The idea of western alienation became one of the dominant political themes in Saskatchewan and Alberta throughout 2019.
Much of this frustration with Ottawa has been spurred policies like the carbon tax, changes to the environmental assessment legislation like Bill C-69, and issues in getting resources to international markets.
“I think those issues have been identified by not just myself, they’ve been identified by many people across the province and also the prime minister on election night, as we saw the results with 14 Conservative MPs. That was very noticed by myself and so many others,” Premier Scott Moe said in a year-end interview with Global News.
The Conservative sweep of Saskatchewan in the Oct. 21 federal election can be seen as the climax to a growing sense of the Prairie’s frustration with Ottawa. After all, 2019 began with anti-carbon tax truck convoys to Ottawa, a similar convoy and rally in Regina and two unsuccessful court challenges against the pollution price in Saskatchewan and Ontario respectively.
This year also saw the rise of a Wexit movement. While it appears to be a fringe movement, questions on Moe’s view of Wexit dogged the premier since the election.
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Moe described himself as a “frustrated federalist” the day after the election, but did not condemn Wexit. He said he wouldn’t speak down about frustrations people are having with Ottawa.
On Nov. 27, Moe said he saw no benefit to separation “at this point” when speaking at an Agribition event in Regina. Later that day, he changed “at this point” to “never” after being pressed by reporters on what point separation may be beneficial.
Opposition Leader Ryan Meili led off question period numerous times with questions about Moe’s stance on separatism.
“I’ve been really disappointed to not see Premier Moe be taking strong leadership when it comes to that important issue. He’s been back and forth. One day he’s against the Wexit folks, the next day he’s floating trial balloons about having our own tax system or getting rid of the RCMP,” Meili said.
“That kind of inconsistent messaging allows alienation to grow and not in a positive way.”
Looking back over the past couple of months, Moe said if he redid the federal election fallout he may have changed his messaging around separatist questions.
“I may have done something slightly different with the messaging. I may have been very clear that for the most part, the people that I talked to are not first and foremost looking to separate from this nation, they’re looking to separate their industry in this province from some of the policies that have been put forward over the past four years. That’s a very different conversation if you will,” Moe said.
Moe has not talked about moving Saskatchewan away from the RCMP much. However, when asked about following Alberta’s lead in considering its own provincial police service Moe said all options are on the table to expand provincial independence.
Staying in Canada, growing independence
Growing that independence will be a key piece of the government’s agenda heading into 2020. Moe said there are three priorities; growing economic independence through opening international trade offices, financial independence with a balanced budget and third — looking for other areas to assert independence from Ottawa.
“We’ve talked about immigration independence and opportunities around collecting our own taxes,” Moe said.
“So this is where we’re going. This is where we have the opportunity to form our future, if you will.”
Moe is hopeful some frustration can be alleviated through renegotiating fiscal stabilization programs. At a recent meeting of Canada’s premiers, they agreed to push for this at the federal level.
Meili has been doing his own lobbying to the federal government. The Saskatchewan NDP leader has written to Ottawa requesting the carbon tax is removed from grain drying and lowering the threshold for farmers to apply for Agristability.
Heading into 2020, Meili said he’ll keep pushing the government to shift focus away from Ottawa to provincial issues like health care, northern suicides and mental health resources.
“It’s always about politics and division, pointing fingers elsewhere,” Meili said.
“The carbon pricing is a great example. We have now a carbon tax that was designed in Ottawa instead of a plan that works for Saskatchewan. That’s because there’s been such an all or nothing, pointing fingers, putting politics before the needs of Saskatchewan people approach from Moe and the Sask. Party.”
Saskatchewan has one last carbon tax challenge in the Supreme Court of Canada. That hearing is expected to be heard on March 17 and 18.
The federal pollution backstop has helped ignite the current division between the Saskatchewan and federal governments.
Moe maintains he is disappointed in his meeting with Trudeau shortly after the election, but he’s hopeful the province can build a more collaborative relationship with
Ottawa through Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.
“We have not all of the answers, but we have some of the answers here in Saskatchewan, and that needs to be recognized. Some of that work our industries have done needs to be recognized, and that’s an example of where we can certainly move forward together, but we need to sit down and be able to move a little bit,” Moe said.