Prairie Pragmatism Rising
Three U of S alumni—Brad Wall (BA’87), Alison R edford (LLB’88) and Darrell Pasloski (BSP’82)—are Canadian premiers.
Photo Supplied by the Council of the Federation
When Canada’s most powerful club—the Council of the Federation— comes together, there exists an even more exclusive society within its ranks: University of Saskatchewan alumni.
Did you know?
- The former First Lady of the State of Oregon, Sharon Anne Kitzhaber, (PHYSIO’77) is a U of S grad.
- Gerda Hnatyshyn (BSHEC’57) was the spouse of Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn (BA’54, LLB’56, LLD’90)
- Johnson Nkuuhe (MSc’79; PhD’82) was a Member of Parliament for the Government of the Republic of Uganda.
- When U of S alumnus Lorne Nystrom (BA’71) was elected as a Member of Parliament in 1968 he was only 22 years of age, the youngest MP in Canadian history.
- In 2000, at the age of 24, the Honourable James Moore (MA’11), was elected as a Member of Parliament, the youngest MP elected from the province of British Columbia.
- Pat Atkinson (BEd’77) is one of the longest serving female MLAs in SK (1986 – 2011)
Three of Canada’s sitting premiers— Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall (BA’87), Alberta’s Alison Redford (LLB’88) and the Yukon’s Darrell Pasloski (BSP’82)—trace their academic roots to the U of S.
And when Canada’s most influential table convenes, this trio can’t help but reflect on just how far their alma mater’s influence extends, little more than 100 years after its founding.
“Just on a purely personal level, when you get all these people together, there’s definitely some Saskatchewan pride that shines through,” Premier Pasloski said. “Saskatchewan’s greatest export is people, and certainly if you look around at some of the influential people that have come from Saskatchewan—on a per capita basis—it’s pretty staggering.”
In decades past, U of S grads were forced to leave the province in search of employment opportunities. Today, as a result, the university’s alumni have scaled the ladders of power, and are making the prairies’ political clout known from coast to coast.
But this exporting of expertise is coming to an end, according to Premier Wall. With rosy prospects on the horizon for the province, he said, the new generation of U of S grads will not have to venture so far afield to find the opportunities they crave.
“For a long time we were exporting agricultural products, oil, potash and way too many grads of the U of S,” Premier Wall said. “But we began to turn things around in terms of immigration, and we’ve got people coming back from across the country.”
Even though you can count Premier Pasloski —born in Manitoba to Saskatchewanian parents who left the province in search of economic opportunity—among those who left, he said his family has maintained its connection to prairie life; his son just graduated from the U of S with a degree in geological engineering, and the family is getting closer to setting down new roots in the province.
“When I graduated 30 years ago, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity in Saskatchewan and I left,” he said. “But today, there is a sort of call to come back to the province. I can’t heed it myself but my son did.”
Today, University of Saskatchewan graduates populate the political offices in Ottawa, in various provincial capitals, and of course, in Saskatchewan. This should come as no surprise, Premier Wall said, given the generally keen interest in politics observed in Saskatchewan, including on campus.
“Saskatchewan is interested in, on any given day, football, the weather and politics, and I think that’s also the case on our campuses,” Premier Wall said.
Although he dabbled in a few political rallies in high school, what really set him on a trajectory towards the premiership were his years at the U of S. “My interest in politics really fomented at the university,” he said. “When I went to the U of S—the same time that Premier Redford was there—there was a very active and pretty compelling campus club for any of the major political parties.”
“..people realize we should just be doing what works, and not worry about what part of the spectrum it’s in...“
After four years, Premier Wall emerged with a BA and a slew of friends whose political careers would parallel his own for years to come. A number of fellow alumni now work within his administration, he said, but an even larger number have fanned out into political advisory and staff positions in Ottawa and across the country.
“The University of Saskatchewan is known as a pretty powerful academic institution in the country, and it’s known by its exports even as much as for those that stayed in the province,” he said.
