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Assessing three years of Sask. Party gov't.

The Saskatchewan Party government has just celebrated its third anniversary.

The Saskatchewan Party government has just celebrated its third anniversary.

Is there a better time to take stock? Let us begin:

Popularity: For politicians, this is the most critical assessment, but it's often fleeting and the least relevant to the job a government is doing.

That said, the Sask. Party government remains surprisingly popular for a third-year government and much of it be can attributed to its charismatic and likeable leader Brad Wall. (However, the depth of political talent once one gets past the Premier has occasionally become an issues.)

Admittedly, Wall has been helped by the NDP's selection of a less popular leader in Dwain Lingenfelter, a leader who came to the job with a fair bit of baggage and who immediately ran into a major issue in leadership race membership fiasco.

And now Wall finds himself on the right side of a dispute with the federal government on the potash takeover issue. It never hurts a Saskatchewan government to be feuding with Ottawa and it might be especially important to Wall whose eagerness to please the federal government hasn't exactly translated into solid agriculture payments, massive federal infrastructure, a medical isotope nuclear reactor, money for a domed stadium or a better equalization formula.

Competency: This is not quite as easy to measure as popularity, but is still relatively easy to measure in the economic terms of budget deficit, debt and spending. In those fiscal terms, the government did great initially but not as well of late.

The Sask. Party has clearly been spending too much and the problem goes beyond one-time infrastructure spending. Far too much was shelled out to buy labour peace with the nurses that set the tone for higher wages across government. (Also ministerial, executive council and political hirings have been overpaid.)

We've had to consecutive deficit budgets now, largely because of the government's whopping 2009 error on potash revenue combined with overly generous promises to reduce income and property taxes.

This also means that provincial debt is projected to rise in the future.

Nevertheless, much of record windfall surplus of the first year was put to good use paying down and improving the infrastructure of our highways, hospitals and schools.

There have been ministerial mistakes and some of the worst have been in areas like Corrections and Public Safety where ministerial gaffes have worsen situations. However, the government has so for avoided major scandals and Wall has been willing to demote under-performing ministers.

Policy direction: The most obvious area of change has been on the labour front, where the results have been mixed. It's tough to say where bills making it tougher to unionize workplaces or tougher for construction workers to remain part of their guild are benefiting Saskatchewan as a whole. However, essential service legislation (something the Sask. Party in opposition said it wouldn't implement) has proven to be an effective tool at avoiding messy public sector strikes.

Enterprise Saskatchewan, the government's supposed arm's length policy encourage business growth, hasn't exactly been effective. However, immigration, population, wages and jobs have all risen sharply.

And for as much as the Sask. Party has touted itself as a pro-business government, it hasn't substantially changed the tax and royalty structure left by its NDP predecessors.

Vision and outlook: One of Wall's clear problems has been articulating a clear plan and sticking too it. However, some of his smaller decisions like funding liberation treatment for Multiple Sclerosis or allowing private MRIs and surgical centres to reduce waiting list backlogs appear to be proving to be bold and wise.

Nationally and internationally, Saskatchewan's image has improved. There's also little doubt that a more positive outlook has benefited the province internally.

And when one looks at the overall performance of this Sask. Party government, it's celebrating its third-year anniversary with a lot more positives than negatives.

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