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Roy Romanow: Building the nation

Roy Romanow (BA’60, LLB’64) was always interested in politics, but it wasn’t until the Saskatchewan doctors’ strike of 1962 that his career path was solidified.

“The Medicare strike was a very, very contentious issue right across the country and especially in Saskatchewan. I mean, when all the doctors except three went on strike, that gives you an example about how contentious this was,” said Romanow, who took the pro-Medicare side of the debate.

Romanow, now chancellor emeritus of the University of Saskatchewan (USask), would go on to a long and storied career in provincial and federal politics, culminating in serving as the 12th premier of the province of Saskatchewan from 1991-2001.

Back in the 1960s, Romanow was working on his law degree at USask when he decided to take some time off to dip his toes into the political world. He ended up becoming an assistant secretary on the Royal Commission on Hospital Privileges headed by USask alumnus Justice Mervyn Woods, which looked into whether or not the doctors who had come overseas during the strike were qualified to be granted hospital privileges.

“That was a fascinating project, going around the province, listening to all of the evidence and being a small part in the preparation of the final report because it was Mr. Justice Woods’ report,” said Romanow. “After all that was over I resumed law.”

When Romanow completed his law degree in 1964, he started working at the law firm of Goldenberg, Taylor and Tallis. In 1967, Romanow decided to seek office for the first time and was elected to the Saskatchewan Legislature.

Romanow spent the next three decades heavily involved in Saskatchewan and Canadian politics. After holding the position of premier of Saskatchewan from 1991-2001, he served as the provincial chair—with Jean Chrétien being the federal counterpart—on the Constitution Act 1982 negotiations. Romanow also led the second Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, and was a member of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), among many additional accomplishments.

During his time in politics, Romanow was able to visit all of Canada and the biggest challenge he saw that the country faced 30 years ago, and today, is nation building.

“We are a large country from a land mass perspective, but we have a small population, 40 million people roughly, and it’s unevenly distributed. We are north of one of the major powerhouses in the world, the United States of America,” said Romanow. “The challenge always for Canadians is to try and to build a country from shoreline, shoreline to shoreline.”

Romanow said sticking to Canada values, which he believes are sharing, caring and co-operation with each other, are how we’ll continue to strengthen Canada as one nation.

Although Romanow has had a large influence on Canada as a whole, he always kept a close connection to his home province and to USask.

“Without this university I never would have had the experiences and the small contributions that I was able to make to the province and to the country,” said Romanow.

So when he finished the Royal Commission on health care, he was thrilled when he was asked to become a senior fellow in public policy at USask in the Department of Political Studies. In 2016, he was honoured to assume the role of USask chancellor, a term he completed on July 1.

Romanow has thoroughly enjoyed his term and his favourite moments have always come during convocation ceremonies.

“Every time I saw somebody coming towards me to get officially admitted to the university, I saw in their eyes hope, optimism, confidence and a belief that our university had really equipped them to take on the challenges of the world,” said Romanow. “It gives me great optimism that the future of Canada is in great shape. And it gives me confirmation that our university in particular, remains as one of the leading universities in the country.”

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