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Sask. Party gov't losing its focus

There's little doubt that the loss of focus plaguing Premier Brad Wall's Saskatchewan Party government right now can be somewhat blamed on the decisions it has made.

There's little doubt that the loss of focus plaguing Premier Brad Wall's Saskatchewan Party government right now can be somewhat blamed on the decisions it has made.

It was a loss of focus on the volatility of the province's resource-based economy that led to the bad spending and revenue-projections in last year's budget.

In turn, the Sask. Party was not focused enough on the outcome of choices it made in this year's 2010-11 budget designed to address the mistakes of a year ago.

For example, there's legitimate reason to question whether winding up the Saskatchewan Communication Network (SCN) was all that smart a choice. After all, if this decision robs the province of Southwest TV news or destroys the anchor of the province's film and video industry that potentially brings millions of dollars a year to the province, would the $5-million annual savings from ending SCN be a smart choice?

Similarly, choices to cut funding for Dutch elm disease prevention (which may result in the spread of the tree-killing elm bark beetle in both urban and rural settings) and mosquito spraying (which runs the risk of another outbreak of equine encephalitis) may turn out to be small savings at the expense of big and costly consequences.

But what's probably most disheartening for the Sask. Party government right now aren't necessarily these questionable choices. Governing politicians can always make the argument that these choices were either made on the best information available or that tough but necessary choices are never popular.

Besides, at least those budgeting decisions that we are now questioning were choices - things largely within the realm of a government's control. What are far less palatable are the things that cause a government to lose its focus that are well beyond its control.

The recent trials and tribulations of Saskatoon Northwest MLA Serge LeClerc - who tendered his resignation to "clear his name" in the wake of a CBC news and radio report of a lurid tape and e-mail transcript - is one such example of a issue well beyond a government's control.

The first problem for both LeClerc and the government is the difficulty of rebutting the allegations emerging from the tape that contains a voice sounding similar to LeClerc's talking about recent drug use. The issue has been turned over to Regina police, but whether criminal charges will emerge is highly questionable. Police and prosecution are not inclined in proceed on such hearsay.

Unfortunately, though, the absence of charges won't automatically clear the name of the MLA and one-time drug criminal who has since been pardoned and who became an author and motivational speaker selling his law-breaker to law-maker story.

While devastating to LeClerc's political career and reputation, the bombshell has clearly thrown the government off its agenda as well.

Struggling since last fall to explain the potash miscalculation and ensuing cuts to municipal tax relief and capital funding cuts to rural hospital and nursing home funding, the Wall government has spent most of the spring legislative session contending with the fallout from this year's budget.Besides the previously mentioned issues, a huge issue this spring has been health care - cuts to chiropractor funding, the suspension of the kidney transplant program and specialists leaving their practices because of overwork and burden.

Dealing with these matters was already hampering the Wall's government from telling its story a growing province that had come through a severe world economic downturn because of its vibrant economy. In fact, one of the more interesting admissions from Wall this week was that the LeClerc saga was becoming a huge distraction for a government with a good story to tell.

It's a big problem for a government that normally have countless issues that distract it from its agenda.

But it may be even harder to stay focused when the issue you are dealing with is well beyond your control.

Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 15 years.