Governments sometimes do lose their focus.
That been a problem for our Saskatchewan Party government for some time. The pounding it took from the NDP Opposition during the spring legislative session for not listening was certainly justifiable.
Under such circumstances, it's particularly important for governments to have touchstones - references point in which ministers can be reminded what it is they are supposed to be doing. This is where Premier Brad Wall's mandate letters to his ministers play a key role.
Wall issued each member of his original cabinet mandate such letters when each was first appointed in November 2007. The initial letters largely focused on the newly elected government's election promises.
With good economic times and big surplus budgets in its first two years, the government was able to implement most of those promises from what was a rather modest Sask. Party platform. The mandate letters were somewhat forgotten in recent months, even withdrawn from the government's website.
Well, at the two-and-half-year mark, Wall has re-issued a new set of mandate letters to his ministers. And while they are hardly stunning in their content, they do seem especially timely for a government that appears to have veered off course.
They should also be valuable to all voters, but especially rural voters who now have their own reference point when it comes to reminding government ministers what has been promised and what hasn't been delivered.
For example, Wall's mandate letters to Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer and Municipal Affairs Minister Jeremy Harrison instructs both to "complete our government's commitment to implement the new municipal revenue sharing agreements in 2011-12 equal to one full point of Provincial Sales Tax." This commitment is especially important to small cities, towns and rural municipalities in need of tax relief - especially when it comes to fulfilling commitments to reduce property taxes on agricultural land.
Gantefoer, along with Energy Minister Bill Boyd and Enterprise Minister Ken Cheveldayoff, have also been ordered to work collaboratively "to ensure Saskatchewan's resource royalties, incentive programs and tax structures support continued economic growth and investment in the province." Perhaps no government commitment is more important right now than the commitment for government to keep our fragile resource economy prosperous.
Boyd's letter also stressed the need for a "long-term generation strategy" at SaskPower and the pursuit of "co-generation opportunities with First Nations."
Agriculture Minister Bob Bjornerud's letter called on him to "ensure provincial crop insurance programming offers appropriate and affordable options for risk-management coverage", to "reduce the regulator burden" on the industry and to "support government efforts to pursue additional property tax reductions for agricultural land."
Highways Minister Jim Reiter has been asked to "review the entire ministry to ensure value for money" and to "continue work on quality improvement and innovation in highway design, construction and maintenance." Reiter is also now required to "support the development of shortline railways" and to "develop and implement a plan to improve the operational and financial efficiency of the Saskatchewan Transportation Company."
Health Minister Don McMorris has been instructed to work with the health regions to implement "a physician recruitment and retention strategy with emphasis on Saskatchewan-trained physicians" - an especially critical issue for many rural communities.
Education Minister Ken Krawetz has been called upon to "implement the Treaty education curriculum in all schools", "develop a curriculum that includes environmental education, conservation and sustainability for all schools" and to "purse additional education property tax reductions."
Peruse these mandate letters (they are all on the government website) and you'll likely notice the general nature of the directives. You won't find specifics about building local hospitals, nursing home and schools or fixing specific roads.
But it's still good for voters to have some kind of commitment in writing from the government.These letters should help Wall's ministers back on track.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 15 years.