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'I'll be staying … very, very neutral': Wall won't endorse Sask. Party leadership candidate

Star Phoenix logo Star Phoenix 3 days ago Alex MacPherson, Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says he isn’t planning to endorse a candidate to replace him as leader of the Saskatchewan Party when he steps down after more than a decade in power and resigns as the MLA for Swift Current.

While he said there are potential candidates in the party caucus, as well as some outside the party he is “notionally aware” of, Wall told reporters Friday that he wants a competitive race, despite having himself been acclaimed as leader. 

“I’ll be staying … very, very neutral,” Wall said, 24 hours after announcing his plan to leave politics 18 years after winning his first election.

“All the folks that work in executive council or in the premier’s office are being asked to stay very, very neutral.”

Wall will continue to serve as premier until a new leader is elected. That process will likely be the Sask. Party’s first competitive race since Elwin Hermanson won a leadership race in 1998. Wall said the process will conclude not “much past January.”

The first step is for the party to convene its provincial council, which consists of the leader, party president, a youth representative and a member from each riding in the province, according to Sask. Party executive director Patrick Bundrock.

“We are required under the constitution (of the party) to hold that meeting within 30 days, but I can guarantee you it will be earlier,” Bundrock said.

The meeting — which is closed to the public — will establish the ground rules of the party’s next convention, as well as its date and venue, Bundrock said, adding that party tradition dictates a one-member-one-vote process. 

It’s unclear who will campaign to replace Wall. No announcements have been made, but Finance Minister Kevin Doherty and Health Minister Jim Reiter have been touted as potential early front-runners

Other names that have surfaced include cabinet ministers Tina Beaudry-Mellor, Ken Cheveldayoff, Jeremy Harrison, Gord Wyant and deputy minister to the premier — the province’s top civil servant — Alanna Koch. 

The Sask. Party has spent the last five months grappling with the political fallout of its 2017-18 budget, which aims to halve a $1.2 billion deficit. Wall has repeatedly acknowledged the budget was always going to be unpopular. 

Dissatisfaction with the government’s approach is reflected in two recent polls, which suggest that support for the premier — who has historically enjoyed strong popularity ratings — has dropped between 16 and 24 points. 

Asked on Friday about the timing of his decision to retire, Wall acknowledged that his name is associated with the 2017-18 budget and said it’s important to give whomever is elected to lead the party time to come to grips with the job. 

“There’s a certain amount of that cross-identification (between me and the party), and that’s why it’s important to give that next person more time.” 

amacpherson@postmedia.com
twitter.com/macphersona

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