Spat heats up be­tween Wall and Not­ley

National Post (National Edition) - - NEWS - CLAU­DIA CATTANEO Western Busi­ness Colum­nist

CAL­GARY • Saskatchewan’s con­ser­va­tive premier, Brad Wall, has upped the stakes in his on­go­ing spat with Al­berta’s NDP premier, Rachel Not­ley, by of­fer­ing in­cen­tives to Cal­gary-based en­ergy com­pa­nies to re­lo­cate their head­quar­ters to his prov­ince.

It’s a bold move at a time Cal­gary’s at­trac­tive­ness as a head-of­fice mag­net is tak­ing a beat­ing, and one that com­pa­nies are tak­ing se­ri­ously, said Grant Fager­heim, president and CEO of White­cap Re­sources Inc. With nearly 45 per cent of its busi­ness in Saskatchewan, White­cap is one of the tar­geted com­pa­nies.

Wall is talk­ing about re­duc­ing cor­po­rate and per­sonal taxes, and is pre­pared to of­fer other in­cen­tives for com­pa­nies will­ing to move, he said.

“We can’t do this right away but cer­tainly we will take it un­der ad­vise­ment,” Fager­heim said. In Al­berta, “we do not have a gov­ern­ment that is busi­ness friendly. We have con­tin­ued dia­logue with the Saskatchewan gov­ern­ment, right to the premier, who an­swers his cell­phone if you need to con­tact him.”

Af­ter more than two years of de­pressed oil prices and NDP poli­cies that have in­creased the cost of do­ing busi­ness, Al­berta has lost thou­sands of head of­fice jobs and many in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies have left, leav­ing half-empty of­fice tow­ers. The lat­est set­back came Wed­nes­day, when U.S. oil and gas com­pany Conoco-Phillips an­nounced the sale of its Cana­dian busi­ness to Cen­ovus En­ergy Inc. for $17.7 bil­lion.

With the Saskatchewan econ­omy also reel­ing from the oil down­turn, Wall is ap­proach­ing many com­pa­nies, Fager­heim said. Cres­cent Point En­ergy Corp. and Husky En­ergy Inc. are among those with large op­er­a­tions in Saskatchewan. Husky CEO Rob Pe­abody said in a re­cent in­ter­view that it plans to build a new as­phalt re­fin­ery ei­ther in Al­berta or Saskatchewan, de­pend­ing on which prov­ince of­fers the best con­di­tions.

The two pre­miers have been bick­er­ing since Not­ley was elected, re­sult­ing in many Al­ber­tans re­ly­ing on Wall to de­fend the in­ter­ests of the en­ergy sec­tor on the na­tional stage while their premier seemed more in­tent on push­ing through en­vi­ron­men­tal poli­cies.

In re­cent days, the two pre­miers have locked horns over each other’s bud­gets. The two prov­inces have taken dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to deal with rev­enue short­falls due to plum­met­ing re­source rev­enue.

Saskatchewan’s bud­get, re­leased last Wed­nes­day, will see the prov­ince’s sales tax in­creased one point to six per cent, a de­crease in gov­ern­ment fund­ing for a num­ber of pub­lic ser­vices, a re­duc­tion in wages for some 40,000 pub­lic em­ploy­ees, and slash­ing the pro­vin­cial bus com­pany along with its 224 jobs.

Al­berta, mean­while, is bor­row­ing heav­ily to cover both its cap­i­tal and op­er­at­ing costs while bank­ing on a sig­nif­i­cant boost in roy­al­ties and higher oil prices to ul­ti­mately bal­ance the ledger in six years.

Not­ley held up Wall’s tough bud­get last week as an ex­am­ple of what Al­ber­tans might ex­pect if there is a change in gov­ern­ment, chid­ing her op­po­nents as liv­ing in a “fan­ta­sy­land” for sug­gest­ing they can bal­ance the books with­out im­pact­ing front­line ser­vices or hik­ing taxes.

Wall took to Twit­ter over the week­end to fire back, post­ing an edi­to­rial car­toon lam­poon­ing Not­ley’s fis­cal plan while com­ment­ing: “This #skbud­get in­volved many tough de­ci­sions but last week, Premier Not­ley de­cided to give us some bud­get­ing ad­vice. Thanks, but no thanks.”

Duane Bratt, chair of pol­icy stud­ies at Mount Royal Univer­sity in Cal­gary, said the lat­est round is more about more than head of­fice re­lo­ca­tions.

“Wall is be­ing used by politi­cians in Al­berta as a piñata and has for two years,” Bratt said. “The con­ser­va­tives love him, and the NDP chal­lenge him. I sus­pect that you are go­ing to see (Con­ser­va­tive leader Ja­son) Ken­ney and (Wil­drose leader Brian) Jean and the rest of them pipe up over this dis­pute, by not blast­ing Brad Wall for try­ing to poach Cal­gary firms, but at­tack­ing Not­ley and say­ing she cre­ated the cir­cum­stances for Wall do­ing what he is do­ing.”

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