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The worst Sask. politics has ever been

A month ago we explored the question of whether nastiness at the Saskatchewan legislature has reached a low point in our province's political history.

A month ago we explored the question of whether nastiness at the Saskatchewan legislature has reached a low point in our province's political history.

Those of you that read the piece will likely recall that my answer to the "Is-this-the-worst-you've-seen-it?" question was a some-less-than-definitive "perhaps." After all, there have been ample occasions in our history when things at the Marble Palace have been plenty tense and nasty.

Those of you who lived through the days of the Medicare debate will certainly argue that the legislature was much nastier during the tenure of CCF Premiers Tommy Douglas and Woodrow Lloyd. The days of then Liberal Opposition leader Ross Thatcher kicking at the doors of the assembly are the stuff of Saskatchewan legend.

In more recent time, one could pick just about any year during the Grant Devine admin-istration. Particularly bad was 1989 when a younger Dwain Lingenfelter was one of the New Democrats leading the fight against the privatization of SaskEnergy by tying up all House business with 21 days of bell ringing. (The rules had to be changed so that could never happen again.)

And, of course, the 1993 fight over then NDP premier Roy Romanow's closure of 52 rural hospitals was the source of a serious uproar.

But what sets these battles apart from what's been going on in the Saskatchewan legislature in the past month is that the past nobler fights were actually about something. Whether it was major philosophical differences on the direction of the province or serious issues like hos-pital closures affecting the viability of communities, these were substantial issues that seemed worth getting agitated over.

Now, contrast that with what we've seen in the last month of the Saskatchewan legislative session where the battles have been largely over nothing and far more personalize than we've ever seen.

How bad things have gotten was best illustrated in the recent budgetary consideration of executive council spending - best known as the premier's estimates where the Opposition leader and Premier square off in debate over just about anything and everything.

This year's battle between NDP Opposition leader Dwain Lingenfelter and Saskatchewan Party Premier Brad Wall was one for the ages - although neither should take any pride in that.

How bad was it? Well consider this gem from Lingenfelter to Wall: "I won't take anything from you, you the little thief, the little thief from Swift Current."

Lingenfelter's vicious barb (presumably, a reference to Wall's days a quarter century ago as a ministerial assistant when he signed for free booze delivered to his minister's office) immediately drew outrage from government benches, then a less-than-heartfelt-sounding apology from Lingenfelter.

So what caused the Opposition leader to make such an outlandish accusation? Well, it came immediately after Wall suggested that Lingenfelter and the NDP were attacking the troops in Afghanistan.

And what was behind Wall's bizarre assertion? Evidently, NDP MLA Buckley Belanger was heckling that Corrections Minister Yogi Huyghebaert - a former Snowbird captain - was really "a socialist" because he got his free education and pension at taxpayers' expense. (The NDP alleged that Belanger was provoked because they thought they heard Huyghebaert mutter something about "communists". However, there seems no solid evidence of that.)

Yes, folks, this is the level of debate at the Saskatchewan legislature - petty, personal and nastier than ever.

Rather that reasoned debate or even passionate commitment to ideal, what drives political discourse in our province right now is vitriol, lack of respect, and intense personal dislike for each other.

Wall accuses Lingenfelter of requesting a job pay-off from the potash company 10 years ago. Lingenfelter accused Wall of ordering free booze as a ministerial assistant 25 years ago. Wall accuses Lingenfelter of attacking soldiers dying for our country. Lingenfelter calls Wall a thief. And so it goes.

Yes, it's now officially worst than it's ever been.

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