Mandryk: Harpauer’s poor travel response will haunt Saskatchewan. To party

It’s a symptom of a much bigger problem – an aging government convinced that a stupid and chastised electorate buys all the nonsense spouted by the government.

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The preferred outcome when you send a minister in front of the media barbarians to explain something that pissed off the public is to not give the public even more reason to be pissed off.

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Therein lies a problem with Finance Minister Donna Harpauer’s Tuesday justifications for spending $8,000 on a private charter flight for a two-hour Chamber of Commerce lunch in North Battleford two days after the budget of spring.

When we laugh at you with #donnaharpauertired which was trending on Twitter after your scrum, you may not have achieved the desired result.

What should have been a one-day story has been turned into a week-long story…or more potentially.

The real problem for the Saskatchewan Party government right now is that Harpauer’s terrible scrimmage was less a problem in itself than a symptom of a much larger problem – an aging government convinced a stupid and chastised electorate to buy any absurd government.

Consider what we have heard from ministers over the past year: “I don’t care”, “I don’t apologize”, “I would do it again”, “We can’t solve this problem overnight”, “It’s all because of the NDP” (last in power a decade and a half ago). And, of course: “It’s all Trudeau’s fault.

Granted, that last excuse still has rubber on the tires (not that Saskatchewan Party ministers seem so familiar with road wear these days).

Similarly, Sask. The party continues to take advantage of the Saskatchewan NDP who are still desperately looking for ways to give voters enough reason to vote for them. As a result, Sask. The party remains popular – even Prime Minister Scott Moe, whose personal popularity remains surprisingly high.

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But even that Trudeau/NDP apology seems to have worn the tread, if those Kamsack protesters are picketing in Saskatchewan. Party MPs and ministers are an indication. Currently, we are seeing 37 rural communities experiencing “health service disruptions” from the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).

Add sales tax hikes in his March budget and more recently hikes from SaskEnergy and SaskPower and Harpauer, of all ministers, should know why stubborn justifications that highlight ministers’ rights don’t work in this moment.

Alas, like far too many of his colleagues lately, Harpauer just doesn’t seem to get it. Now was just not the time to pretend to be the victim.

Of course, it was a miserable scrum, sometimes bordering on unfair to the Minister of Finance. There’s no right way to answer a question like, “Have you ever wanted things you couldn’t afford?” There is however one particular wrong answer to this question and that is “a bigger house”. The best answer would have been “sorry”.

The best way to avoid miserable reporters or even mean girls on Twitter is to not put yourself in a position where the question is being asked.

Was Donna Harpauer rightly tired two days after the budget? Sure. It is tiring work.

But you can’t swing a dead cat around a Saskatchewan cabinet minister without hitting a couple of political aides. Do any of them have a driver’s license?

Or were they already too busy preparing press releases like the one on Monday that helpfully explained to the chronically dumb peasantry that “charter flights are used periodically, especially for long distances and when long travel times would impact on other commitments” or that “a vital way to connect with local chambers and residents to give them more detailed information” or that NDP cabinet ministers have taken 248 flights in their last eight years ?

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Voters might not understand that these post-budget victory laps are public relations exercises or that Sask. The party likely chose North Battleford because it happened to be a hotbed of activity for the Buffalo/Maverick Party and/or Gerry Ritz’s new Saskatchewan United Party.

But they sure get that $8,000 is a lot of money to spend on a flight to get to a place that’s easily accessible by car.

It’s unnecessarily mean to mock Harpauer for his “tired” response. People who expect politicians to be better must be better themselves.

But maybe people are just as tired of legitimate government justifications.

Mandryk is the political columnist for the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

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