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The good and bad of an aging government

Like an old man, governments often become set in their ways. But also like an old man, a government can show remarkable wisdom as it ages.

Like an old man, governments often become set in their ways.

But also like an old man, a government can show remarkable wisdom as it ages.

This past session of the Saskatchewan legislature saw the best and worst of the young Saskatchewan Party government in that regard - a government that seemed at times remarkably stubborn yet still seemed eager to take a new corrective, approach.

Let us quickly explore.

The worst of the Sask. Party government played out on the legislative chamber floor during the daily question period where it consistently took a drubbing from the NDP Opposition over one reoccurring theme - the inability to listen.

The government certainly received criticism for its failure to properly consult before proceeding with its budget day decisions to stop funding chiropractor visits, end funding of the Saskatchewan Communications Network and to reduce support for the spread of Dutch Elm disease and mosquito control.

But while such budget day decisions are somewhat rash because of their nature, what's less understandable is the government's unwillingness to consult on longer-term policy initiatives. Changes to the Wildlife Habitat Protection Act came without nearly enough consultation. It signed the New West Partnership without forewarning. And it unyieldingly refused to change any part of Bill 80, the legislation affecting the construction industry spoke to its stubbornness.The common thread was an eagerness to do the bidding of supporters in business community (or in the case of Wildlife Act, the ranchers), without properly exploring the full ramifications. Worse yet, this government wasn't eager to take criticism for what it was doing.

This clearly seemed a step backwards from what we saw from Premier Brad Wall's government a year ago when it held massive consultation on the Uranium Development Partnership in which it heard pretty resounding opposition to the expense notion of a nuclear power plant. The difference a year later was a government that had become far too set in its ways.

But while the NDP leader Dwain Lingenfelter's New Democrats often had a field day with this obstinacy, there were occasions during the session when the Sask. Party government demonstrated the wisdom to try a new, better direction.

One such day was budget day when the government showed an eagerness to get spending under control.

In just two years of governance, the Sask. Party government had developed an even-less-desirable penchant for spending tax dollars like there was no end to them. But the stunning drop in potash prices was clearly a rude awakening for this government that even managed to show a little contrition for its incredible miscalculation of potash revenues.

In an amazing turnaround, the Sask. Party government pulled off the seemingly impossible task of not increasing spending (although it should be noted this was partly achieved by stopping capital spending for things like hospitals and nursing homes the government vows it will build in the future).

This austerity should pay dividends in the future - especially when it comes to debt reduction that has gone down but will rise in the future.

And notwithstanding cuts to proposed municipal tax relief and the agriculture budget and aforementioned program cuts, what was impressive was the way some of the spending cuts have been achieved.

The health ministry, for example, has taken upon itself to find savings by simply asking health care providers and administrators for ideas on how savings in the $4-billion department can be achieved. Small savings are already starting to be seen, but the even bigger bonus might be an improvement in working conditions and morale.

By asking the people that work for them, the government is recognizing that its greatest threat is what it doesn't know.

Like an old man, we saw both stubbornness and wisdom coming from the Sask. Party government this session.

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