Wall, Notley, Alberta conservatives make for a helluva political threesome

Notley

Rachel Notley, Alberta premier, and Brad Wall, Saskatchewan premier.

Notley uses Wall as a proxy for Alberta conservatives, Wall uses Notley as a proxy for Saskatchewan NDP

Shall we call it “Alberta Ménage à Trois”? The parties to this political love triangle are Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, the Alberta conservative parties (Wildrose, PCAA), and Premier Rachel Notley – and the sniping and bickering between them is worthy of an afternoon soap opera.

Like any good soap, everyone’s using someone else for their own benefit.

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Jason Kenney, leader, Progressive Conservative Assoc. of Alberta.

For instance, Notley recently held up the Saskatchewan budget as an example of the kind of government Alberta would get if it elected a conservative party (the Wildrose Party, the Progressive Conservatives, or a united right wing party): tax increases (PST up a point to 6%), cuts to social programs, and a $696-million deficit for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

“That’s not how we believe we should approach things in Alberta,” Notley said, according to the CBC. “We want to have the backs of Albertans. We think that we can work with Albertans to help them through … collectively bringing our economy out of a recession period.”

Spats between premiers is nothing new, but commenting on another premier’s budget is not considered cricket in Canadian politics.

What is Notley up to?

According to political scientist Duane Bratt, the NDP premier is using conservative Wall as a surrogate in her battle with Brian Jean of the Wildrose and PC leader Jason Kenney.

“A lot of this is about the proxy fight between Notley and the conservatives in Alberta,” Bratt said in an interview. “The Saskatchewan budget helps Notley because she can use that by saying, ‘a united conservative government in Alberta, this is what you’re going to see.'”

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Brian Jean, Wildrose Party leader.

The same holds true for Wall, who has not been shy about comparing the Alberta NDP to their Saskatchewan counterparts.

“Even after the PST increases in this year’s budget, every Saskatchewan taxpayer at every level of income will continue to pay considerably less in provincial taxes than they did under the NDP,” Wall said in a statement.

The partisan jibes back and forth across the borders are unusual but still fair game in the hurly burly world of politics.

Wall, though, may have stepped over a big line recently when he sent letters to Alberta oil companies hoping to entice them to relocate to Saskatchewan.

In a letter to Grant Fagerheim, CEO of Whitecap Resources and obtained by the Canadian Press, Wall offered to subsidize relocation costs, trim taxes and royalties, and help find office space in unused government buildings.

“Given these major tax changes and your production presence in our province, I would therefore like to formally ask you to consider a relocation of your head office from Calgary to Saskatchewan,” reads the letter.

Inducing companies to pick up stakes and move to an other province is forbidden in the New West Partnership, which is a trade agreement between BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba that was signed in 2010 to reduce trade barriers between western economies.

“The efforts of the province of Saskatchewan at this point likely do violate the New West Partnership as well as the AIT [agreement on internal trade],” Notley said Thursday in Red Deer.

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Duane Bratt, Mount Royal University.

Bratt agrees: “I looked at the agreement and I would have to agree with her. That’s pretty much [what the agreement] says about providing incentives for relocation. 

The most Notley can do is apply to have a dispute mediated through the agreement. But she’s unlikely to do that because she benefits as much politically as Wall.

And, as Bratt points out, the likelihood of an oil company moving away from the oil and gas clusters of Calgary and Edmonton – where they have easy access to capital, technology, and skilled professionals – is pretty slim.

“Notley basically asked, ‘Why would a company leave Calgary to go to Regina?'” said Bratt. “And she’s right.”

The Mount Royal University professor says that what makes the Notley/Wall dust up unique is Alberta conservatives cheering on the Saskatchewan premier in his efforts to damage the Alberta economy.

“They’re not going to condemn Wall, they’re going to condemn Notley, [for the prospect of oil companies leaving for Saskatchewan] as just another illustration of capital flight out of the province,” said Bratt.

Wildrose and PC energy critics have already tried to portray the recent $32 billion purchases of Shell, Marathon, and ConocoPhillips oil sand operations by two Calgary-based companies as an example of capital fleeing Alberta from the climate and tax policies of Notley’s NDP government.

Wall’s letters to Alberta oil companies come suspiciously close to the Wildrose and PC outcry over the super-majors reducing their operations in Alberta. But Bratt cautions against thinking the Saskatchewan premier is doing anything more than looking out for his province.

“Wall is a defender of Saskatchewan. He knows what his job is and his job is the people of Saskatchewan,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean Wall can’t benefit from defending his province. Bratt says that the Premier has long raised monies in Calgary’s oil and gas head offices: “I haven’t tracked the numbers, but it would be interesting to see how much money from Alberta has flown into the Saskatchewan party over the years.”

Wall was recently criticized for receiving a $40,000 “top up” from the Saskatchewan Party to bolster his $166,137 government salary since 2004. He first defended the practice, and was supported by the province’s ethics commissioner, but a few weeks ago decided to stop taking the additional cash.

The Alberta and Saskatchewan economies are more integrated than residents of those provinces like to think, so it comes as no surprise their politics are tangled as well.

Albertans head to the polls in two years and Rachel Notley and her party are rolling the dice that the oil and gas sector will have recovered by then and voters will have accepted the province-wide carbon tax and other climate leadership initiatives.

In the meantime, Brad Wall will continue to make a handy stand in for Alberta conservatives. And expect the political taunting to continue as the various characters in the political soap opera “Alberta Menage A Trois” jostle for advantage.

Posted in: Markham on Energy

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