Former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall talks Canadian energy

Having served in the past as Saskatchewan’s premier for over a decade, Brad Wall is no stranger to combating western alienation.

Alex Singh Dhaliwal Montreal QC

Disclosure: Alex Singh Dhaliwal is a fourth-year Political Science and History student at the University of Calgary, where he serves as the President for its Campus Conservatives. He’s a former campaigner for the United Conservative Party of Alberta.

Having served in the past as Saskatchewan’s premier for over a decade, Brad Wall is no stranger to combating western alienation.

Initiatives like the Buffalo Project seek a ‘fair deal’ under our federation, amidst an oblivious and often disinterested federal government.

Mired by mixed messaging and numerable ethics violations, Saskatchewan’s Liberal Party is projected to win more seats, despite a smaller projection of the popular vote. Indeed, the Conservative Party faces an uphill battle moving forward.

With less than 70 days until the provincial vote, issues like Ottawa’s carbon policy, pipelines, and equalization will dictate the trajectory of the Western Canadian vote. Even Albertan separatism has become more mainstream, with three in ten supporting the cause.

The former held towards the end of and following Wall’s tenure. While not a fan of the separatist crusade, he recognized the need for a “fairer deal.”

Today, a subset of the population feels disenfranchised by the federal government. Naturally, tensions are bound to rise as the bonds of confederation crumble.

When the prime minister widens the cleavage along regional lines, unity is not what you preach.

With climate change at the forefront of political discourse, declaring the ‘climate crisis,’ a national emergency irks many the wrong way.

Fifty-eight percent of Canadians note that the lack of pipeline capacity a crisis. However, that sentiment fell on deaf ears. Beyond misguiding partisan speeches, little has been implemented or exacted, especially with the Trans Mountain Expansion.

In an exclusive interview with Brad Wall, the Post Millennial touched on the future of Canada’s energy sector. As well as the insecurities projected through the Buffalo Project.

TPM: As the former Premier to Saskatchewan, how has the debate on pipelines and the oil and gas industry changed from then till now?

Wall: Well, it’s got a lot more challenging to get pipelines built. When I got started as Premier in late-2007, the prospects of getting a pipeline approved were much better than they are now.

What’s happened in the intermediate period is the very well organized opposition, funded by foreign ENGOs, as found in the research conducted by Vivian Krause. We also know of the opposition in Canada, mainly provincial governments, which we’ve been caught off guard by how effective they’ve been, given that everybody understands that oil will move. The safest way to move it is by pipeline.

I remember when Energy East was in the works – it wasn’t going to be a slam dunk, but it will be much easier because it’s converting an existing line. It’s not brand new, and secondly, it’s about Canadian energy.

In the Atlantic parts of the country, they currently import the oil they refine, despite copious amounts in Western oilfields. The federal Liberal government changed the rules and made it difficult to get a pipeline approved, as we’ve seen with Energy East – which was abandoned altogether.

TPM: Given current legislation under Bill C-69, which has hindered progress on TMX and has facilitated significant oil and gas producers setting up shop elsewhere. Is there any way to salvage these pieces of legislation while promoting responsible resource development?

Wall: Well, I know some oppose Bill C-69 as I do, while others proposed amendments to this piece of legislation. Some believe the amendments would have been enough, but I wanted to see it scrapped.

After all of these years, and all the various consultations, including the disappointing ruling that stopped TMX, the federal government is getting to know what was required of our regulatory approval process. However, I do appreciate that others thought it more reasonable that maybe the liberals would at least make some changes, so they were proposing amendments to prove it.

Of course, the liberals rejected the most important part — the most important of those amendments that would have left us with more hope in our regulatory system. Unfortunately, shovels have yet to hit the ground.

TPM: In the current political climate, we’re seeing politicians who are beholden to the environmental lobby, as we’ve seen with Premier Horgan and his coalition with the Green Party.

If you look closely at their messaging, their pro-environment agenda remains when it comes to pipelines, but not to dumping raw sewage off the west coast. In the lead up to the upcoming federal election, how do Canadians relay a message in favour of responsible resource development that assuages the concerns on both sides of the debate?

