10/10/2011 08:00 EDT | Updated 12/10/2011 05:12 EST

Saskatchewan Party's Brad Wall a genuine rock for family, friends

REGINA - Brad Wall slid easily into the Saskatchewan premier's office as though it was one of his finely tailored suits.

Wall was a fresh-faced, smooth talker who was quick on his feet and good with a joke. He was a free-enterprising family man who didn't come off as too socially conservative — just what the blooming Saskatchewan Party needed in a leader.

He doesn't think fours year in office have changed him.

"I'm quite a bit older, more wrinkly," jokes Wall, who was recently listed by Sharp magazine as one of Canada's best-dressed politicians.

"At the risk of sounding maudlin, and I don't mean it that way at all, I have honestly had the opportunities of a lifetime in this particular job that I will always be grateful for."

Bradley John Wall, 45, was born and raised in Swift Current in southwestern Sask and has lived there most of his life.

His current house is just down the street from the home where he spent a good chunk of his early years. He remembers how he taught his kids to ride their bikes on the same stretch of road where he learned.

Wall's father was a small businessman operating a household moving company. His mom worked various jobs including as a secretary at the high school.

His lifelong interest in politics began at an early age.

"In junior high, him and I both ran for the vice-presidency of the students' union," recalls longtime friend Ed Carleton, who first met Wall in Grade 5.

"Of course he ran a devastating platform — he had buttons made and everything and gave out candies and stuff. It crushed everyone."

The two were on student council together in high school, where Wall would rally support to make sure he could get his point across, Carleton says.

In high school, Wall worked at a radio station where he spun records under the handle "The Wall of Rock." He went by the moniker until friends threatened to disown him.

Carleton and Wall went to the University of Saskatchewan together and shared an apartment for a year.

"He was very messy. He still is. I feel safe saying that," Carleton laughs. "He makes a big mess when he cooks."

"He makes pretty good ribs. He likes making them too. He enjoys doing that."

In Grade 12, Wall attended his first Progressive Conservative convention. He graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a degree in public administration and has spent much of his time since in politics.

He was a backroom guy at first. In the 1980s, he worked in Ottawa in the office of Swift Current Tory MP Geoff Wilson. He returned to Saskatchewan and worked as a ministerial assistant in Grant Devine's Tory government.

Wall made a stab at getting elected in 1991, but lost the provincial Tory nomination in Swift Current. Eight years later, he won after the Tories joined with the Liberals to form the Saskatchewan Party.

He's never looked back.

Wall was such a good fit for the Saskatchewan Party's top job that no one even challenged him for the spot after the party lost a 2003 election. Many felt the then-leader Elwin Hermanson cost them the victory because he came off as too negative and right wing. Wall was acclaimed the following spring and set about making his party more middle-of-the-road.

In 2007, he led the Saskatchewan Party to victory in the provincial election.

The fight over the future of Saskatchewan's potash industry — watched closely by political and business types across Canada and around the world last year — pushed Wall and his brand of prairie diplomacy onto the national stage.

He came out swinging last October by vehemently opposing Australian mining giant BHP Billiton's takeover bid for Saskatoon-based PotashCorp., the world's largest producer of the key fertilizer ingredient. The premier argued Saskatchewan could lose billions in revenue from taxes and royalties and painted the deal as anti-Canadian. He suggested the country's strategic interests would be at risk if it sold most of its potash industry to an international company.

The federal government ultimately rejected the bid, which would have led to the biggest takeover in Canadian history. It was a key moment for Saskatchewan and Wall.

Carleton, who now runs the government's Saskatoon cabinet office, says people often comment on the longevity of their friendship. But that's just the way Wall is, he says.

"As we grew up, we all saw how hard our parents worked. All of us. None of us were from a family that was really well to do," he says. "I think we all have that kind of background instilled in us and we're loyal and genuine and humble and we've kind of just all stuck together still."

On most days, Wall still makes the two-hour drive each way from Regina to Swift Current to be home with his family. He and his wife, Tami, have three children: Megan, Colter and Faith.

He said recently that he's been able to balance family life with political commitments.

"I don't say that cavalierly either," he said. "It's something that we always work at. Mostly ... Tami's reminding me of things quite often and does a good job of that."