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Politics Notley, meet Wall: Tensions brewing between western premiers

Queen's Park reporter Jane Taber takes an inside look at the week in politics.

Canadian premiers gather in St. John's on Thursday, July 16. Rachel Notley is in the first row, third from the right, and Brad Wall is to her right. (Canadian Press)

Tension between the prairie premiers

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley was the belle of the ball at the recent premiers’ conference in St. John’s. Newly elected and a New Democrat to boot, Ms. Notley was still a curiosity as she had a chance to meet all of her colleagues.

But one premier kept his distance – Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall, one of the veterans of the group and a conservative. It was clear from comments made by both premiers – and also off-the-record conversations with aides – that premiers Wall and Notley are not best buddies. The bad blood seems to stretch back to just after Ms. Notley’s government was elected in May. Alberta officials were peeved that Mr. Wall’s economy minister, Bill Boyd, went to a big energy exhibition in Calgary a month after the NDP was elected and told participants that if they were worried about the province’s policies, they could invest in Saskatchewan. A Notley aide referred to that as unhelpful.

Then came the meeting of the premiers in St. John’s last week, when Ms. Notley finally met her neighbour – at least they saw each other during their discussions and at other events. At the closing press conference, the two were seated at opposite ends of the table, and Mr. Wall was not listening to Ms. Notley’s intervention on the new national energy strategy as he was chatting amiably with B.C. Premier Christy Clark.

Mr. Wall came to the meeting concerned that Canada’s oil and gas industry was being characterized as a liability rather than an asset that provides jobs and prosperity. “Oil and gas is not something we should be ashamed of,” he said. He repeatedly said oil is not a “four-letter word.” His comments were provocative and unrelenting. He was the lone premier at the conference mounting a strong defence of the energy industry as premiers finalized their national energy strategy, which also focused on climate change. He was critical of Ms. Notley’s approach to climate change, suggesting, for example, she was giving Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard a veto on the Energy East pipeline if he does not like her environmental policies. Ms. Notley called that notion ridiculous.

An Alberta senior aide who did not want to be identified went even further, calling Mr. Wall’s behaviour at the conference sad and embarrassing, and saying he was trying to appeal to Saskatchewan voters and improve his fundraising as he approaches a provincial election. The aide suggested Mr. Wall was accustomed to controling the Alberta Tories, and has met his match in Ms. Notley, who showed during the provincial campaign how effective she is at taking down conservative male politicians. There was no comment from Mr. Wall’s office. Meanwhile, Ms. Notley’s spokesman, Matthew Williamson, said Alberta’s goal is to “build long-term and productive relationships with leaders across the country to stand up for Albertans and improve market access for our resources.”

Eve Adams and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau announce Ms. Adams is crossing the floor from the Conservatives, on Monday, Feb. 9. (Canadian Press)

Adams' nomination fight

It’s all about Eve on Sunday as Eve Adams, who crossed the floor from the Conservatives to join Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in February, vies for the Liberal nomination in Eglinton-Lawrence. Insiders are saying this will be a competitive battle for the candidacy of the Toronto riding, and no one can predict the outcome.

Whoever wins is not assured of becoming the MP. The riding is represented by Tory Finance Minister Joe Oliver and, with the Liberals slumping in the polls, picking up seats in Toronto is looking more and more difficult.

Ms. Adams is running against Marco Mendicino, a lawyer with a young family who lives in the riding. He has some big endorsements, including former Liberal MP and interim leader Bob Rae, MP Judy Sgro and MPP Mike Colle. One senior Toronto Liberal says both teams aggressively signed up members, but Ms. Adams’ team has sold more memberships than Mr. Mendicino’s has. In the end, it all comes down to turnout. Mr. Mendicino may have more of a connection with his constituents, who could be more motivated to come out, he noted.

Ms. Adams is controversial among both Tories and Liberals. Elected in 2011 as the Conservative MP for Mississauga-Brampton South, she had sought the Conservative nomination in another riding, Oakville North-Burlington. But she abandoned that bid, and her partner, former Stephen Harper aide Dimitri Soudas, and left the party amid allegations he interfered in her nomination. Mr. Trudeau trumpeted Ms. Adams’s defection at a nationally televised press conference last February. This angered some Toronto Liberals, who were not consulted about her move and riding choice. Despite Mr. Trudeau’s endorsement, party officials say the nomination is truly open. However, some Liberals believe it may be rigged in Ms. Adams’ favour. Her campaign is being managed by Tom Allison, a formidable Ontario organizer. He was asked to help out and did so for the team, some insiders say. The fact that it has taken months for the party to call the nomination meeting suggests to some Liberals that the party was waiting until Mr. Allison was able to sell more memberships than Ms. Adams’ opponent.

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