I’m in the throes of finishing up the Winter issue of Fine Lifestyles Regina, so it seems like as good a time as any to post my cover story from the September issue: an interview with Brad Wall, Premier of Saskatchewan.
Premier Brad Wall: “The luckiest guy in the country in terms of a job!”
By Edward Willett
(Originally published in Fine Lifestyles Regina, Fall, 2009.)
Brad Wall fully realizes that as premier, he has to represent the entire province—but he still hopes people will understand, if they see him at a Western Hockey League game between the Swift Current Broncos and the Regina Pats, why he might be wearing a Broncos jersey.
“Swift Current is home,” Wall says on the phone from (where else?) Swift Current. “Here, I’m just Brad. At the Legislature, no matter how much I tell them that ‘Brad’ is fine, it’s Mr. Wall, or Premier.
“Here, that’s just the way it is. I have a different job, but I’m still Brad, the same guy that grew up here. There’s a familiarity that is kind of a comfort when I’m here in Swift Current.”
But, he hastens to add, “Tami and I have always loved Regina.” They used to live in the city, owning a condo here, and they were married at Westhill Baptist Church. “I like the people in Regina. And Regina has absolutely everything to offer: there’s a lot to do, everything from the arts to, obviously, sport.” And though he might cheer for the Broncos, he’s also a football fan, “so there’s an obvious magnetism that Regina has.”
Among the city’s highlights for Wall is Wascana Centre “We take it for granted,” he says. “It is breathtaking. It’s absolutely a jewel…and I get to work there every day.
He remembers that when he was elected premier, he was shown his private parking space in back of the Legislative Building. He elected to give that up to a staff person so he could park in the front. “Walking up the steps into that entrance right in the middle of Wascana Park, it’s quite an honor.”
Wall and his wife, Tami, met in Saskatoon in 1984 when they were both students at the University of Saskatchewan. “We met on campus…I was a second-year arts and science student, she was a first-year engineering student. The pursuit began.” He adds, “It struck me that when arts and science students date engineers, there may not be many dates, because engineers are busy!”
They were married in 1991. By 1993 Wall, who completed university with an honours degree in Public Administration and an advanced certificate in Political Studies, was hired as Director of Business Development for the City of Swift Current.
Elected to the Legislative Assembly as MLA for Swift Current in 1999 and re-elected in 2003, Wall became leader of the Saskatchewan Party, then the Official Opposition, in 2004, and led the party to a majority government in the 2007 election.
Wall has three children, Megan, Colter and Faith, and he admits family life can be a challenge when you’re a provincial premier. “When I first ran I talked to two former MLAs,” he says, both of whom had families. “I asked, ‘Can I be a good dad and a good husband and do this?’”
Their answer, he says, was that in their experience the answer is yes; but that “it’s a matter of will, a matter of priority.”
“Yes, you’re going to miss a ball game, miss a recital, but perhaps not much more than if you had another vocation,” Wall says. “We just work hard at it all. I keep checking with the family, they’re OK with it. We’ve just managed to work it out.”
Megan, Wall’s oldest daughter, is 15, and has just started Grade 11; Colter, who’s 14, has just started Grade 9; and Faith, who is 10, is in Grade 6.
“We also have a neurotic border collie named Ezekiel,” Wall adds.
Megan loves “music, art and literature,” Wall says; and in fact she could be heard playing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” on the cello in the background during the interview. “She reads and reads and reads,” he says. “Her part-time job is at a bookstore; she loves to be surrounded by books—and the employee discount!”
Colter, he says, also likes music. “He likes guitar and football—or maybe AC/DC and football would be more accurate.”
And finally, “Faith loves to sing, and plays music as well as being in sports,” Wall says. “She also loves summer, and she’s now excited about moving on to middle school this year from elementary school.
“And of course there is my wife Tami, who is obviously a busy mom, as well as a small business person and community volunteer. “
Fishing, golf—and muscle cars
Walls’s own leisure-time interests include fishing and golf.
“I like fishing, more than I thought I would,” he says. “My problem was I never caught anything.”
He also loves golf, but “it’s an unrequited love,” he says. “It doesn’t love me back, no matter how much I lavish my attention on it. The problem is it’s a five-hour game!
“We are spoiled for golf in our province,” he adds. During the recent premiers’ conference he took some of the premiers out to Wascana Country Club, which he enjoys very much. When he lived in Regina, he also enjoyed playing all of the municipal courses. Deer Valley is another favorite.
A much noisier interest of the premier’s is muscle cars. “I had a few when I was growing up,” he says. Now he has what he calls his “midlife crisis,” a 1967 Dodge Coronet 500 which he just outfitted with new mag wheels. He also owns a 1970 Chrysler Newport convertible. “There are two different area codes in that one, one for the trunk, one for the hood,” he laughs.
The man who owned the Dodge before the premier did some performance tweaking of its small-block 318, including adding dual exhausts. “It sounds good,” Walls says. “Colter likes that and I like it, too. It’s fun to drive around.”
As a family, the Walls love camping and travelling together, with trips to Disneyland and Arizona among the recent highlights. “A lot of our family highlights are around great vacations and great travel plans together.”
They also enjoy exploring everything Saskatchewan has to offer, taking what Dustin Duncan, Minister of Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport, has dubbed “stay-cations” to places like Candle Lake, north of Prince Albert.
