REGINA — In his office at the Saskatchewan legislature, Premier Brad Wall has a photo of himself with former U.S. president Bill Clinton and a copy of a speech that Wall gave and which Clinton autographed.
The speech from 2006, before Wall was elected premier, references the Clinton-era line "It's the economy, stupid."
Ten years later and looking for his party to be elected for the third straight time, Wall says the choice facing voters April 4 is still about the economy.
"I do think that governments sometimes will unduly get credit when times are good and then they'll face responsibility if there's a downturn," Wall said in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press.
"But I also get a sense that people sort of know that over the last two terms, there's been remarkable things happening in the province, economically speaking," he said.
"That will set up a bit of a ballot question about whether we want to continue to move forward with a priority on the economy or maybe do something else."
"It's pretty unprecedented to have a leader who's been in power for eight years who is as popular as Mr. Wall."
Times were good when Wall and the Saskatchewan Party first took power from the NDP in 2007. Saskatchewan was starting an economic boom.
But the recent collapse in commodity prices, especially oil, has hurt.
A budget update at the end of November projected a deficit of $262 million compared with a surplus of just over $100 million that had been forecast in March. Saskatchewan residents won't see another budget before they head to the polls.
Charles Smith, a University of Saskatchewan political science professor, said the party has two things going for it as the election nears. One is the economy.
"While the world economy is dipping and the Canadian economy in particular is beginning to stagnate ... the Saskatchewan economy is still continuing to create jobs," said Smith. "The steady economic hand is going to be something that they're going to definitely be playing up."
The other advantage is Wall himself.
Wall and the Saskatchewan Party first took power in 2007.(The Canadian Press)
"They've been highlighting their strongest asset, which is their leader," Smith said.
"It's pretty unprecedented to have a leader who's been in power for eight years who is as popular as Mr. Wall ... They've been successful in crafting him as a small-c, fiscal conservative premier, (a) steady ship during good times."
Wall always ranks at or near the top when it comes to the most popular premiers in the country. But he politely scoffs at the notion that his popularity is an advantage in the upcoming election.
He said it's been a team effort.
"If we've had some political success and we have an opportunity to be successful again ... it's for those reasons, as much as it is who the leader happens to be."
Still, Smith suggests Wall's popularity will be a challenge for the New Democrats to overcome.
Cam Broten is leading the NDP into an election for the first time since he became leader in March 2013. He's been tasked with rebuilding the party, which was left with nine of the 58 seats in the legislature after the 2011 vote.
"He's relatively young. He can play to some of the energy that Mr. Trudeau did at the federal level, sort of a fresh face, something new," said Smith.
"He's not tied to the old NDP governments in the way that the previous NDP leader was."
Broten said the party has done a "generational renewal that was desperately needed." He points out that the average age of the NDP's nominated candidates is 42.
"This is a renewed party, with a new team put together, talking about things that matter most to families."
And Broten's not just aiming to increase the NDP's seat count.
"We're campaigning to form government and I believe that's possible."
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