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Devine and His legacy

by Murray Mandryk
Saskatchewan Legislative Building

It’s been more than a quarter century since Grant Devine’s Progressive Conservative government was ousted in Saskatchewan and we still haven’t come to terms with the man. Then again, it seems Grant Devine hasn’t quite come to terms with his political legacy either. This appears to be a legitimate appointment of Devine to the board of the University of Saskatchewan. As a graduate of the U of S and as an agriculture PhD., Grant Devine is as qualified an appointment as anyone. However, as the province’s former agriculture minister and premier, he should be viewed as especially qualified, especially to rural people who are often underrepresented on such important boards. Can we agree that those who serve the public in an elected capacity and who sacrifice so much of their careers and family life to the rest of us are undeserving? Of course not, quite the opposite in fact. Moreover, this is a former premier. We name buildings and dams after premiers. (In fact, there was a rumour that the Ag College building on campus would be named after him, an idea supposedly nixed by the university.)

To begrudge a comparatively modest board appointment to Devine a quarter century later does seem petty. Finally, many of those personally critical of Devine today are people who have never met the man. As an individual, you will find few people who are more personally decent. In addition, even as a politician, there is almost no one who cares less or has complained less about the massive political criticism he has received than Grant Devine. Alas, this may also be his problem. In an interview with Saskatoon StarPhoenix reporter, Alex MacPherson, (who broke the story and interestingly, neither the U of S nor the Saskatchewan Party government who appointed him made much of a fuss about this appointment) Devine said: “I expected the reaction, but I have the opportunity to build some things, and certainly build at the university, I am very proud of it.” Asked by MacPherson whether he considers himself a polarizing figure, Devine replied: “I guess I do if you’re from the real sincere political left because we changed so much.” He cited investments in pension funds and capital markets and support of free trade as examples (but didn’t specifically mention his privatization that stopped at his unsuccessful bid to sell SaskEnergy). As for his government’s massive deficits that saddled the province with an additional $10 billion in public debt in 10 years, Devine cited low commodity prices and the need to “help farmers and homeowners” with 22 percent interest rates. “Yes, do they like to complain that we had a deficit? I guess so,” Devine said. “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” This is about what one might expect from a politician justifying what was, admittedly, a bad political record of fiscal prudence.

Devine does ignore massive tax cuts and giveaway grants that were actually more responsible for the debt. However, far more problematic was Devine’s justification in the interview of the PC caucus communication allowance fraud scandal that resulted in 16 criminal convictions. “It’s low-hanging fruit, politically,” Devine told MacPherson. “It was a couple of hundred thousand dollars, so it wasn’t a lot of money.” This wasn’t low-hanging fruit. Stealing is stealing. Worst of all, it was a breach of public trust of the highest order. Yes, the charges resulted in heartache, divorce and possibly even the suicide of former Ag minister, Jack Wolfe, but the scandal was hardly “nonsense”, as Devine described.

Devine cannot be and was not held criminally responsible for the actions of others. Understanding this should help some of us get passed the notion of him receiving a simple board appointment. However, what Devine still doesn’t get is this political wrong-doing has damned his government of his personal political legacy.

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