The unilingual Saskatchewan premier debuted as the latest Star is Born on Thursday with a knocked-out-of-the-ballpark speech that threw Saskatchewan pride, national inspiration and lots of stand-up hilarity at hard-to-impress Central Canadian policy wonks, assorted political dignitaries and media.
The buzz started circulating immediately. This guy, the instant e-mail rush proclaimed, is The Next One.
Now, these eureka moments of political euphoria happen periodically as lesser-known types step into the spotlight and wow The Establishment with signs of having the right stuff for greater glory.
The attention can launch a movement or, given the fickle short-attention-span of most Ottawa minds, quickly fizzle.
Moments after he electrified the Progressive Conservative convention in 2002, then New Brunswick premier Bernard Lord became the target of a draft movement. He declined, went on to lose the 2006 provincial election and resigned in disgrace, dashing any ambition to replace Conservative Stephen Harper, even thought he’s quietly plotting a bid code-named Be-Lo, as in ‘below’ the radar.
Don’t forget that unknown Alberta MLA Stockwell Day roared onto the federal scene with a keynote speech and kung-fu pose at the Canadian Alliance founding convention in 2000. Just eight months later, he was the federal leader fighting to become prime minister and, after losing, quickly rejected by his own party.
After delivering the eulogy at Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s funeral, commentators declared eldest son Justin Trudeau to be his father’s intellectual and oratorical reincarnation. The rookie MP’s surname does loom large, but his parliamentary impact has been marginal.
And there’s the biggest kickstart of them all -- that little-known Illinois senator named Barack Obama who addressed the Democratic nomination convention in 2004 and, well, you know the rest of the story.
Not to compare Saskatchewan Party Premier Brad Wall to the U.S. President, but given the void of inspirational politicians in Canada, particularly for Conservatives swimming in a shallow puddle of leadership contenders, he’s a sudden standout.
He can’t even entertain the notion of federal office without developing fluency in French, of course. The last prime minister from Saskatchewan, John Diefenbaker, delivered French at a sputter that would no longer be considered acceptable.
But there’s no disputing the 43-year-old Wall has done remarkably well as a first-term premier. Even his benign appearance in the unearthed video showing MP Tom Lukiwski mocking homosexuals, was dealt with quickly and cleanly through a heartfelt apology from Wall.
It doesn’t hurt that he’s leading a province once defined by bone-chilling winters and super-sized mosquito infestations that is now the success story of the recession.
By recording a net gain of 6,000 new residents last year, the province nudged above the million mark for the first time since 1988. With job creation outnumbering pink slips by 14,000 employees this winter, the government is actually advertising for trade workers to come to the “Saudi Arabia of uranium”.
And Wall is making all the right noises about the need to prepare Canadian transportation and communications technology to thrive with the global recovery.
Whispers still circulate that a frustrated Stephen Harper, believing he’ll never win a majority, won’t fight another election.
That guarantees Conservative leadership speculation will continue to swirl.
Two of the names being floated-- Jim Prentice and Jason Kenney - are solid Calgary MPs but geographically eliminated as successors to Calgary’s Harper. Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s tire-kicking at a NATO secretary-general job suggests he sees few leadership prospects in Ottawa. As for Bernard Lord, well, see above.
It will take another Saskatchewan election victory and the successful tiptoeing around policy minefields before Brad Wall can get serious about a federal move which, if successful, would make him the first premier to ever occupy 24 Sussex Drive.
Until that happens, he should continue introducing himself to Canadians outside of Saskatchewan -- ideally en francais.
Brad Wall, the new Next One
Free advice for Brad Wall: Start learning French.