Rhino's Ramblings: Ross Thatcher's Dream

Robert Thomas

The drive from Moose Jaw to Regina is less than an hour long. For most people, commuting to work is an uneventful trip. The only real break in the drive is the overpass near Belle Plaine, which goes over the CPR mainline, and that’s it. But in the late 1960's, the road between Moose Jaw and Regina was not a mundane hour of travel, it was the commute for a dreamer – the late Premier Ross Thatcher.

I’ve written before about the late Premier and his showering me with an endless supply of Hawkins' Cheezies and Orange Crush, but he was much much more than that. Lots of older people around town have told me about his character and they describe him as a good man.

Further Reading: Hawkins' Cheezies and Orange Crush

One of the big things people have told me about him was that, despite his government’s perceived shortcomings, he was a dreamer. He envisioned a province of wealth and prosperity with plenty of good jobs and opportunity. He saw more than a Saskaboom, he saw a deluge.
And nowhere is this as apparent as in those commutes he took to the office in Regina. As the former Premier traveled, according to many people who knew him, he saw those dreams in his mind. What he saw was a forest lined road with industrial plants and great fields of wheat creating prosperity, hope and secure futures.

But the former Premier was more than a dreamer as he actually set about creating the forest lined roadway. Today that dream is present in what many call “Thatcher Forest”. The stunted and crooked trees just at the edge of the Trans Canada between Moose Jaw and Regina are there because Premier Thatcher said “Make it so.”

Often decried as the "wrong type of trees" and "too close to the road". The straggling line of trees are a testament to Ross Thatcher’s vision. In many ways they are analogous to his dream - bent, stunted but still alive.

What Premier Ross Thatcher saw and dreamt of has been recreated, to some extent, with names such as the Moose Jaw and Regina Industrial Corridor. It occasionally springs up now and again with people seeing it as a new or enhanced idea but in reality it is the late Premier's dream re-imagined.

This past Summer I managed to get myself invited on a field tour of the area with some Germans who were out in the fields looking the place over. It wasn’t a press junket but more like kicking the tires on a used 4x4 to see if its even worth haggling about.

In the world of investment and trade there are always the small fish out swimming to see if there are any good opportunities before the people with the real money swim in and buy them up. You just have to dangle the right hook at the right time to reel them in.

Although it might be hard to believe but, in many ways, we are in the same situation now as when Premier Thatcher drove to and from Regina. Commodities might not be high priced now but we live in a growing world with a need for food and the Moose Jaw to Regina corridor is prime real estate. All its really going to take is for the economic and political stars to align in the proper sequence and the entire dream could finally take off.

I remember once seeing what the late Premier envisioned and what it was I would best describe as  "visionary", while on other side of the coin, for the naysayers, just a daydream. I cannot remember how the product was to get to port but there must have been something like a Global Transportation Hub (GTH) in there without all of the bloody politics wrapped up in it.

One of the major drawbacks of the entire scheme, it seems, has been politics. In its most recent iteration the great vast economic corridor has been sidelined by the GTH, the not-so-transparent land deals and the apparent economic failure of it. The RCMP probe may have said no to criminal charges but the entire episode has left a bitter taste in too many mouths. The word “sketchy” regarding the land deals is not about to leave many people’s minds any time soon.

My own personal experiences with getting necessary equipment and goods moving is tied to a now defunct oilfield service company called FracMaster and a small beauty supply importer based in Odessa. Any docks, any port, any transportation hub can easily destroy the best laid business plans. If you can break any potential deadlock better than your competitors your odds of success are increased massively.

Other political fights have erupted between the City of Regina and the RM of Sherwood Park over how the region should be developed. The apparent loss of a major Kal Tire facility that was somewhere between planning and actual reality. The big fish decided to spit out the hook just as he was about to enter the landing net.

And that seems to be the problem with the corridor and the potential out there. Every politician wants the big project in their backyard, to help out their local taxpayers as well as their political future without realizing it’s all tied together. It’s a much bigger picture that extends past multiple municipal jurisdictions.

My own personal thoughts regarding the City's economic goal to kickstart industrial growth in the southeast quadrant of the City is it is a step in the right direction. The thing though is the cost. With City infrastructure such as water lines needing massive replacement can we afford it? Do you gamble on a dream, as we have done far too often, or do you replace what needs to be replaced? Do you look after what we have or do you buy a new fancy set of lures and hope to feel the big one in?

On the other hand, if you don’t increase the tax base and diversify it’s a massive strain on the local taxpayer. You need the new higher paying jobs, taxes as well as hope to attract new people and have growth.

It’s very tough for any municipal council to decide where to spend limited taxes in order not to chase away what you have plus hopefully bring in the new elements for the future.

Moose Jaw's fate as master of its own destiny is not being decided by the present Council. That was decided years ago. It even predates former Mayor Glenn Hagel who said the city was not going to become a bedroom community to Regina. The dice have been tossed and now we have to hope the gamble pays off.

Will we get that first big plant to kick off the new Southeast Industrial Park? Will it be a government plant such as SaskPower's new natural gas fired power plant or a much more desirable private investor in agri-foods? Or will it all end up in Belle Plaine?

Will the big foreign investors materialize or will they weigh their options and see a bigger bang for their dollars elsewhere? When it comes right down to it, it’s all about stability and where in the long term they will ultimately make the best return.

The world of Ross Thatcher was far different than what we have today but in many ways the fundamental underlying economic principles are the same. The days of King Wheat may be long gone and forgotten but truthfully when you think about it, the question that remains is how do you land the prize?