Walter Smishek was born in Poland on July 21, 1925. He attended Teachers' College in Saskatoon for six weeks but left to work for Western Grocers. Smishek became active in the trade union movement and served as a representative for the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Workers Union. He became Executive Secretary of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour in 1960, and further served on the political action committee of the Canadian Labour Congress and as a vice-president of the SFL. He represented labour on the University of Saskatchewan senate for six years and on the senate executive committee for three years. In 1961, as a member of the Advisory Planning Committee on Medicare, he wrote a dissenting report which opposed user/deterrent fees, the overemphasis on fee-for-service as the means of physician remuneration, and other issues.
Smishek was elected to the Saskatchewan Legislature as the member for Regina East in 1964 and represented this area of the city through five elections until 1982. Following the election of the NDP government in 1971, Smishek served as Minister of Health (1971-75), Finance (1975-79), and Urban Affairs (1979-82). He served as a member of Treasury Board, and as its chairperson from 1975 to 1979. From 1978 to 1982 Smishek served as chair of a Cabinet Committee on Social Policy and was the Minister-in-charge of the Social Policy Secretariat. Smishek was best known for his leadership in health programming including the introduction of School Dental Program and the Prescription Drug Plan. After Smishek was defeated in the 1982 election, he worked for the federal department of Indian and Northern Affairs.