Alberta’s premier got involved in the great licence plate debate Thursday, one day after Saskatchewan banned Alberta licence plates on future job sites.
Rachel Notley took a shot at her easterly neighbours before her speech to the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce.
“Just one little housekeeping thing that I thought I’d bring up,” she said.
“If any of you drove here and have a Saskatchewan licence plate, you might want to move your car because we are towing,” she said as the crowd broke into laughter.
“I’m just kidding, of course. Everybody is welcome here in Alberta.”
The comments came one day after Saskatchewan Infrastructure Minister David Marit announced that vehicles with Alberta licence plates will no longer be allowed on future government highway and building project sites in that province.
Marit said the ban is in response to hearing Saskatchewan workers say they face similar restrictions in Alberta. Construction groups in Saskatchewan have since clarified that these rules aren’t in place, but some contractors say they are being met with resistance on Alberta sites when they show up with Saskatchewan plates.
The Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association welcomes to move, suggesting it levels the playing field at home. Alberta companies don’t have to pay provincial sales tax on trucks.
“When you’re looking at probably one of the largest employers in the province, it is well worth the while to keep those businesses here at home and keep the revenue here at home and keep the people in Saskatchewan,” Shantel Lipp, president of the association, said.
Alberta groups don’t see it that way. Terry Parker with Building Trades of Alberta said the rules will be a hassle, suggesting they’re not about fairness or protecting jobs.
“I don’t even see this as levelling the playing field. It’s political payback from the Saskatchewan Party to their political supporters.”
Notley insisted the licence plate restrictions Marit referred to do not exist in Alberta. After her speech, she said the ban violates trade agreements, echoing Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous’ comments from Wednesday that Alberta will take legal action if necessary.
Notley also took aim at outgoing Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, saying the move stems from bitterness over Alberta’s growing economy.
“What’s really going on here, we know full well, is the Saskatchewan government decided to slap a six per cent tax onto the construction industry and people are hurting and they’re trying to distract from it,” Notley said.
“The real issue here is actually that their businesses are not operating in as competitive an environment as ours.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about Brad Wall, Donald Trump or Jason Kenney, it seems that right-wing politicians have one play in their playbook and that’s to build walls when things go tough.”
Watch below: Bilous said Alberta absolutely does not have any policy or restriction on Saskatchewan workers that mandates them to have Alberta licence plates.
Wall, on his last day as premier of Saskatchewan, said he doesn’t think the stance necessarily violates trade agreements, “because this is the treatment that our contractors get when they’re working in Alberta.
“They’re asked to permit, they’re asked to plate. We think it’s fair to ask the same thing of Alberta folks working here.”
One Alberta political scientist said the tussle is nothing more than an interprovincial political battle.
“This is profoundly political,” MacEwan University’s Chaldeans Mensah said Thursday.
“This is a partisan shot by Brad Wall against Rachel Notley and the NDP. It’s a fight that has political overtones. The NDP here is going to use it to bolster its claim that it’s protecting the province against a conservative attack from the province of Saskatchewan.
“The premier of Saskatchewan is leaving the scene so this is a shot at Rachel Notley saying, ‘Hey, we are protecting our jobs against your policies, which are driving your business people to our province.'”
Wall showed no signs of backing down on the matter, saying he’ll stand up for Saskatchewan’s interests.
“If we need to, we will take our own actions and so this is a decision we made. I would also point out that the construction association is supportive of what we’re doing and they’re the ones who’ve been saying they face this kind of treatment when they try to do work in Alberta.”