Of course, not everyone is interested in the same things. “Some of the family activities take members in different directions,” Wall says. “The girls aren’t huge football fans, but Tami and I are. We enjoy watching football on TV as well.
“Some of the best times we have are around the table,” Wall goes on. “My wife and I enjoy cooking together, especially in the summer.”
They try to find other times to enjoy each other’s company as a couple, maybe doing a “nine and dine” at the Riverside Golf Club, or going out for supper. “My folks live here in Swift Current and her dad is in Herbert, so we have generous access to help if we’d like to sneak away. We try to work in as much of that as we can, since the schedule is really crazy.”
And Wall’s schedule has been “crazy” for a long time, ever since he was first elected in 1999. Although it was less intensive then than now, obviously, there was a lot of commuting even as an MLA, and even more so as leader of the opposition.
Fortunately, Wall says, “it’s a great highway” between Swift Current and Regina, so it’s not very stressful to drive it.
“I can get a ton of work done on the road,” he says. If someone else is driving, he can make phone calls. But often he’ll ask to drive himself. “I do a lot of thinking. I still write most of my own speeches, so it’s a great time to be thinking about those things.”
Since the Legislative Assembly has afternoon sessions Mondays to Wednesday, with a morning session on Thursday, even while it’s sitting Wall often returns to Swift Current on Monday and Tuesday nights, if he doesn’t have meetings, so he can spend as much time at home as possible.
“There’s something special about your own house and being with family,” he says, and when he’s away, “I miss sitting on the couch in the basement. I miss home, the people who make home, my family.”
Favorite Regina restaurants
Over the years Wall has had the opportunity to explore a lot of Regina restaurants. “When I was first elected we didn’t have any members from Regina,” he recalls. “It’s amazing how much restaurant information you can get from a team of women and men who don’t live there but spend a lot of time there.”
Although he won’t identify a favorite, he did mention several by name, including The Diplomant, Golf’s, Earl’s, the Rooftop, Beer Brothers, and Tim’s Souvlaki in the Golden Mile Centre.
“He makes this great souvlaki on a bun which is a great lunch,” Wall says, joking that he’s not sure whatever it is Tim flavours it with is strictly legal, considering how addictive it is. During caucus and cabinet meetings they’ll sometimes call him up and say, “We need about thirty of these.”
The Willow on Wascana came in for special praise for the “amazing” meal they served the premiers during the recent premiers’ conference.
“I think Regina is blessed with both some of the nice chain places, but also some local places that you won’t find anywhere else.”
History and innovation
Besides great restaurants, sports teams and the arts, Regina also has something else going for it that is near and dear to Wall’s heart: history.
“Regina really tells the history, not just of the province, but of western Canada,” he says. He noted that the visiting premiers were impressed to discover that for decades the seat of governance for the bulk of the country, geographically, was right here in Regina in the old Northwest Territories Administration Building on Dewdney.
“I love the history of Regina,” he says. “It’s something we need to do a better job of telling.”
So, looking ahead, he would like, with support from all levels of government, to see the city fully develop its heritage assets, which, he says, “rival anything else in the country.”
“We don’t have 400 years of history like they do in Quebec, but we have very compelling history, much of which unfolded in Regina as the result of the settlement of the west.”
But he’d also like to see Regina recognized as a hotbed of innovation. “The world knows Regina for another reason, the Petroleum Research Centre, the international center for carbon-capture monitoring and science,” he says. “As the world tries to find some long-term and more immediate ways to deal with carbon, they’re going to be drawn to Regina. We need to build on that. In 10 years, I’d like to see us continuing this leadership position, developing clean and alternative sources of energy.”
In fact, he says, “I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next while we see some senior elected officials from the United States come see what’s happening here.”
He’d also like to see Regina grow in the next 10 years, part and parcel of his hope that Saskatchewan as a province might reach 1.1 million people inside of a decade. “A growing population is indicative of continued strength of the economy. The more taxpayers you have, hopefully paying a lower level of tax, the more things they can fund.” He calls the idea of a bigger tax base leading to a better quality of life, which in turn draws more people to the province, a “virtuous circle.” He’d also like to see the province debt-free in that time.
“The luckiest guy in the country”
As for his own (he hopes distant) future, Wall jokes that he has three post-politics dream jobs: Canadian ambassador to Washington, CFL commissioner—or a voice-over man for Disney. “That would be fun!”
In the meantime, though, he loves the job he has, and the people he works for—the people of Saskatchewan.
During the premiers’ conference, he says, he heard many comments from the visiting officials from other provinces about how friendly the people they met in Regina were. They liked the great food, they appreciated the beauty of the Legislative Building, Wall says, “they liked all that, but what made me proudest was the comments about the people.
“Increasingly, you don’t have to explain as much about where Saskatchewan is or where Regina might be. People understand, they read the same reports about the economy. People are seeing we have the lowest unemployment stats in the country, or Regina leading the country in terms of employment figures.”
He points to recent stories about Saskatchewan on CNN and in Fortune magazine. “People are talking about our province, so they’re talking and reflecting on the capitol. I’m the luckiest guy in the country in terms of a job, and I get to do that job in Regina.
“It’s an honor. What a great place to work!”