Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is taking issue with his fellow first ministers over their long-promised Canadian energy strategy, saying it focuses more on environmental issues than on the prosperity that oil and gas has brought to the country.
He says "oil" is not a dirty word. In reading and rereading the draft of the strategy – which premiers have been working on for three years and hope to unveil on Friday at their summer meeting – Mr. Wall said he sees "low carbon, post-carbon" and "climate change" about 37 times, while oil is mentioned about three times.
And he has especially annoyed Alberta's new NDP Premier, Rachel Notley, with references to a report that her recent statement that Quebec is right to want meaningful action on climate change before endorsing an east-west pipeline means she would give a veto to other provinces if they don't like her energy policies.
"That's ridiculous. That's simply ridiculous," she said when asked about it on Thursday.
The tension between the neighbouring premiers is evident at this conference, with Ms. Notley making veiled references to Mr. Wall's remarks, saying her style is one of developing a "thoughtful and mature and collaborative relationship with my colleagues."
Later, Mr. Wall's communications official, Kathy Young, e-mailed reporters a response to what she characterized as Ms. Notley accusing Premier Wall of "showboating."
"Premier Wall says that if standing up for your industry and your province is showboating, take me to the bridge," the e-mail said.
The other premiers, including this year's host, Newfoundland and Labrador's Paul Davis, avoided getting mixed up in the war of words between Alberta and Saskatchewan. Mr. Davis said he is optimistic the premiers can reach an agreement on the energy strategy. They will talk about it again on Friday.
At last year's conference on Prince Edward Island, Ontario's Kathleen Wynne and Quebec's Philippe Couillard seized the leadership on the energy strategy, which originated with Alison Redford, the former Alberta premier. Ms. Redford's version was more focused on pipelines than fighting climate change – but the two central Canadian premiers were able to give environmental issues equal standing.
On Thursday, Ms. Wynne told reporters the discussions behind closed doors have been "constructive." She was clear that she is not backing down on her push for a balanced strategy.
"I understand the benefits to this country, the benefits to Ontario of the oil and gas industry in Alberta," she said. "At the same time, we have to recognize that we have a responsibility, an economic and moral responsibility, to deal with the effects of climate change." She added: "That is the challenge of putting together a strategy like this where there are competing interests."
Mr. Couillard said it is "absolutely necessary in a Canadian energy strategy you also find reference to climate change." About the proposed strategy on the table, Mr. Couillard said, "Balance is there."
Mr. Wall agreed that balance is necessary: "We should be talking about sustainability, but also proudly proclaim the fact that we have great oil and gas reserves. It's provided huge economic prosperity for Canada on the strength of which we pay for social programs and equalization."
Mr. Wall said he wants the energy strategy to recognize the importance of moving oil across Canada for three reasons: to maximum the value for Canadians, to create more value-added opportunities and to replace foreign oil.
"We are importing foreign oil from Venezuela and sometimes from the Middle East," he said, "and that makes no sense on any planet at any given time, in any dimension."
The Saskatchewan Premier has been dealing lately with devastating forest fires in his province, and was not sure he would attend the meeting. He decided at the last minute to come to ensure his province's voice was heard and that "oil and gas is not something we should be ashamed of."
He told The Globe he is upset with the proposed strategy, likening his feelings to an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer wants to buy a gun but is informed he has to be patient because there is five-day waiting period.
"Five days? But I'm mad now," Homer says.