The provincial cabinet met for the first time Wednesday since Premier Brad Wall announced his impending retirement last Thursday.
One chair is already empty, as former social services minister Tina Beaudry-Mellor resigned her cabinet seat Tuesday to launch her Saskatchewan Party leadership bid.
Five other cabinet ministers have publically voiced interest in running for the party leadership, and by association, the premiership.
Wall said he thought now was the time for renewal in the Saskatchewan Party when he announced his resignation. As for who is best to lead Wall’s call for renewal, Leader Post political columnist Murray Mandryk said it is hard to say.
“If most of the candidates are coming from caucus and cabinet, and most of them are involved in the 2017-18 budget and the accumulation of the debts that have been supported by cabinet, where is the real renewal?” Mandryk pondered.
So, out of the current field of potentials where do they stand? Global News asked Mandryk and University of Regina political science associate professor Jim Farney.
“Obviously someone like Tina Beaudry-Mellor is going to offer a different perspective because she’s not old line Sask. Party,” Mandryk said.
Mandryk added that it can be a benefit to Beaudry-Mellor that she quickly acknowledged the government has made mistakes in her campaign announcement Tuesday.
In Farney’s view, Beaudry-Mellor offers a fresh face for the party.
“She only won election last year. Her background is in academia and the social movement side of things. She highlights the kind of importance of gender in saying it’s time for a female leader, it’s time for a female premier,” Farney said.
However, Farney said it could be tough to get past decisions she made while social services minister like cuts to the SAID program and funerals for those on social assistance.
Cheveldayoff said he is 90 per cent sure he is going to run for Sask. Party leader. On Wednesday, he said he has some work to finish in his current portfolio first before moving on.
Farney says Cheveldayoff has the best fundraising potential of anyone in Saskatchewan provincial politics.
“We’ll just see how it plays out in policy terms. He’s not been in front of the cameras as much as some of the other folks have,” Farney said.
In Cheveldayoff’s current portfolio as parks minister, there isn’t much baggage that can follow him into the leadership race, but Mandryk said that’s a different story when you go deeper into his cabinet history.
“He used to be minister of everything, including Crown corporations. He’s a longtime associate and former classmate of Brad Wall’s so he goes right back to the very beginning,” Mandryk said.
“So there’s only so much a guy like Ken Cheveldayoff, who has been in and out of cabinet, can do to divorce himself in terms of government policy.”
Farney believes the finance minister would be an easy front runner for the new leader of the Saskatchewan Party. Then the 2017-18 budget was delivered.
“He’s got that budget around his neck like an albatross. It’s important to remember it’s not just NDP folks that are upset about it; it’s small businesses, it’s the construction industry,” Farney said.
“It’s very hard to walk back a document that you were on TV defending.”
Mandryk anticipates the same uphill battle for Doherty if he decides to run.
Doherty said that currently his primary focus is delivering the first quarter financial update.
“I also don’t think the first quarter update is going to be particularly favourable,” Mandryk said.
“Because they have been spending a lot of money, there haven’t been savings and we haven’t seen any kind of recovery in oil prices that they hoped and thought there might be.”
The economy minister frequently is in front of cameras, but Mandryk sees him as a bit of a dark horse. Representing Meadow Lake, he may have a greater challenge in generating a large number of supporters against his urban counterparts.
“Because of the nature of the way this race is shaping up very quickly, and we’re looking at six, seven names right now it’s going to be tougher for those that don’t have the same base,” he said.
Farney believes that Harrison’s personality could be his biggest benefit in a potentially crowded race.
“Everybody across the political spectrum that I’ve talked to say they like working with him. So it will be important if he decides to run how he sorts that out,” Farney said.
Farney says that he doesn’t know that much about Reiter, but from what he’s heard, people speak well of the health minister, and Farney said Reiter has been able to manage that difficult portfolio.
“He’s got a reputation as competent and a bit folksy, not to the extent of Brad Wall, but I don’t have the impression that he has a following,” Farney said.
“And maybe that’s what renewal looks like, is somebody without a real brand coming into the party.”
Like Harrison, Reiter comes from a rural riding. Farney said this can work as a benefit becomes it taps into the core of the Saskatchewan Party’s support.
As an experienced cabinet minister, Mandryk sees the same main hurdle for Wyant that exists for other potential candidates: baggage from past unpopular decisions.
“I guess that’s somewhat offset by the fact that with that baggage came some experience on how to do things better. They just have to explain to us how they’re going to do things better,” Mandryk said.
In conversations about Wyant, Farney has garnered the impression he can pick up where Brad Wall will eventually leave off.
“If they’re looking for continuity, if they’re looking for competence, and not for dramatic change he’ll be the choice. In the general election that can play out in some unusual ways for them,” Farney said.
Cabinet ministers have until Aug. 28 to announce their intentions and resign their positions.
Speculation also exists about unelected Saskatchewan Party members seeking the top job, including deputy minister to the premier Alanna Koch.
Prior to Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, Koch was asked about leadership aspirations. She did not reply, but smiled as she walked into the premier’s office.
“She’s a really interesting dark horse,” Farney said.
Those in Koch’s job have limited partisan ties according to Farney. Koch has close personal ties to Premier Brad Wall.
“She’s got a background in agriculture, in the corporate world, she’s incredibly competent. She’s spoken very well in how to develop female leaders in both the public and private sector,” Farney added.
However, Mandryk said that going from the backrooms to the front benches can be a very difficult task.
“It’s tough and a lot of politicians don’t make it particularly well. You have to have special qualities,” he said.
“I think she’s highly presentable, and has been an effective spokesman in areas where she’s had to be like her time with the Western Canadian Wheat Growers, but this is a whole different ball game.”
“In terms of the Sask. Party however, I think she’s a pretty attractive candidate,” Mandryk added.
Fifth-place finisher in the federal Conservative leadership race and Saskatoon-University MP Brad Trost is mulling a switch to provincial politics.
He told Global News he plans to announce his plans after Labour Day, and sees himself as someone who can eliminate a problem facing most potential candidates: baggage.
“I think one of the things I’d bring is a fresh set of eyes. They’ve had ten good years, but throughout those ten years they’ve built up a little bit of baggage. I’d be able to shed that baggage instantaneously,” Trost said.
Mandryk said that one of the biggest lessons learned in the Conservative race is not to underestimate Brad Trost, who performed above expectations.
Mandryk added the social conservative may be able to carry over much of his local support to the provincial race if he chooses that route.
“I don’t think he is a wise choice for the Sask. Party in the long run. If he wins, this puts the Sask. Party in a whole entire new direction,” Mandryk said.