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Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall fights Alberta at his own peril

Intraprovincial squabbles have not been unheard of over the years. But there has also been an unwritten code that says premiers don't make direct attempts to steal business away from another province.

But in a shocking display of poor form, Saskatchewan's Brad Wall has decided to ignore that tacit agreement. It could well be a decision he comes to regret.

It was revealed this week that Mr. Wall sent a letter to a Calgary-based energy company, Whitecap Resources, offering an array of inducements to leave Alberta and set up shop in his province. The overture outlined the many reasons why (see lower corporate tax rates) Saskatchewan is a better place to be headquartered.

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Read more: Rachel Notley reviewing if Brad Wall's recruitment letters broke trade rules

Mr. Wall even had the audacity to say that his province didn't have a carbon tax, like Alberta.

Yes, while the Premier has refused to be a signatory to the national climate plan, and has repeatedly denounced carbon taxes as job-killing levies, his pitch to Whitecap in this regard ignores the fact that the federal government will apply the environmental tariff to his province in 2018 whether he likes it or not.

Before this, Mr. Wall had made a point of going after Alberta's NDP Premier Rachel Notley every chance he had. But the verbal Molotov cocktails he'd lobbed in her direction were mostly harmless public swipes that highlighted their ideological differences. In the absence of someone of his conservative leanings in the Premier's chair in Alberta, Mr. Wall has decided he will be the province's right-wing guardian in the interim.

More often, however, he comes across as patronizing; only he knows what's good for Alberta. Sadly, he's been cheered on by the province's conservative political leaders as he has engaged in this lecturing.

What Mr. Wall has done now is taken what was a fairly benign war of words with Alberta's NDP to a different level – and every premier in the country should be concerned about it. Even more disconcerting is that the Saskatchewan Premier would try to steal jobs from a city that has already been dealt a brutal job-loss blow as a result of the drop in oil prices.

That is low.

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Almost certainly, Mr. Wall's direct bid to Whitecap is a violation of the terms of the New West Partnership, as well as the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT). The New West Partnership, a trade pact between the four western provinces, is something Mr. Wall has hailed widely as a groundbreaking achievement that demonstrates unparalleled co-operation among provinces.

But Article 12 of that same deal states explicitly that parties who are signatories to it shall not, directly or indirectly, provide business subsidies that "entice or assist the relocation of an enterprise from another party." Which makes sense; direct raids of this nature would only breed anger and mistrust among trade partners.

The AIT, meantime, says participants are prohibited from offering incentives that entice a business to relocate to their province or territory.

Mr. Wall has attempted to defend his actions by saying nothing he has done is different from what other provinces do: for example, offering enticements to attract new business ventures. Well, part of that is true. Provinces do try to create attractive investment climates in the hopes of luring companies, from anywhere. But what is not routine is provincial premiers making direct appeals to companies in another province to move.

That is not done, nor should it be.

For her part, Ms. Notley has denounced her Saskatchewan counterpart's actions. She is reviewing the terms of the trade agreements mentioned to see what response may be appropriate and what sanctions might need to be applied here.

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Mr. Wall is picking a fight with a province that has an economy four times the size of his own. There are a lot of businesses in Saskatchewan that could be damaged if Ms. Notley decided to retaliate by bringing in protectionist measures that no longer allowed the free flow of goods and services between the two provinces. Mr. Wall should think about that.

Alberta is a province whose citizens, historically, have not taken kindly to outsiders trying to inflict economic hardships on them. The idol worship bestowed on Mr. Wall from conservatives in Alberta now looks particularly naive and embarrassing.

But the Saskatchewan Premier's actions extend beyond Alberta's borders and should be denounced by political leaders across the country.

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About the Author
National affairs columnist

Gary Mason began his journalism career in British Columbia in 1981, working as a summer intern for Canadian Press. More

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