Written by Drew Medve
Last Thursday, 10 members of the Saskatchewan party retired from politics with one of those retiring being longtime representative for the Cypress Hills constituency Wayne Elhard, the first member to ever be elected under the Saskatchewan Party name in 1999.
“I always said to people if I didn’t accomplish anything, of any substance, at least I would be a footnote in history being the first elected Sask Party member. I think it brings me an element of pride knowing I was at the right place at the time to carry the party banner in an area I knew well and people knew me. I think the recognition of being elected as the first member provided legitimacy to the Sask Party going forward into the general election which happened a couple months later.”
The Saskatchewan Party was formed in 1997 after members of both the Conservative and Liberal parties sought to remove the New Democrats from power. In 1998, Elwin Hermanson took over the leadership of the party and in 1999 the Sask Party claimed 25 seats, reducing NDP to minority government. Elhard was one of the 25 with a new seat in the Legislative Assembly after winning a 1999 by-election and again in the general election the same year.
“I guess I liked the idea of the Saskatchewan Party being formed. It was a group of people from the Conservative and Liberal parties that felt they had more in common than separated them and I realized that coming together would provide effective and real opposition for the NDP. The quality of people that came together to form the Saskatchewan Party really brought with it a determination, skill set and level that was unmatched previously and a determination to provide good opposition and good government.”
During his time in office, Elhard served as the first Saskatchewan Party Minister of Highways and Infrastructure, Provincial Secretary and Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission. In his address to the Legislative Assembly last Thursday (video below), Elhard highlighted his time in Highways and Infrastructure and tells SwiftCurrentOnline he very much enjoyed his time in the department.
“I really enjoyed being highways because I had been the critic for a long time prior to the government changing, so I knew what we had to accomplish and knew what we needed to do for the province. The challenge was immense because we had a huge backlog of infrastructure that had fallen into disrepair, so there was no question if we could fix it all at once. The challenge was coming up with a rationale for the roads that needed it the most and I challenged the highway ministry to come up with a mechanism to evaluate roads on the basis of economic performance and achivement. Out of that analysis, we were able to identify the roads that needed to be fixed first. I felt that was important to the overall economic success to the province. We’re still working with that concept.”
Elhard was elected during a challenging time in southwest Saskatchewan. In his address, the MLA claimed railroads were abandoned, elevators were coming down and schools were closing in half a dozen of the communities he represented. “Forgotten southwest” was often the common feeling according to Elhard and he says since 1999, $136 million has been invested locally.
“I believe its different now. I think the people of southwest Saskatchewan would acknowledge the fact our government has invested heavily in the area, both in terms of highways and health facilities and schools, but above that there are many investments we have made throughout the 25 communities in the southwest that have had an important role in sustaining some of those organizations and small community undertakings. Whether it be the grant for utilities at recreational facilities as there’s been lots of communities put money in them for new water treatment facilities or sewer treatments. There’s been money invested in so many different smaller projects, the total is amazingly high since our government started investing in southwest Saskatchewan, I believe the number is around $136 million dollars invested into the Cypress Hills constituency.”
The MLA comments on his party leader and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, and discusses how he feels the Wall government can be a leading voice for Western Canada.
“Our Premier has a heart for the province, a heart for people. He’s a genuine guy, he’s moved and concerned by the difficulties individuals face and I think he’s carried those concerns in public policy arenas and has made a difference in the lives of so many people disadvantaged,” said Elhard. I do see an opportunity for Saskatchewan that hasn’t existed as evidently before. I think Saskatchewan is in a position to punch above its weight class even greater than we have done. There’s a leadership vaccum in Western Canada right now. The Premier of Manitoba is more or less a lame duck, he is waiting for an election to come and is expecting a loss, the NDP in Alberta seem to be retrenching, BC kind of marches to its own drum. I believe Premier Wall and the Government of Saskatchewan can take a leadership role in Western Canada. Given the volume of trade we have created, given the fact we’ve moved into the number four position ahead of BC as one of the greatest trading jurisdictions in the country, I think we have some opportunties to be taken much more seriously, and an opportunity we need to capitalize on.”
The MLA touches on what he’d like his legacy to be, and shares what he feels makes a great leader and politican.
“This is a bit vain.. it really is, but I want to be remembered as the best MLA we ever had in Cypress Hills. If that becomes the case and I am remembered that way, I will have achieved it not by myself but with very able help of a strong team of people. My constituency assistants have done tremendous service on behalf of the people of Cypress Hills, and they have performed strongly and admirably and consistently. I can’t say too much good about the way they’ve performed on behalf of everyone in Cypress Hills,” the MLA said. “I think a great politican is prepared to listen to people, understand what their wants, needs and desires are for the jurisdiction they’re representing, or maybe the province, or at the national level. I think it’s very important for politicans to listen but great leaders will not be afraid to advance difficult ideas and argue strongly in defense of those ideas. It’s not a matter of putting your finger up to the wind and seeing which way its blowing, it’s a matter of sometimes facing into a headwind because it’s the right thing to do.”
Elhard says he and his wife plan to be away on vacation in time for the next provincial election coming up on April 4th 2016.