One On One With Warren Michelson
By Robert Thomas
After much thought Moose Jaw MLA Warren Michelson announced his retirement from politics this past week and not seek re-election in the next provincial election. But Warren is not leaving because he was forced out but rather it was his decision to retire and do other things in his life.
Warren's life began over 65 years ago in Lipton, Saskatchewan a small farming community north of Ft Qu'Appelle. The village of had no hospital so Warren was delivered by a mid-wife.
“I grew up on a mixed farm we had cattle and grew crops like wheat, oats and barley. We milked cows, fed chickens and feeder cattle,” he said.
Farming in Warren's childhood was done with more manual labour than it is today.
“We worked seven days a week because we had to milk cows twice a day, but we always for the most part took Sunday's off. We had the usual chores for farms at that time…things were done old style.”
One of the old style aspects of Warren's young life on the farm was the family home did not have running water. One of Warren's chores was going to the well, drawing up water with a bucket and carrying it to the house.
“We had a rain barrel to wash clothes and wash our faces.”
Warren spoke with fondness how everyone would take turns sharing the same bath water. And soap use was limited because water was often poured out into the garden – typical for many farms of that time.
“Even when you washed dishes you never used much soap. The water went into the slop pail behind the stove and then went to the pigs,” Warren said.
“I remember being told do not use too much soap you will make the pigs sick,” he said with a chuckle.
Warren grew up with four brothers - Roger, Richard, Kenneth and Garth – and three sisters – Marie, Carol and Connie. Sadly his sister Marie passed away four years ago.
Following graduation Warren left the farm to go and work in media. He worked at CKCK in Regina during what many call the heyday of the small local station with on-air personifies such as the legendary and Order of Canada recipient weatherman Johnny Sandinson.
Low pay forced Warren to seek employment in a different field.
“I got into for awhile but it didn't pay worth a darn.”
Following his stint in Regina Warren got into furniture sales finding himself transferred to manage a store in Melfort.
A few years later the store closed but Warren was offered a job in media once more because the local radio station knew he had experience and asked him if he would like a job.
From Melfort it was off to CJWW for four years and then off to Swift Current to CKSW. From Swift Current Warren moved to Moose Jaw where he would serve as station manager from 1997 to 2002.
Following the stint at CHAB Warren went on to work for two years at the Moose Jaw Times-Herald in sales where he would focus on advertising from out of Moose Jaw which means national ads.
In Moose Jaw he would serve as a volunteer basis with the Moose Jaw and District Chamber of Commerce.
During his voyage through sales and management in media Warren would unintentionally set the wheels in motion which led to his becoming a politician.
“I was involved with the Chamber of Commerce in Swift Current on the local board and was asked to be on the provincial board. I was told all of the decisions were made in Regina and Saskatoon so I got involved to make a difference,” Warren said.
Following entry on the provincial board of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce he would go on to serve as it’s president in 2004-2005.
While on the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce it was ironically the actions of the then NDP government which made Warren decide to enter politics.
“The government of the day invoked you had to promote the most senior employee and there was quite an uprising in the business community and it really intrigued me,” he said, adding “as president of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce we wanted to meet with the Premier about it and they never responded. So I thought for the government not to respond to the voice of business really intrigued my interest in politics.”
Warren would enter the three way race for the SaskParty nomination in Moose Jaw North.
“I got into the race late and remember selling (SaskParty) memberships on the phone before I came to work and in the evenings,” Warren said.
After a relatively close nomination win Warren would win one of the closest elections over NDP incumbent Glenn Hagel by 33 votes. The vote counting on the evening of the election saw Warren ahead of Glenn by 31 votes as the counting ended after 11 pm and the vote tally had to be finalized the next day.
In his first electoral win the rules for an automatic recount were there had to be more spoiled ballots than the difference between the two candidates or the person or Party contesting the election had to pay for the recount.
“Rather than pay for a recount Hagel conceded,” he said.
