Years ago, I was visiting Toronto. I was walking east on Dundas, on my way to a lunch date. A woman crossed the street to talk to me.
"You're not from here, are you?"
"Well, no. What gave me away?"
"You're walking slowly, looking around... and you're whistling."
Unwittingly, I'd become a cultural ambassador. A wordless whistling argument for a way of life, maybe? I'm from Saskatchewan.
Unlike Newf'n'landers, Saskatchewanians don't have a word to describe people from other places -- other than "a guy I met at the gas station out on the TransCanada." But we can tell you're not from here by the way you say "Saskatchewan." You put too much "aaah" in the Saaask. You bite on the "chew" a bit too much. You draw out the "wan" - round out the 'a' sound - so it's more like "wawn."
Saas ka tchoowahn. That is just way too vowelly. Relax.
It's S's kah tchwn.
Practice it. Because many of you are going to be coming here. And you'll want to fit in. You'll come for the money, I'm guessing, but while you're here, you'll enjoy our big sky and sunshine. And the wind. And the really really long cold winters -- a dry cold that will make your skin crack. And our cheery attitude -- you may even adopt one yourself.
Because, friends, Saskatchewan is the new "it" province. We have dodged the economic troubles that afflict the rest of Canada -- and the rest of the world, for that matter. It's not just us. I'm not forgetting about Alberta. Who could ever forget our Provincial American cousin -- always dressed with flash, smoking a fat stogie, driving a big car (leased, of course), looking flush even hung over after a bad night at the casino.
Saskatchewan wears its new wealth more quietly. We aren't tarred by the tar sands, nor did we give the country Stephen Harper. We don't have Ezra Levant defending us. People don't have mixed feelings about us. Our current wave of prosperity gets us our own chapter in "When Nice things Happen to Nice People."
I live in Regina, the capital city. Given the rhyming possibilities, it surprises me that Regina doesn't show up in more songs and poetry -- or in a limerick, at the very least. We like to claim that Regina is the sunniest capital city in the world. It's not true, but we like to claim that it is. Perhaps it is just our sunny disposition that makes us believe it.
What is true, in the "factually accurate" sense of the word "true," is that Saskatchewan leads the nation in economic growth and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future. We have the lowest unemployment rate. We're experiencing rising incomes and record housing starts. "Wow," you're thinking. "Wheat sales are booming." No, friends, farming is just a tiny part of our big, modern, diversified economy. We get our GDP from all over the place. This boom won't bust.
The other day, I was driving up Albert Street, one of two "main drags" in Regina -- Yes, two. We're that big. The way things are going, we'll have a third very soon. -- I saw a big billboard high in the prairie sky above the parking lot of the 24-hour Adult Source video/toy/VHS/magazine store proclaiming in green and gold, "That's the Saskatchewan Advantage". The 'v' in "Advantage" was a stylized checkmark. The billboard was paid for by the Saskatchewan Party Caucus.
In case you didn't know, the Saskatchewan Party governs this province. Yes, the party has the same name as the province itself. Easy to remember. If you love this province, you should love the party. Originally, they wanted to really cash in on provincial pride by calling themselves the "Saskatchewan Roughrider Party," but the opposition NDP threatened to counter that move by changing its name to the "Pilsner and Hockey Fights Party."
So what is The Saskatchewan Advantage with a checkmark?
Here it is: Saskatchewan: Canada's ONLY balanced budget! That's our advantage? That's what we choose to pridefully crow about? That's what is going to bring people here to share in our quaint interestingness, easy pace, big sky, sunshine, bitter cold and empty space? Wow. That's so like, "Hey -- look at these sensible shoes. Got 'em on sale."
We do have a balanced budget. A small surplus. It's not quite true to say that we have Canada's only balanced budget -- we share that distinction with all three of the Territorial governments up North. But have you noticed Ontario? A FIFTEEN BILLION dollar deficit? Yikes. Your deficit is more than Saskatchewan's entire budget.
So, all you Ontarioians, or whatever you call yourselves, get out here. Ditch that insecure, Dutch-diseased manufacturing sector and come enjoy our balanced budget. Let someone else worry about that $15-billion.
And, while you're here, walk a little slower, look around. Whistle.