Wall: Politicians and others need to point out the hypocrisy you noted. We know that luxury cruise liners have a huge carbon footprint and are massive disruptors along the coast of British Columbia.

It’s pristine to make money from the cruise line, yet little is done to stop the dumping of raw sewage into the Pacific Ocean. At this rate, it would be easier to get a permit from Minister McKenna on dumping raw sewage than it would be for pipelines.

We need to have a great discussion in addressing this hypocrisy and others like it, moving forward. That being said, I’ve liked what I’ve heard from Andrew Scheer about an Energy Corridor, where we seek to approve it for hydrocarbons, hydroelectricity, you name it. I’m hopeful that that will gain traction in the months ahead.

TPM: It’s interesting you bring up the National Energy Corridor. After Quebec vetoed Energy East, the federal Liberals gave the province of Quebec a $1.8 billion increase in equalization payments. Do moves like this alienate western provinces further? Does this make the notion of separatism a more mainstream idea now than it was 10-20 years ago?

Wall: I don’t know about separatism, but it makes sense of alienation more broadly felt. The Federal government unilaterally re-upped the probation program, where they showed little regard for the concerns widely held by Western Canada. It pointed out Quebec getting well over half the 19 billion dollars in equalization payments, with a 400-year-old economy and the second-most populous province. Discord in the country is on the rise, according to public opinion polls, and I do not think that is a trend that will be averted any time soon, with our current trajectory.

TPM: In April 2019, we saw Alberta lose over 9000 oil and gas positions, while British Columbia stood to gain about 200 jobs. According to PetroLMI, many of these positions were lost due to technological advancement, where low-skill labour positions became obsolete. How do Canadians navigate the post-recession projection for the oil and gas industry?

Wall: Well, we need to get our act together and protect our energy sector, which has the third-largest reserves. We need to better communicate with ourselves and the world that energy demand is going to increase until at least 2050, and those who meet that supply will benefit immensely from that.

If it’s not Canada, it will be countries who don’t care much about the environment, about responsible resource development like Canada does. It will be a massive loss to the planet if we continue to rely on those who do not maintain similar ethical standards.

It’s an enormous loss for a country in terms of jobs and investment. Without that revenue, social programs lose funding, leaving the country in a worse position moving forward. I hope the federal government sees that.

TPM: With discussions on climate change at the forefront of political discourse, how do politicians on both sides, seeking a more pragmatic approach, combat that?

Wall: First of all, you recognize the reality of climate change. Then you propose a better plan with Canada leading the charge, as a country that produces 1.3% of global emissions. However, we also need to focus on developing technology to solve problems that we see arise from our nearly 1,600 coal plants.

TPM: When it comes to reducing carbon emissions from the heaviest emitters, a carbon levy has been proposed by the UCP in Alberta for January 1st, 2020. Will this be enough to protect the environment? Why do you feel that a carbon tax may or may not be the solution to promoting responsible resource development?

Wall: I think it does more than a broad-based carbon tax, especially if they can earn that money back by deploying green technologies to reduce their carbon footprint, as then it’s about production and not just a tax. The carbon tax was implemented when Alberta’s economy was reeling for several reasons, and punishing people for heating their homes and driving their cars was inexcusable.

From senior centres to recreational facilities, the decision by the government to move ahead with that massive tax increase at the time. A more focused approach is needed that will benefit the economy and the environment, rather than a cash-grab that punishes those struggling to get by.

TPM: Many remain undecided on who to support this federal election. With the return of Gerald Butts to the scene, his antagonistic view towards our oil and gas sector, responsible resource development or otherwise proves concerning. What is your message to the said undecided swing voters?

Wall: Well, the economy pays for everything. Every social program the government offers; every road you want to pave, school and hospital you want to build are funded by way of the taxpayer. Under a growing economy, we have a broad tax base we can tax at a lower level.

If we eliminate a sector for ideological reasons that are in the top three or four sectors, it will impact our ability to sustain critical social programs, moving forward. Quality of life will suffer.

If the federal government does not meet the rising global demand for oil and gas, then other nations will. Effectively, a pragmatic approach is needed to provide what many major oil-producing countries do not have – an affinity to protect the environment while growing their respective economies.

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