His first official function were Remembrance Day when the issue had not yet been decided and Warren admitted he felt “awkward” attending the event.
If a recount route had been chosen it may have come down to one ballot cast in the hospital where the voter wrote down the name Brad Wall. In those days hospital ballots were right ins where the voter had to write down candidate's or Party's name.
In his first term Warren admits he spoke to then Premier Brad Wall about a Cabinet position but Warren felt it wasn’t a priority.
“The Premier (Brad Wall) asked me where I wanted to be. I told him I won the election by just 33 votes and didn’t want to take the emphasis off of Moose Jaw. That could have opened it up for another Party,” he said, adding in his second term if called to Cabinet he would have served.
“One down side of having a caucus our size there is a lot of talent there but I would have served if asked to its at the discretion of the Premier.”
Despite not being in Cabinet Warren said Moose Jaw has done quite well pointing to such things as the new hospital the former government failed to build.
“I always like to say we had two Cabinet ministers and a Premier from here and they never got anything done for Moose Jaw.”
Asked about his feelings and his accomplishments Warren said in Caucus meetings he is always heard but admits he does not always find himself on the winning side in the debates.
“There are always in Caucus meetings are things you would like to see and go your way but you come out of Caucus and united.”
Asked an issue where his views lost in the final decision Warren pointed to the move years back to have all schools start their year in September. The Moose Jaw Separate School Division started two weeks earlier and got out in mid-June and so Warren was a lead proponent on their side because Vanier Collegiate is in his constituency.
“That legislation would change that. That was a decision lost at the Caucus table but again when you come out you have to be united because it’s a Party decision.”
Speaking about overall accomplishments of the SaskParty Warren pointed to a shift in attitudes.
He spoke about how his own family - where four siblings left the Province for work elsewhere – as evidence of previous Provincial Government failures.
“I think it is very unfortunate with Saskatchewan being a province of all the commodities...when you look at this we have more resources than most countries it tells me they weren’t being managed well...in 1944 the whole idea of a socialist government had a lot of investment that pulled out or didn’t bother coming to Saskatchewan as there was a lot of uncertainty in the political situation.”
The return of the Alan Blakeney government and the NDP “sent shockwaves” he said in the investment community. Once elected one of the first thing the SaskParty did was get rid of a previous NDP bill allowing the takeover of the potash industry which drew criticism from the Opposition because the Legislation had never been used.
“The legislation was still there. It's like walking into a bank with a gun and telling a judge you never used it. The threat is still there.”
Asked about the present austerity budget and if that is not an admission the SaskParty government had failed Warren disagreed.
“There has obviously been a slow down in the economy and we have no control over the price of oil on world markets. Budget 2017-2018 set out to change the tax base so we wouldn’t be so reliant on resource revenue,” Warren said.
He said one of the worst criticisms the Opposition has levelled against the SaskParty is ‘Where Did The Money Go' but it went to improve and build the province.
“If they would stop and look at where the money went the roads were falling apart and we fixed a lot. We built hospitals and schools, the NDP closed them…we hired 3000 new nurses and over 900 more doctors.”
Asked if there was any issues which might have caused him to leave the SaskParty the only one was on the issue of Pro-Life a moral value Warren strongly supports.
“We all have got our core values. One of my core values is Pro-Life. The SaskParty policy is a free vote on this issue according to your conscience. I can live and work with that...had they changed that it would have gone against my core values but they (the SaskParty) are open to that (by allowing us to vote our consciences) and I can live with that.”
Regarding his backtracking by indications he was going to run one more term Warren said it was a case of “not showing your cards early.”
Warren said he discussed it with his wife Debbie and decided it was time to retire because he was over 65 and it was time to spend time with his family, travel and build a new fence.
Warren and Debbie have four children - Krista, Kimberly, Paul and Brent and seven grandchildren - seven grandsons and one granddaughter.
He freely admitted though Debbie may not allow him to build the fence because he recently had an accident with an axe splitting wood and nearly cutting of his thumb.