July 17, 2015 9:33 pm

Notley versus Wall: Spat between premiers exposes friction on oil

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards
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EDMONTON – Brad Wall says the time for soft-selling the oil and gas industry in the rest of the country is over.

The Saskatchewan premier took rookie Premier Rachel Notley to task this week for suggesting Quebec would approve of the Energy East oil pipeline if Alberta could show it has its environmental house in order.

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Wall suggested that was akin to giving Quebec a veto over an important national energy project. He then took shots at Central and Eastern Canada for soaking up transfer payments funded by economic success in the West.

Notley called that showboating.

Wall said “show me to the bridge.”

The rift exposed new friction between Alberta, which just elected its first non-Tory government in more than 40 years, and Saskatchewan, which has the only provincial government west of Newfoundland with firm roots in the Conservative brand.

READ MORE: Wall says he’s concerned the energy industry is seen as a liability in Canada

Wall, who leads the right-leaning Saskatchewan Party, wouldn’t back down Friday. He said the West shouldn’t have to apologize for its resources and needs to stop being so diplomatic with its message.

“We’ve all done it. I’m not sure what it has availed Western Canada,” Wall told The Canadian Press. “We got the national energy program for all of our goodwill and we have had precisely no pipelines approved and we have increasing calls for greater regulation.

“I think if more Canadians knew that we import foreign oil from places like Venezuela and Saudi Arabia and that Energy East would end that, there would be great support for it, but we have to say it,” he said.

“We’ve got to be direct and say that bluntly. And that’s what I am trying to do.”

Notley, fresh from her first premiers meeting – where the leaders passed a national energy strategy that backs both project development and climate action – wasn’t backing down either.

She’s trying a different approach after years of Alberta Tory governments pushing energy projects on other provinces and pushing back on being told what to do.

“It was my first meeting and I felt it was really important to develop relationships, to hear the positions that other people had, so that I was better positioned to propose options that people were likely to be able to agree to,” she said.

It’s about the long term, she added.

“It’s not always going to be the case that we’re quietly and diplomatically working together, but I think that that should be the starting point. It’s easier to be tougher if you’ve got good working relationships to begin with.”

Political analyst Bob Murray said Wall’s reaction to the Quebec-Alberta Energy East meeting was part political posturing, because there will be an election in Saskatchewan within the next year.

But there’s also genuine concern there, said political scientist Duane Bratt of Calgary’s Mount Royal University.

“The pipeline issue is very important to Saskatchewan,” he said. “Alberta has been leading the charge, but now it looks like Alberta is pulling back from that, and that worries Saskatchewan.”

Notley is nurturing diplomatic bridges to build pipelines and keep Alberta’s economy going, said Murray, who is with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

“The only way that she is going to be able to do that is if she takes a realistic and pragmatic approach to the politics of the oil and gas industry.”

It’s not the first time Wall has tried to capitalize at the expense of Alberta’s NDP. He has used Notley’s plans for a royalty review to promote his province as a bastion of royalty stability.

Still, Wall thinks he can work with Notley.

“I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do in terms of how I can best represent Saskatchewan’s interest and Western Canadian interests.”

“Other premiers are going to do what they are going to do.”

With files from Dean Bennett

© 2015 The Canadian Press

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