Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has dropped a bombshell, announcing he is retiring from politics.
In a video posted to his Facebook page on Aug. 10, Wall said he always thought he would re-evaluate his career after serving 10 years, a milestone that approaches this November.
"It's time for me to retire from politics,” said Wall in a video that lasts a bit longer than five minutes.
Wall is widely considered to be one of the most successful conservatives currently active in Canadian politics, and had previously been rumoured as a potential contender in the federal Conservative Party of Canada leadership race, following a series of public spats with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
But his departure comes at a time when his Saskatchewan Party government has been struggling in recent public opinion polls after tabling an unpopular 2017 budget.
Wall said he’s asked the Saskatchewan Party to "begin the process of electing a new leader who will become the next premier.” He will continue to serve as premier until the new leader is chosen, he said.
Later in the day at a press conference, he said he believed the province will benefit from “a new voice, a new style, maybe some new energy.”
Clashes with Ottawa
Wall and his Saskatchewan Party have won three consecutive provincial elections, the last in 2016. He said he was leaving now, instead of closer to the next election, because it was important to give his replacement lots of time to become known by people in the province.
"I've been premier for a long time, and for good or for ill, that's the face of the party for many folks in government," he said.
The plucky premier from Swift Current, Sask. has been no stranger to controversy, notably clashing with Ottawa over the Trudeau government’s plan to tax fossil fuels and put a price on industrial-scale pollution.
Wall and his party have also been under the microscope for what critics have said is a too-cozy relationship with corporate donors who lobby government officials.
The premier has also been embraced by those who have cheered his carbon tax bashing and other policies.
The 51-year-old routinely places high in opinion polls ranking the country's most popular premiers and his knack for the zinger soundbite has made him a national political figure.
He said he's leaving office with the province "much stronger after a decade of growth.”
“Those fundamental questions about the future viability of the province we all love, after this decade of growth, we don’t ask them anymore,” he said.
“Saskatchewan is growing, and vibrant, and strong. And I will be forever grateful that I had the opportunity to play some small part in all of that.”
'I've made mistakes'
“I’ve made mistakes,” the premier said in the video, without specifying what those mistakes were.
At the press conference, Wall said making mistakes was “a natural course of action for individuals, for governments, for business, for any organization.”
Asked to specify which mistakes stood out to him, Wall said the party “went a little too quickly” on labour reforms. In 2015, the Supreme Court struck down a provincial law that prevented employees in the public sector from striking.
Wall has also faced headwinds in recent months, especially after his government tabled an austerity budget this spring that boosted the provincial sales tax and made deep cuts to social services.
He called the decision in the budget to slash millions of dollars in funding for libraries a mistake as well. The funding cuts were reversed after public protest.
Wall expressed disappointment at the province's $1.22-billion deficit this year. “Do I wish the budget was balanced? Yeah, of course," he said at the press conference.
"And we’re going to get there," he added, arguing the government's three-year plan to get back to balance is on track.
Wall was also attacked by high-profile critics, like Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein, with whom he engaged in a war of words over the left-wing Leap Manifesto.
During an exclusive fundraiser for Wall's party in June, the premier's speech was interrupted by Chelsea Flook from the advocacy group Stop the Cuts. Flook attacked the premier for cutting social and educational programs.
“Shame on you for what you’re doing to poor communities, what you’re doing to our most vulnerable," she said.
Another political adversary, Prime Minister Trudeau, showered Wall with praise after hearing the news, thanking the outgoing premier for his many years of service to Saskatchewan and the rest of Canada.
“I have had the privilege of working closely with Premier Wall for more than a year and a half. In that time, we have made important progress on the issues that matter most to middle class Canadians, including pensions, health care, growing our agricultural industry, and promoting our natural resources to the world," Trudeau said in a statement.
“Premier Wall has worked tirelessly to promote Canada and Canadian exports with our international trading partners. His efforts will benefit the people of Saskatchewan for years to come. Sophie and I thank Premier Wall for his many years of public service, and we wish him and his family the very best in the future.”
'Ivy League' premier: Former Alberta minister
Jonathan Denis, former Alberta justice minister and attorney general, said he was “shocked” when he heard the news about Wall.
“I think he will go down as one of the members of the Ivy League of Saskatchewan premiers,” said Denis in an interview.
“He’s been a leader throughout Canadian policies. He’s shown leadership not just in his province, but for the whole Western Canadian resource sector.”
Denis said when he was in office in Alberta, the relationship between the two provinces was always positive.
Edmonton appreciated having another “like-minded government” alongside them when meeting with other provincial and territorial leaders and the prime minister, he said.
Asked to guess at a successor, Denis named Saskatchewan’s economy minister, Jeremy Harrison, as a possible contender.
“He’s a younger minister, but he’s also shown the same type of pride in Saskatchewan, and he’s got a good record as a minister and as a [member of the Legislative Assembly],” said Denis.
Harrison’s office was contacted but could not immediately provide a response before publication.
'Champion of Canada’s conservative movement'
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer issued a statement Thursday praising the premier as a "powerful voice for Saskatchewan, a leader on the national stage, and a champion of Canada’s conservative movement."
“Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast have appreciated his leadership on the national stage, particularly his opposition to a national carbon tax," said Scheer.
Wall has been a strong voice for "resource development and job creation," the Tory leader added.
“On behalf of the Conservative Party and the official opposition, I wish Premier Wall and his family all the best as he moves to the next stage of his distinguished career.”
Nathan Cooper, interim leader of Alberta's newly-minted United Conservative Party, also thanked Wall in a statement, saying it was "bittersweet" to see the premier plan his exit.
"The positive mark he left on the landscape of our nation will always be remembered and used as a model for good governance," Cooper's statement reads.
Clark tweets congrats
Wall is the second premier to announce a departure from politics in recent weeks, after former British Columbia premier Christy Clark said she was "done with public life" July 31.
On Twitter, Clark said Canada will be "worse off" without Wall's "gutsy common sense making its mark on the national stage."
Congrats @PremierBradWall. Canada will be worse off without your gutsy common sense making its mark on the national stage. 1/3— Christy Clark (@christyclarkbc) August 10, 2017
But, take it from me, retirement IS all that it is cracked up to be! 2/3— Christy Clark (@christyclarkbc) August 10, 2017
Also the Gulf Islands are gorgeous this time of year and I have a bottle of BC’s best Pinot Gris to welcome you and Tammy any time. 3/3— Christy Clark (@christyclarkbc) August 10, 2017
"But, take it from me, retirement IS all that it is cracked up to be!" she added.
With files from The Canadian Press
Editor's note: This article was updated at 5:30 p.m. ET with additional background information and quotes.