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Western premiers fire back at Mulcair in oil-sands fight

Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair speaks to reporters after an NDP caucus meeting in Ottawa on May 16, 2012.

BLAIR GABLE/Blair Gable/Reuters

Despite triggering a mud-fight with western premiers over Canada's energy sector, Thomas Mulcair and the federal NDP are undeterred – continuing to insist the west's overheated resource sector is bad for Canada's economic health, and the leaders who disagree are merely echoing the Prime Minister.

Since saying earlier this month that Canada has a case of a phenomenon known as Dutch disease – its energy sector is driving up the dollar and "hollowing out" other sectors, such as manufacturing – Mr. Mulcair has been a target of western leaders and economists, many of whom say the issue isn't that simple.

Chief among his critics has been Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who on Wednesday took to Twitter to once again condemn Mr. Mulcair's latest statements, including that western premiers are "messengers" of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

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Mr. Wall cited a Statistics Canada report showing a month-over-month rise in manufacturing levels. An academic report released on Wednesday by the Institute for Research on Public Policy said Canada has, at most, a mild case of Dutch disease, but that the pressures facing its manufacturing sector are far more complicated.

The Saskatchewan Premier said Mr. Mulcair is ignoring "pesky facts."

"One, two, three four, let's declare a Twitter war," Mr. Wall joked with reporters on Wednesday, noting Mr. Mulcair has had more than a week to meet with premiers or clarify his remarks.

"Rather than, I think, reconsider and understand that western Canada's economic strength is good for the country, he takes another run at leaders in the west who have expressed an opposition to his view," Mr. Wall said, later adding: "Here's someone who wants to be the national leader who, for the sake of politics, I think would risk the economic advantage of the country."

Alberta Premier Alison Redford also fired back online, writing the "recent statements by Thomas Mulcair do not display national leadership. His comments were divisive and ill-informed." British Columbia Finance Minister Kevin Falcon on Wednesday called Mr. Mulcair's comments "ignorant."

"The fact of the matter is the energy industry in the west supports jobs right across the country," he told reporters.

Federal Conservatives also piled on. But the NDP was not shying away from the issue. Energy and Natural Resources critic Peter Julian said many economists believe Canada has Dutch disease and that the Harper government has chosen an economy based on exporting raw materials rather than value-added manufacturing. He dismissed the premiers' concerns.

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"This is a debate the premiers may have engaged. I'm not sure they have the [public]support when you actually talk about what Mr. Mulcair is saying about value-added jobs," Mr. Julian said. "...We're going to keep speaking about these issues, and we're not going to let spin deter us from having what is a very important debate."

He noted the premiers of Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. all lead centre-right parties with ties to Mr. Harper, saying it's no surprise they'd fire back. Mr. Wall bristled at the suggestion.

"If Mr. Mulcair is wondering for whom I am a messenger, I'm a messenger for the people of Saskatchewan and for the economic interests of this province, and we'll take every opportunity we can to stand up for those interests," Mr. Wall said.

With a report from Justine Hunter in Victoria and Daniel Leblanc in Ottawa

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Josh is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa. Before moving to the nation's capital in 2013, he covered provincial affairs in Edmonton and throughout Alberta. He joined the Globe in 2008 in Toronto before returning to his home province in 2010. More

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