Just as former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and former Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn were giants on the political scene in their day, Wall suspects the current generation of U of S alumni will similarly leave their mark on the country.
Ironically, none of the three premiers hold degrees in political science. Wall studied public administration, while Redford studied law. Pasloski, meanwhile, is a special feather in the cap of the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition, since he is the first pharmacist in Canadian history to become a premier.
Partly responsible for the success of U of S grads in national politics, Wall suspects, is that peculiar prairie ethos of no frills pragmatism. Rather than thinking too much about left and right in politics, he said, Saskatchewanians are mostly concerned with up and down.
“I think there’s something to prairie pragmatism where people realize we should just be doing what works, and not worry about what part of the spectrum it’s in,” he said. “How many people sit around the coffee shop in Swift Current and talk about whether they’re right wing, middle or left wing?”
Premier Pasloski said he took his prairie values with him as he traveled north, and says his plainspoken prairie approach to politics is paying off for him. Born to a family of homesteaders, Premier Pasloski traces his roots to one of the countless small communities that—like many on the prairies—are clustered around the local grain elevator. There he learned the values of selfreliance and industry, he said, and to never turn away a neighbour in need.
“At a time when government didn’t do a lot for anybody, they made do, and communities worked very strongly together,” Premier Pasloski said. “There was a sense of collective responsibility, so communities would look after themselves.”
That sense of togetherness and collective responsibility, combined with a provincial boom that promises to endure for decades, is leading to graduates boomeranging back home like never before. The demand for labour in the province is so high, Premier Wall said, that 90,000 skilled workers will be needed over the next decade.
Desperate to keep up with the demands of the ever-expanding labour market, Premier Wall has taken his search international, making a recent trip to Ireland to recruit 275 skilled workers.
For proof that a new dawn has risen for the prairies one has to look no farther than the numbers. “In the last reporting period for StatsCan, we actually recorded a net inmigration from other provinces,” Premier Wall said. “So it’s completely turned around.”
Photo Supplied by office of Premier Pasloski
Brad Wall (BA’87)
Photo Supplied by the Council of the Federation
Alison Redford (LLB’88)
Photo Supplied by office of Premier Redford
Alison Redford was in the midst of campaigning for the April 23 election when this issue of the Green & White went to print, and was unable to participate in this feature.
Let’s get political
U of S alumni have gone on to hold a wide variety of political positions from Prime Minister of Canada, to Member of Parliament for the Government of the Republic of Uganda. One thing is certain, our alumni are political leaders and making their mark all around the world.
In municipal politics, 33 U of S alumni have been elected to the Office of Mayor for towns and cities in Saskatchewan; five alumni have been elected mayor in other provincial towns and cities. In Saskatchewan, 54 of our alumni have been elected as a city councilors or alderman—outside of Saskatchewan, nine alumni have been elected as a city councilor or alderman for other provincial towns and cities.
U of S alumni have had just as much success in provincial politics. We boast five premiers of Saskatchewan and five alumni appointed to the position of Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan. Outside of Saskatchewan, our alumni have been elected as premier of Alberta, Yukon and Northwest Territories, as well as Lieutenant Governor of Alberta. We have had 144 alumni elected to the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan and nine to other Canadian Legislative Assemblies.
In addition to the Right Honourable John Diefenbaker, (BA’15, MA’16, LLB’19, DCL’58) who served as Prime Minister of Canada and Ray Hnatyshyn (BA’54, LLB’56, LLD’90) Governor General of Canada, our alumni have had great success in federal politics: there have been 58 alumni elected as Members of Parliament for the Province of Saskatchewan, five elected as Members of Parliament from other Canadian provinces, nine appointed to the Senate of Canada and seven as Federal Cabinet Ministers. Clockwise from top: Darrell Pasloski (BSP’82), Alison R edford (LLB’88) and Brad Wall (BA’87). Photo Supplied by office of Premier Redford Photo Supplied by the Council of the Federation Photo Supplied