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David Tkachuk Has Played His Part in Political History, by Ned Powers, Saskatoon Express, August 13, 2018

Inspired by former Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, Saskatchewan’s David Tkachuk decided to pursue a political path.

He joined the Progressive Conservative Party in 1974. As Saskatchewan executive director of the party and later Grant Devine’s principal secretary, he saw the party fortunes rise from no elected members and two per cent of the popular vote in 1974 to taking office in 1982.

 Later in life, there were other comeback stories he helped engineer with the federal elections of Conservative governments in 1984 and 1997.

Tkachuk was appointed to the Senate in 1993 and today, at 73, remains in office.

“Most of my days as a boy were spent in Weirdale, a community named after Robert Weir who was the Canadian minister of agriculture in R.B. Bennett’s days as prime minister,” said Tkachuk.

“Weirdale was part of John Diefenbaker’s Prince Albert riding. My father, George, was a farmer and a grain buyer and later he and my mother, Pauline, ran the general store.

“They believed in Christian values and always believed the best way to get ahead was by education. They were hard-working people and there was always a job for me in the summer months while attending the University of Saskatchewan. I suspected they thought I’d be their business partner when I grew up.

“We have pictures of Mr. Diefenbaker coming to town and being surrounded by the schoolchildren in front of the store. Later, when he was campaigning, he’d arrive with a caravan of trucks and wagons and he’d get up on the back of the wagon and deliver his speeches.”

Tkachuk graduated from the U of S with a bachelor of arts in 1965 and, in 1966, a diploma in education. He was active in student government. In the year he was president of the students’ union, some of his partners were Devine, Raynell Andreychuk, a former judge and now a Canadian senator, Eric Malling, who became a TV journalist, and Pat Lorje, who was later active in Saskatoon and Saskatchewan politics.

While at the university, he began running social events, and quickly emerged as a promoter, starting a company called Actron Agencies. He staged Woodtick One, a one-day rock and roll event on a church property on the road to Pike Lake, and took Woodtick Two to the Saskatoon Exhibition grounds the next year. He saw Saskatoon talent hit the national stage, including Kenny Shields and Witness.

 He taught at St. Michael’s School from 1972 through 1974, and launched basketball, volleyball and track and field with help from his wife, Sharon. He was ticketed to teach at Holy Cross High School the next year.

Then Ken Waschuk recommended Tkachuk to Conservative leader Dick Collver as a party organizer. All of a sudden, his leave of absence from the Saskatoon Separate School Board became a permanent and personal decision to leave teaching.

“Bill McKnight came and asked me to be executive director of the PC Party of Saskatchewan in 1975. We put together a very good team. We started to achieve results,” said Tkachuk.

In 1982, Devine led a team that won 55 seats, while the NDP was reduced to nine seats — a drop of 35.

“In 1986, we also had a strong team. As usual we ran full tilt for 28 days. Allan Blakeney, the NDP leader, got a leaked document in the middle of the campaign which suggested the Devine government was about to privatize SaskTel. The NDP took advantage of it. We won 38 seats; the NDP got 25, including eight in Saskatoon and eight in Regina.”

By 1991, the NDP were back in power with 55 seats, while the PCs elected 10.

“I think Grant will be remembered as a man who changed Saskatchewan. Under Blakeney, the government was involved in almost all areas of business activity with Crown corporations pervasive. After Grant was in power, the government privatized the resource and energy sector, the benefits of which we are enjoying today. He did much for Saskatoon — the new City Hospital, the College of Agriculture, the building of Saskatchewan Place. Our deficits were no worse than any other province’s debts. And we did it in a time where we had five years of drought.”

Tkachuk worked in the private sector for a while, but kept a close eye on politics.

 As early as 1976, Tkachuk supported Brian Mulroney in his bid to become the PC leader. He won in 1984 and was the prime minister until 1993. In 1997, Tkachuk was the co-chair of the national Conservative Party, helping restore it to national prominence. He also worked for and witnessed the rebound of the party when Stephen Harper was prime minister from 2006 until 2015.

“I think Brian’s greatest impact was in negotiating the Free Trade agreement with the United States. That’s something that Devine and Loughheed of Alberta had long talked about,” he said.

 Tkachuk made known his interest in being considered for the Senate “but I did not consider myself a top contender. Then the call came from the prime minister on June 8, 1993.”

Tkachuk has been a strong presence. He has been chair of five committees — National Finance, Internal Economy, Banking Trade and Commerce, Selection Committee and presently Transport and Communications. He is also vice-chair of four committees and co-chair of the Inter Parliamentary Committee.

He has been a member of 10 Senate standing committees and five Senate special committees. He is proudest of his work on anti-terrorism, giving victims of terrorism the ability to sue.

 From 2006 to 2011, he was the Conservative Party National Caucus vice-chair and, from 2004 until 2011, Conservative Party chair in the Senate.

Not everything went smoothly in the Senate. Charges were laid against three senators about the use of remuneration for housing allowances.

 The Mike Duffy case stretched out over time. He was acquitted and now sits as an independent. Pamela Wallin, a Saskatche-wan senator, was audited although never charged. Tkachuk said her case was one of mismanagement. She repaid the funds.

Tkachuk remains a strong believer in the Senate system. He has been in favour of some reform, particularly in the area of the length of term. He sat on the Special Senate Committee on Senate Reform in 2006-2007. He is presently working on pipeline and energy issues, particularly the contentious Kinder Morgan pipeline.

“I was thrilled to become a senator when Mulroney was prime minister. I’m hoping that when I step down, probably after the next federal election, it will be Andrew Scheer as PM who accepts my resignation.”

From 2013 to 2016, he battled bladder cancer, “but we caught it early and removed a tumour. I was cancer free by 2017 and I have just cleared my last test.”

The Tkachuks have been married since 1965. He and Sharon are parents to Teresa, who is in business and manages fitness studios, and son Brad who works at Arcteryx, a world-renowned clothing manufacturer. They have three grandchildren.