With Brad Wall’s departure from politics, the private sector is losing an ally whose voice reverberated louder than most on the public stage.
During his 10-year tenure as Saskatchewan’s premier, Wall’s reputation as an advocate of free enterprise grew, whether he was defending the interests of potash or the oilpatch.
“He has been a strong champion for pipelines, for oil and gas, for enabling Saskatchewan to reach its economic potential,” said Tim McMillan, CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. McMillan previously served in several key cabinet portfolios in Wall’s government including energy.
“We will certainly miss his leadership,” McMillan said.
When he was sworn in as premier in November 2007, Wall inherited a province gushing in oil revenue thanks to high crude prices. Still, he ushered in a wave of belt-tightening measures in the years ahead, partly in anticipation of the volatility of resource revenues.
“During his term as premier we dramatically changed to a ‘can-do’ province,” said John Hopkins, CEO of the Regina and District Chamber of Commerce.
“We witnessed record growth in terms of jobs, income, and investment and it really changed from being a place to be from … to being a place to be because there were a lot of things going on.”
Scott Saxberg, CEO of Crescent Point Energy, said Wall’s consistent taxation and energy regulation policies helped enable his company to become the largest oil and gas producer in the province.
“He’s probably been one of our greatest leaders in Canada,” he said.
Saxberg and leaders of some other Calgary-based oil and gas companies with operations in Saskatchewan were invited in March to move their head offices there, a move that irked Alberta Premier Rachel Notley but for which Wall was unapologetic.
That illustrates both Wall’s role as “Our No. 1 cheerleader” and the province’s growing economic clout, even if it didn’t result in any big company moves, said Steve McLellan, CEO of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce.
“Decades ago, people would have laughed out of those Calgary offices to hear a Saskatchewan premier invite them to come here,” McLellan said.
“(Now) it’s a logical consideration.”
While he was a proponent of the free market, he also stood against any measures he perceived as a threat to his home province’s economy.
A defining moment in Wall’s career occurred in 2010, when he aggressively opposed a hostile takeover bid of PotashCorp, a former provincial Crown corporation, by Australia’s BHP Billiton. The acquisition was eventually blocked by the federal government.
Wall is supporting the current proposed merger of PotashCorp with Calgary-based Agrium, in part because its head office would remain in Saskatoon.
Colleen Collins, vice-president of the Canada West Foundation think tank, said Wall has been a strong voice for removing trade barriers in Western Canada and the Northwestern United States.
“He’s taken on a role as a spokesman for the West,” Collins said. “Losing someone of that experience and vision is going to be really unfortunate.”
While he was generally lauded in corporate quarters, others, including those from labour and environmental organizations, have a less favourable view of Wall’s legacy.
Bob Bymoen, president of the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union, said Wall’s time in power has been defined by privatizing government departments and replacing workers with private contractors and consultants.
“I hope the next premier doesn’t have such a hate-on for unions, that he respects working people and their right to organize and form a union,” said Bymoen, who represents about 20,000 government workers.
His government’s long-standing opposition to a carbon tax also drew scorn from environmental groups.
It’s a position that puts him “on the wrong side of history,” said Keith Stewart, a senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada.