REGINA – From potash to pipelines, populist Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is preaching the new voice of Prairie conservatism.
His latest position is against a national carbon tax, which Wall has said would “kneecap” an already struggling Canadian economy.
The premier said he’ll push for an economic impact analysis of any proposed national carbon tax when he meets in Vancouver this week with fellow premiers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“We just don’t think a tax right now when the national economy is facing challenges — a tax that would cost consumers more, cost more at the pumps, potentially cost jobs — is not the right thing, right now,” Wall said recently at the legislature in Regina.
The premier says he does take the environmental issue seriously.
His argument to fellow premiers will be that Canada should focus on technological solutions, like carbon capture and sequestration.
“In a world where China and India are going to continue to build new coal (plants), we think that Canada can contribute to the global effort on climate change by cleaning it up, making it cleaner than natural gas even,” said Wall.
It’s not the first time Wall has expressed an opinion at odds with the federal government or fellow premiers.
Tom McIntosh, professor and head of the department of politics and international studies at the University of Regina, says Wall seems to be the premier consistently saying “Yes, but …” on national issues.
“He’s increasingly the one voice making those sort of small-c conservative arguments,” said McIntosh.
In 2010, Wall vehemently opposed Australian mining giant BHP Billiton’s takeover bid for Saskatoon-based PotashCorp, the world’s largest producer of the key fertilizer ingredient. Wall painted the deal as anti-Canadian and suggested the country’s strategic interests would be at risk if it sold most of its potash industry to an international company.
The federal government ultimately rejected the bid, which would have led to the biggest takeover in Canadian history.
Wall supported the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and pushed for its completion in the United States.
The premier has vocally backed the Energy East pipeline, which would ship Alberta crude oil to refineries in eastern Canada and global markets, and he’s pushing for Ottawa to champion the project.
He’s called for the abolition of the Senate, describing it as “anachronistic, unelected, unaccountable.”
Last fall, Wall made waves when he said the federal government should suspend a plan to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015. He said he was worried that fast-tracking refugee claims could undermine the screening process.
Wall says he’s not trying to a thorn in Ottawa’s side.
He says he’s given the federal government credit when he thinks it’s “working in the interests of Saskatchewan people,” specifically on infrastructure spending.
McIntosh says he doesn’t think Wall is speaking out to gain national presence.
“Making himself the defender of either Saskatchewan or even more broadly western conservative interests would not help him if we’re thinking he wants to be Conservative leader,” said McIntosh.
“Because he has to be Conservative leader of a party that wants to go from coast-to-coast-to-coast and so it would not endear him necessarily to Conservatives in Ontario, or Quebec, or Atlantic Canada.”
There are many Conservatives who would like to see Wall announce his candidacy to lead the federal party.
But Wall, 50, has repeatedly said it’s an ”absolute no.”
He says he’s got the best job in the country and hopes to keep it when Saskatchewan voters head to the polls April 4.
Wall led the Saskatchewan Party, an amalgamation of former Liberals and Conservatives, to its first provincial election victory in 2007.
The Saskatchewan Party took more than 60 per cent of the popular vote along with 49 of 58 seats in the legislature in the 2011 election. Previously, the largest popular vote in the province was 57 per cent by the Liberals in 1912.
He’s currently the longest-serving premier in the country.
McIntosh says whether other premiers at the Vancouver meeting agree or disagree with Wall, he won’t be dismissed as “just that lone, cranky conservative.”
“It counts for something being the old man at the table. People will listen,” said McIntosh.
“And Wall is not blustery … . He’s calm and level-headed. He’ll make the argument and they’ll engage with him, but his views will be heard and respected because of his status. He’s been around that table for a while.”