Spat heats up between Wall and Notley
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.”