Wall emerges as hypothetical front-runner in Tory leadership race

Dene Moore
National Affairs Contributor
Canada Politics
Wall emerges as hypothetical front-runner in Tory leadership race

The Conservative leadership vote is a long way off but the unofficial race is well underway and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is fast becoming a hypothetical front-runner.

And while he has said he’s not interested in the federal leadership, his performance in the national spotlight since the federal election suggests otherwise.

“The signals seem to be that he’s interested in running for the leadership because he’s commenting on issues that are far beyond what a premier would normally comment on,” says David Rayside, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Toronto and author.

It didn’t take long for Wall’s name to surface as a potential replacement for Stephen Harper. The morning after the Oct. 19 election, Wall was asked if the federal stage was in his future.

“It’s flattering when you hear people say that and it’s humbling. It really is. But no, the answer is no,” Wall told reporters in Regina.

“I think I have the best political job in Canada. I’m grateful to have this job. I’m going to work hard to try to renew the contract in a few months. I’d like to continue to do the job.”

But he is getting national attention, nonetheless, championing the Conservative cause.

Wall made national headlines criticizing the Liberal pledge to withdraw Canadian fighter jets from Syria, and followed that up with an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking him to reconsider the pledge to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada.

At this week’s UN climate summit in Paris the Saskatchewan premier has questioned the federal government’s seemingly open-ended target for emissions reductions and suggested instead that Canada lead the world in rehabilitating coal with carbon capture and storage.

Wall has also declared that any national carbon tax — the current darling of climate change action — is “not on” as far as his province is concerned.

“He seems to be trying to put himself in the position of leading the charge among right-wing Conservatives,” Rayside tells Yahoo Canada News.

The National Post asks in a headline this week whether the Paris summit is a preview of the next federal election in 2019, “Wall vs. Trudeau.”

Howard Leeson, a former Saskatchewan NDP deputy minister of intergovernmental affairs and now a professor emeritus at the University of Regina, says it seems Wall is leaving the door to Ottawa open.

“Let me be clear. I believe the premier when he says that he is not considering such a run at this time,” Leeson wrote recently in the Regina Leader-Post.

“Nevertheless, it is possible that after the provincial election a ‘draft Wall’ movement might take place. It would be hard for the premier to resist such a call.”

There are other contenders, though.

Kellie Leitch, a surgeon and former labour minister, has openly said she’s considering a run and Michelle Rempel, a junior cabinet minister under Harper, took to Twitter to announce her potential interest.

Lisa Raitt, former minister of transport, has also been touted, along with former cabinet minister Tony Clement, who finished a distant third in the last leadership race, held in 2004 shortly after then-Canadian Alliance leader Harper negotiated a merger with the Progressive Conservatives.

Jason Kenney, the former minister of everything under Harper, is a possibility and even the name of former Quebec premier Jean Charest has surfaced.

There will be plenty of time for other hopefuls to come forward.

Interim Leader Rona Ambrose told The Canadian Press this week that the leadership vote is at least 18 months away.

Rayside says it’s difficult to gauge what party members will be looking for in the next leader.

“There is a kind of prevailing political cynicism, not only in the voting public but within parties and there is a recurrent interest in finding people who don’t look like the people who just lost,” he says.

He points to Patrick Brown’s surprising win of the Ontario Conservative leadership race earlier this year. Brown was considered a long-shot for most of the campaign.

Whoever emerges will have a tough task in balancing the party’s fiscal and social conservatism, he says.

“They have clearly been burnt by the sense of their being sympathetic to social conservatives and there are certainly some people within the party who just want to forget about the social conservatives who vote for them, but there are others who recognize that that voting block is still important,” Rayside says.