Liam Richards / Saskatoon StarPhoenix
It is a truism that governments defeat themselves. From the day every government is elected, its opponents circle, shark-like, waiting for blood in the water. And when the bleeding starts, it is often from a self-inflicted wound.The Saskatchewan Party, which has governed this province for nearly 12 years, has had a good run characterized by capable leadership, a strong record and a broad base of public support for policies generally aligned with urban and rural voters, women and men, young and old.The party’s philosophic success has been based on pragmatic and moderate positions, party discipline and two leaders who have regarded the premier’s job as an honour to be held with humility, a sense of purpose and always “Sask First.”Both Brad Wall and now Scott Moe also do not underestimate an opponent, though they have faced an Opposition which has been weak, unfocused and lately, intensely ideological.Sometimes in politics, a small and seemingly insignificant detail becomes a tipping point. And, like most inflection points, it is only after the fact that observers figure out how and when things started to go wrong.And one of these may have just happened for the Sask. Party. It’s not fatal. But if unaddressed, it could be.The setting involves the interminable abortion debate, which forces all good people of conscience, whether pro-choice or pro-life, to face difficult ethical questions. As usual, the issue is back for no reason other than activists on both sides can’t stop talking about it.The Sask. Party wisely decided many years ago that, as government, it would support and uphold women’s reproductive rights. While government MLAs are entitled to their personal views, they are expected to support their government’s policy.One particularly outspoken pro-life Sask. Party MLA and cabinet minister, Greg Ottenbreit, continues to speak publicly at pro-life functions to the discomfort and annoyance of some of his caucus colleagues.As the media and Opposition have a field day trying to drive a wedge between the government’s policy and Ottenbreit’s personal views, someone in the Sask. Party caucus decided to leak a caucus memo to a reporter. The memo, from the caucus chair, had urged MLAs and ministers to keep quiet on the issue until it was discussed in caucus.Leaking a confidential caucus memo is more significant than it appears. As the grouping of all government MLAs, caucus is a generally supportive place — almost family-like — because there are shared issues, trust and mutual advantages for MLAs to talk over and understand one another’s positions before public debates begin.Caucus business is conducted in secret. It’s where ideas and issues — and even personal stories — are openly discussed. Some issues first raised there never see the light of day; others emerge as government policy in legislation, committee reports or elsewhere in the public sphere.In caucus, cabinet ministers are encouraged, sometimes confronted on unpopular or poorly thought out decisions. It is an indispensable feedback loop for the premier and cabinet and is where an important part of governing gets done.Any government caucus, and the Sask. Party’s is no exception, has a disparate group of people, egos and agendas which have to be understood and sometimes massaged and managed.Leaking a memo from the confidential confines of caucus, whatever the motive, undermines and threatens the trust and cohesion that holds a caucus together.Whether it was some MLA or staffer’s idea of revenge, hubris, grudge holding or bruised ego, none of it matters.This is how governing parties often begin their fall. When internal disputes and bickering end up outside of caucus it takes a toll on teamwork and mutual respect.And, if unchecked, internal political fights that go public eventually undermine voters’ confidence in the government and the people in it. When that happens the countdown to the end begins.John Gormley is a broadcaster, lawyer, author and former Progressive Conservative MP whose radio talk show is heard weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on 650 CKOM Saskatoon and 980 CJME Regina.