Wyant would sue feds on equal­iza­tion if premier

Sask. Party lead­er­ship hope­ful prom­ises to take a hard line on equal­iza­tion pay­ment for­mula

Prince Albert Daily Herald - - ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT - ARTHUR WHITE-CRUMMEY

It wasn’t long ago that Gord Wyant gave up his fed­eral Lib­eral mem­ber­ship.

Now, he’s vow­ing to take a hard line against Ot­tawa if he be­comes premier.

One of five in the run­ning to lead the Saskatchewan Party, the for­mer jus­tice min­is­ter called equal­iza­tion a “fun­da­men­tally flawed sys­tem” and said fed­eral hes­i­ta­tions over pipe­lines could “threaten the unity of this coun­try.”

In a Wed­nes­day press re­lease, Wyant said he’ll chal­lenge the fed­eral equal­iza­tion sys­tem, which is in­tended to even out the tax base among Cana­dian prov­inces by trans­fer­ring bil­lions to prov­inces con­sid­ered “have-nots.” But the whole thing re­lies on a for­mula, which Wyant said he’ll push to change when it comes up for rene­go­ti­a­tion in 2019.

He said Saskatchewan’s oil and gas rev­enues, which help throw us into the cat­e­gory of a “have” prov­ince, should be ex­empted – just like non-re­new­ables.

“Prov­inces like Man­i­toba and Que­bec have sig­nif­i­cant hy­dro re­sources, and those hy­dro re­sources aren’t counted,” Wyant said.

“When equal­iza­tion is paid by a prov­ince like Saskatchewan they are, in ef­fect, un­der­writ­ing the util­ity cost of peo­ple who live in those prov­inces.

“I think that there’s a fun­da­men­tal un­fair­ness about that,” he said.

“My gov­ern­ment would take a very strong line on rene­go­ti­at­ing that pro­gram to make sure it’s fair for ev­ery­one in this coun­try.”

Wyant said he’s aware of the op­po­si­tion his pro­posal would meet with, es­pe­cially from the six cur­rent have-not prov­inces, which stand to lose the most from any changes. But he said he wants to push as hard as he can if elected leader, and is pre­pared to re-ini­ti­ate a law­suit to chal­lenge the cur­rent for­mula in court.

“I’m un­der no il­lu­sions that other prov­inces who are ben­e­fi­cia­ries of equal­iza­tion, par­tic­u­larly Québec, are go­ing to jump in and say, ‘yeah, let’s rene­go­ti­ate be­cause it’s un­fair to Saskatchewan and Al­berta,” he said.

“I sus­pect we are go­ing to have a very stren­u­ous ar­gu­ment on our hands.

“But as a gov­ern­ment we need to stand up.”

Wyant went as far as cas­ti­gat­ing Québec for help­ing block the En­ergy East pipe­line, ar­gu­ing that they’re bit­ing the hand that feeds them.

“It just bog­gles my mind that a prov­ince like Québec would ob­ject to a prov­ince like Saskatchewan ex­port­ing its re­sources when a part of that re­source rev­enue goes di­rectly into an equal­iza­tion pool,” he said.

Pipe­line is­sues are on Wyant’s list of pol­icy beefs with the feds, a list that also in­cludes car­bon taxes, busi­ness tax changes and the specifics of mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion. He said Canada needs to have an “hon­est na­tional dis­cus­sion about pipe­lines.” The cur­rent de­bate, he ar­gued, is based more on “hys­te­ria” than science.

He said Canada could be­come “en­ergy self-suf­fi­cient” by mov­ing west­ern oil and gas east. He also ar­gued that pipe­lines are safer than rail, and cited Lac-Mé­gan­tic-type dis­as­ters to make the point. But in Wyant’s view, much more is at stake: the very no­tion of Canada as a fed­er­a­tion.

“This chal­lenge on pipe­lines, it is a real chal­lenge, and it does in some re­spects threaten the unity of this coun­try,” he said.

“I’m a proud Cana­dian and I want to see this coun­try united.”

Wyant de­fended Premier Brad Wall’s com­bat­ive ap­proach on the pipe­line de­bate. If he be­comes premier, he said he would con­tinue to loudly air con­cerns over fed­eral moves that are “po­ten­tially dam­ag­ing to our econ­omy.” But he also stressed the im­por­tance of “open dis­cus­sion” with other parts of the fed­er­a­tion.

“We need to be work­ing with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and our pro­vin­cial coun­ter­parts to strengthen this coun­try, not weaken it through petty pol­i­tics,” he said.

Un­til re­cently, Wyant was a card­car­ry­ing Lib­eral in fed­eral pol­i­tics. He said his move to give up his party mem­ber­ship could help him cre­ate dis­tance from the feds. He ex­plained that some peo­ple were ques­tion­ing him on his con­nec­tions to the Trudeau gov­ern­ment.

“I needed to make it per­fectly clear where my loy­alty was,” he said.

“Peo­ple might think you’re be­holden to two dif­fer­ent en­ti­ties. I think it’s pretty clear you need to make sure the peo­ple of Saskatchewan know where your pri­or­i­ties are, and my pri­or­i­ties will be stand­ing up for the peo­ple of this prov­ince.”

“That’s why I gave up my mem­ber­ship,” he said.

“You don’t want peo­ple think­ing you have some di­vided loy­alty be­tween a fed­eral party and your own prov­ince.”

PHOTO COUR­TESY GORD WYANT/TWIT­TER

Gord Wyant said he will chal­lenge the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in court on the equal­iza­tion pay­ment for­mula if he is cho­sen as Sask. Party leader

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