Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says people in his province feel “targeted” by Ottawa over the carbon tax and other environmental policies aimed at the energy industry.
Mr. Moe, one of a growing list of conservative premiers who have positioned themselves against the Trudeau government, says a string of federal policies are disproportionately affecting the Prairies. And he said that has meant the feeling of alienation behind Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s recent election victory is also flourishing in his own province.
“What you’re seeing is the cumulative effects of multiple policies – there’s a feeling that they’re being targeted,” Mr. Moe said during a recent meeting with The Globe and Mail’s editorial board.
Mr. Moe, who became premier in February of last year after winning the leadership of the Saskatchewan Party, has been among the most vocal opponents of the federal carbon tax. His government filed a constitutional challenge at the Saskatchewan Appeal Court, which narrowly upheld the tax in a ruling released earlier this month. Mr. Moe plans to appeal the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Mr. Moe argued the carbon tax is ineffective, unfairly targets consumers who don’t account for most of his province’s greenhouse gas emissions and doesn’t take into account real progress Saskatchewan has made to reduce emissions through measures such as carbon sequestration and innovation in the steel and agriculture industries.
He has also joined Mr. Kenney in opposing two pieces of federal legislation: Bill C-69, which would overhaul how resource projects such as pipelines are assessed; and Bill C-48, which would ban oil tanker traffic off British Columbia’s northern coast. Mr. Moe argues both pieces of legislation would hurt his own province’s oil and gas industry.
Mr. Moe has pledged to campaign against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the fall election, along with Mr. Kenney and Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
He has toyed with the idea of holding a referendum on reforming the federal equalization system, as Mr. Kenney has threatened to do, though Mr. Moe has not said whether he will actually call such a vote. He echoes Mr. Kenney’s complaints about the equalization formula, arguing Saskatchewan has paid into the system but doesn’t feel as though the rest of Canada is returning the favour.
“There’s a feeling of a stacking of policies that are detrimental to the industries that are predominantly driving the economies in Saskatchewan and Alberta, and there’s also a feeling that it’s precisely those economies that are driving the economic success of Canada,” he said.
“We’re not able to sustain this economic wealth if we don’t have the opportunity to grow that economic wealth.”
He also argues that feeling is spreading outside of the Prairies as more people feel disconnected with Ottawa.
Recent polls have suggested growing alienation and even support for separatism in Saskatchewan and Alberta. For example, a survey from the Environics Institute released earlier this year found the majority of respondents in Saskatchewan and Alberta said they get so little benefit from Confederation that they might as well leave.
Jim Farney, the head of the University of Regina’s politics and international studies department, said the province has always had a contingent of “Saskatchewan nationalists” that provincial governments of all stripes have appealed to.
He said Mr. Moe’s predecessor, Brad Wall, also presented himself as a champion of Saskatchewan but it was less of a factor when the federal government was controlled by the Conservatives under Stephen Harper. That changed by the time Mr. Moe took office.
“It’s the note that that they keep striking and I’d say there’s really no other dominant issue,” said Dr. Farney, referring to opposition to the federal government. “It’s really framed as Saskatchewan versus Ottawa.”
Dr. Farney said he expects that message to grow louder ahead of the federal election and into the provincial election next year. “It’s a winning provincial strategy.”
Joseph Garcea, who teaches politics at the University of Saskatchewan, said it’s unlikely that most people in the province are really serious about secession, but it’s clear many people are disenchanted with the federal government.
At the same time, he said politicians such as Mr. Moe have done their part to whip up the flames of alienation and separatism.
“They have to understand that they’re not just responding to any flames that may be out there, but they are fanning them with gusto,” he said.
“That isn’t saying there isn’t validity to the concerns. They are echoing what people want them to echo, but they have to admit that they are echoing it for their own partisan purposes.”