Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is calling on the federal government to do more to support the energy and agriculture sectors, saying in a speech at a convention of conservative figures that Canada should aspire to be an “energy superpower.”
Mr. Wall, who leads his province’s popular right-wing Saskatchewan Party, called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government to focus on giving American lawmakers “environmental elbow-room” while pushing for pipeline projects, such as Keystone XL, rather than focusing on the economic impacts. He also called on Ottawa to introduce long-delayed emissions regulations on the oil-and-gas sector.
Further, Mr. Wall also urged the federal Conservatives to do more to ease a mounting backlog of grain that has hurt farmers in the Prairies, saying Parliament should pass emergency legislation to ultimately force CN and CP to ship more grain by rail.
Mr. Wall made the comments Friday during an appearance at the Manning Networking Conference in Ottawa, a gathering of conservative figures where some of Mr. Harper’s cabinet ministers are also set to speak.
“We are an energy power. We ought to be aspirants to be an energy superpower. And then we ought to talk like it, and we ought to act like it,” Mr. Wall told delegates in a speech that drew regular applause and ended in a standing ovation.
He pushed back against opponents of energy development and said Canada needs to get its products – oil, grain and otherwise – to ocean ports to expand trade with Asia.
“Some of our leadership, some of our ‘elite’ are not very comfortable with these facts… some even ashamed of some of those things this place has to offer,” Mr. Wall said, adding: “This is a good thing for our country, for yours. We ought to be proud of it. We ought never to be ashamed we have these things the world wants.”
He called on the Harper government to finalize a free-trade deal with South Korea, and for Canada to continue to turn its focus to trade across the Pacific. “Folks, if you like free trade with Europe, you’re going to love freer trade with Asia,” he said.
After the speech, Mr. Wall told reporters the federal government has done well in addressing the grain backlog, but urged Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz to do more. Mr. Ritz has regularly slammed the rail companies over the last week, and his department has said Ottawa is considering all options to ease the grain backlog.
“We told Minister Ritz we would support even more aggressive action. I said that to the Prime Minister earlier in the week. That’s our message. I think they are looking at all the options,” Mr. Wall said, adding: “What’s at stake is the brand for the country in terms of reliability.”
Canada has already lost a grain buyer, Japan, and other countries are beginning to look elsewhere for reliable sources of food, Mr. Wall said. One option is for rail companies to sign agreements with grain companies to deliver more product. “The other option is for tougher action, maybe emergency legislative measures that will force these kinds of agreements,” he said.
He acknowledged that would amount to market intervention that runs against what his right-leaning party typically calls for. “But we have a [rail] duopoly here that’s really, at least in part anyway, the reason why our reliability brand around the world is in tough, and frankly we have farmers who can’t get paid for what they’ve grown,” Mr. Wall said. He also said Ottawa should consider lifting a cap on grain revenue to encourage rail companies to move more grain.
On energy, Mr. Wall said provinces “need” oil-and-gas-emissions regulations to come forward, but that Canada, the provinces and industry can start telling American lawmakers about environmental achievements without them.
“We all need to be doing more on the issue of pipelines, and we need to be engaged in the facts. I think we all should have been giving the administration in the United States more environmental elbow room… obviously our environmental record isn’t perfect, but compare it around the world,” Mr. wall said.
Canada has long focused on proclaiming the economic virtues of pipelines, he said. “What we now need to do is pivot to the environment.”
Mr. Wall is regularly asked if he’s considering making the jump to federal politics. The conference, led by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning’s think-tank, includes speeches from other conservative figures often touted as potential successors to Mr. Harper – including former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice and Employment Minister Jason Kenney. Mr. Wall, however, spoke only in English, said he is not studying French and has no interest in making the jump to federal politics.
“I’m still learning English,” he joked. “…I have the best job in Canada already. I think people should be asking Stephen Harper, don’t you really want to be the premier of Saskatchewan?”