Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe came to tell the country he’s angry. He’s mad as hell, and he’s going to open trade offices.
Stay tuned, Mr. Moe said after meeting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday, because Saskatchewan is so annoyed at Ottawa it is going to announce steps to increase its autonomy, including sending trade officers to foreign countries.
That’s where we are now. Mr. Moe, like Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, is coming up with ways to do things Ottawa does, as though that means striking a blow for the cause. Mr. Kenney has floated ideas such as creating an Alberta tax agency or replacing the Mounties with Alberta Provincial Police.
It is about expressing anger, and Mr. Moe came to Ottawa for that purpose.
The Premier demanded that Mr. Trudeau swallow himself whole, by putting the federal carbon tax on hold. He also called for the federal government to revamp equalization payments. And then he walked out to say that the Prime Minister wasn’t willing to commit to anything. So he’s going to increase Saskatchewan’s autonomy.
There’s a moment here that folks in all provinces should stop to look at. It is both potentially important for the future of Confederation and no solution at all to the problem that is frustrating people in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
To vent at a frustration with the way the federation is working now, Mr. Kenney and Mr. Moe are vowing withdrawal from Canadian institutions and arrangements. But none of that will make it easier to get oil to markets.
Leave aside the two provinces’ demands for a revamp of equalization payments and related programs. That won’t solve Alberta’s and Saskatchewan’s energy-industry problem either, but both Premiers essentially say that demand is leverage, a way of making a point by making a threat that they will oppose equalization if the rest of the country doesn’t address the oil patch’s struggles.
Those other autonomist, provincial-power steps don’t even make that kind of point.
The rest of the country isn’t going to worry if Saskatchewan opens trade missions in foreign countries. Several provinces already have them.
Mr. Moe said he’s thinking of other things, too. Maybe he’s taking inspiration from Mr. Kenney’s ideas about asserting provincial autonomy. And most of them are just as irrelevant to the current issue.
Alberta isn’t going to advance pipelines, or its provincial power, by creating its own revenue agency. Quebec has its own tax collectors, and let there be no doubt, that is not the source of Québécois pride. Replacing Mounties with Alberta Provincial Police will not change Alberta-Ottawa dynamics over the thorny issue of addressing emissions in a resource economy.
Maybe, over time, that kind of autonomist trend will lead to a looser federation. Perhaps sooner: If Mr. Kenney and Mr. Moe are serious about provincial autonomy, they’ll find an ally in Quebec Premier François Legault.
Maybe that’s a satisfying thought for frustrated Westerners. It just won’t provide a satisfying solution. It won’t lead to pipelines or investment.
The demands for an immediate revamp of equalization aren’t likely to produce satisfaction, either.
But Mr. Trudeau isn’t the only one who won’t be eager to commit to an unspecified reform – just about every other premier would have qualms. A spokesman for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, whose party holds every federal seat in Saskatchewan, said only that Mr. Scheer looks forward to premiers’ proposals for making the system fairer.
And Mr. Moe knew Mr. Trudeau was never going to put a complete hold on carbon taxes. It’s his signature policy, and the way he justifies the Trans-Mountain pipeline expansion. Mr. Moe might have pressed for exemptions from the carbon tax for grain dryers, for example. Or he might have asked for new negotiations on industrial carbon pricing or specific concessions on Bill C-69, the new federal law governing reviews of major energy projects. Maybe he could have pressed Mr. Trudeau to express the view that the goal is reducing emissions, not shutting off investment.
But this was a forum for Mr. Moe to express frustration. Many in Saskatchewan will be glad he did. Touting moves toward autonomy is a way of expressing that frustration, too. Creating Saskatchewan trade commissioners and Alberta tax collectors isn’t going to change the issues underlying them.
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