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Monday October 19, 2009

Politician's 'damn right' philosophy earned him a reputation as a straight shooter

He was passionate about rural Saskatchewan, geriatric care, horses and snowy owls

Special to The Globe and Mail

Graham Taylor was an effective, straight-shooting, populist cabinet minister in Saskatchewan premier Grant Devine's conservative government who mentored the province's current Saskatchewan Party Premier, Brad Wall.

As health minister the 1980s, Mr. Taylor was consumed by his crusade to built geriatric hospitals and integrated care homes for seniors, the infirm and the mentally challenged.

He also served as minister of small business and tourism and briefly as minister of public participation, responsible for the sale of the province's Crown corporations, before he was posted to Hong Kong in 1988 as Saskatchewan's agent-general.

"He was a source of counsel. He didn't lecture, or hector, but he provided sound advice, and you had to pay attention because his advice came in short offers, wrapped up in common sense.

"His conversations were brief, but just a little bit of Graham Taylor would go a long way," Premier Wall told the overflow crowd of Mr. Taylor's friends and former constituents who jammed the Wolseley High School Gymnasium last week for a down-home memorial service.

"He always called me Mister Wall," said the Premier. "In fact, he called all of his staff by their formal names. Working with him was like being on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise," recalled Mr. Wall, who 20 years ago served as Mr. Taylor's special assistant.

Graham Taylor, who died on Oct. 9, at the age of 73, had deep roots in and cared deeply about rural Saskatchewan. His grandparents came to from London, Ont., in 1882 to homestead near Wolseley, about 70 kilometres east of Regina, in what was then the Northwest Territories.

Mr. Taylor was raised near Candiac on a farm that remained in the family for more than a century, and was the product of a one-room school before finishing high school in Wolseley.

He went to Teachers' College in Regina and after obtaining his certificate in 1963 taught school in Kipling before becoming the principal of Wolseley High in 1966.

He is remembered as being strict, but highly motivational, and for his love of raising and riding horses.

"My dad was really into horses," said his son, Robert. "He owned thoroughbred race horses and showed Clydesdales."

In 1978, Mr. Taylor was one of seven Conservatives elected to the Saskatchewan legislature where he advanced his "damn right" theory of politics. The idea, he said, was to explain party policy in such common-sense terms that anyone listening would respond in agreement by saying "Damn right."

Mr. Taylor sought the leadership of the party in 1979 but lost to Grant Devine, who unexpectedly went on to win the 1982 provincial election and invited Mr. Taylor into cabinet.

"Graham was a natural communicator as a teacher, as a politician and as an ambassador," said Mr. Devine.

"He was quite convincing. If you gave him a portfolio, you knew he'd get into it and give it his all. He was especially dynamic in health. He was fiercely competitive. He wore his heart on his sleeve, not only personally, but politically."

Mr. Taylor's enthusiasm sometimes tipped over into eccentricity.

When he was minister of tourism it was not unusual for Mr. Taylor - who commuted daily between Regina and Wolsley - to arrive at his office with a dead animal in a garbage bag.

"Mr. T. often brought a number of dead animals in garbage bags into the legislature," Mr. Wall said. "Just across the hall from his office was the Minister of Natural Resources, and in that department there was a taxidermist. I'll bet you that any animal or snowy owl that lost its life on the highway between Regina and Wolseley in those years is today likely in some static display in some government office in Regina. Mr. Taylor left no snowy owl behind."

Mr. Taylor retired in 1991 after the NDP returned to power and closed the government's Hong Kong trade office. He left with his integrity intact. He was never implicated in the expense-account-fraud scandal that led to charges being laid against a dozen members of Mr. Devine's caucus.

Douglas Taylor

Douglas Graham Taylor was born in Moffat, Sask., July 4, 1936, and died of heart attack at Wolseley, Sask., on Oct. 9, 2009, four days after celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary. He was 73. He leaves his wife, Isabel Garden and their four children, Robert, Katherine, Susan and Peter. An infant son, Anthony, died in 1968.

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