a new round of economic expansion. High prices for energy, potash and corporate agricultural investment is fueling financial speculation across the province. Premier Brad Wall of the Saskatchewan Party is poised to use a whopping 38-20 majority to remove all political obstacles to an Alberta style “winners and losers” era of rampant insider profiteering. Wall has indicated to big investors that they will receive first consideration in the disposition of the large provincial government budget surplus left by the Lorne Calvert NDP Government.

Following nine years of Premier Grant Devine Conservative corruption and mismanagement, and sixteen years of timorous Romanow-Calvert NDP policies, some of the wealth of an expanding economy began to be transferred to housing, education and health and a promise of free pharmacare. Real improvements were possible as high energy prices and strong markets for potash increased government revenues in the 2007-08 November 27th mid year financial statement by 15.7% to $1,239 million. Even under an NDP corporate friendly royalty regime, non - renewable resources returned $430.8 million, tax revenues $408 million, other $51.4 million and federal transfers of $348.7 million.

The Calvert NDP Government increased expenditures of $109 million - (18 per cent) for Community Resources primarily for affordable housing initiatives; $105 million - (40 per cent) increase in additional funding for farmers; $85 million - (14 per cent) increase to Advanced Education and Employment, which included $73.14 million for post-secondary capital; $15.32 million in approved funding for a Labour Market Strategy a program to train skilled workers with an aboriginal training component; $6.6 million for training institutions; $72 million - (8 per cent) increase to Learning, mainly for school capital projects across the province and funding the Teachers' Superannuation Plan $33 million - (26 per cent). The NDP Government increased health expenditures by $24 million a modest (1 per cent) increase to further fund the healthcare system. Much can be said about the excessive prudence of Calvert but it has to be kept in perspective when considering what is planned by Premier Brad Wall.

The first day on the job Premier Wall was quoted in the Regina Leader Post that the province's finances were in bad shape. Walls said: "I think you're going to see in the days ahead that what the previous government has left behind financially is fairly stark," Regina Leader Post November 22, 2007

Walls didn’t make that statement for the benefit of workers and farmers. The provinces finances were in “bad shape” because the privileged and investor classes complained that too much was going to the people. Wall has promised his corporate friends that he will fix that. Financial policies to serve corporate needs will be paid for by Enterprise Saskatchewan, a new government economic development board described in the December 10th throne speech as a “unique and innovative public-private partnership…” The business dominated board will determine all of the financial decisions of the province, using the Saskatchewan Party legislative majority as a rubber stamp. Wall’s plan has been praised by discredited former Conservative Premier Grant Devine who fled to the USA after several of his ministers faced prosecution and jail. Devine told the media after the Wall throne speech, “Yeah, that’s nice, it feels good”. To promote its “business friendly” policies the Wall Government is spreading a new entrepreneurial psychology of big business entitlement. Business has got the message. “We think it is a great idea…having professional business leaders determine the future of the economic drivers in this province has great merit,” said Steve McLennan, CEO of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce.

Accompanying the business friendly bent of Wall are threats to put organized labour in its place. Using well known anti-labour code words, Wall said labour legislation in Saskatchewan needs to be “competitive” with other Canadian jurisdictions with resource based economies, which means Alberta with some of the most regressive anti-labour legislation in Canada. The Chamber of Commerce applauded Wall’s anti-labour stance but labour leaders are alarmed.

The Wall Government reneged on its promise to honor a $100 million memorandum of understanding with the NDP Government to keep the Prince Albert Domtar paper mill in operation. The Wall government then tore up another promise not to enact essential services legislation. The Premier upbraided his own health minister who hadn’t realized the Premier had done an about face on his pledge to Larry Hubich of the SFL that essential service issues would be negotiated not legislated. Tom Graham president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees in Saskatchewan accused Wall of planning to take some relatively decent labour legislation and lower it to the lowest common denominator.

Also in the Wall Government cross hairs is the province’s health care system. Don McMorris, Minister of Health has announced a “search for efficiencies” neo-con buzz words for funding and staff cuts. Service Employees International Union, representing some health care workers slammed government talk about “safe staffing levels” during negotiations when health care workers are routinely short-staffed and overworked. The government is moving forward with a review of the health care system without consulting the unions and health care workers. NDP Leader Calvert expressed concern that the review would be used as an excuse to cut services.

Big investors want to tighten their grip on government coffers as speculation fever, driven by rising prices for energy is driving up stock and real estate prices. Investor fever is developing around the Bakken oil play in South Eastern Saskatchewan, part of the Williston basin formation that includes the south west corner of Manitoba, North Dakota and eastern Montana. The amount of accessible sweet light crude in the Saskatchewan portion is estimated at between 25 billion and 100 billion barrels. Advances in oil discovery technology using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing combined with the high price for oil has made the field attractive for early expanded development.

Another driver is plans for Regina to become a major inter-modal Canadian Pacific rail hub as part of the western Canadian corridor to the west coast to deliver western Canadian energy, mineral, potash and canola to Asia via west coast ports at Rupert and Vancouver. The project is funded jointly by the Harper Government, the City of Regina and the Province. The final bill will be $93 million and come into service after four years of construction.

Confronting the people of Saskatchewan is a struggle to be the beneficiaries of economic expansion not its victims. The people of Saskatchewan need to take a hard look at Alberta to learn what not to do. Energy sector development in Alberta has provided work and profits. Work; endless under paid, relentless work, with long hours and not enough purchasing power to keep up with inflated housing, transportation, educational and health costs. The profits have gone to the investor insiders, real estate developers and landlords.

That is the challenge facing organized labour and the left. We would recommend that the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour open up regular joint meetings with the Alberta Federation of Labour.

Part Two: The Root Causes of the NDP Defeat.