Brad Wall warns the oilpatch is under siege by activists
Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall warns the oilpatch is under siege by activists
Published on: June 8, 2016 | Last Updated: June 8, 2016 7:13 PM MDT
In a speech to the Explorers and Producers Association of Canada at the Petroleum Club, Wall slammed the idea of a national carbon tax and took aim at both the United States government for rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline and other Canadian provinces for throwing up obstacles to energy transportation projects.
Wall, whose Saskatchewan Party was recently re-elected for a third term, said the energy industry needs defenders against “an ever-growing matrix of activists,” citing proponents of the Leap Manifesto within the NDP and the divestment movement that calls for companies and public bodies to shed their energy holdings.
“Today, there continues an existential threat to this industry, this industry that is so important in my province,” he told an appreciative luncheon crowd.
“We’re in the middle of a battle and, frankly, we haven’t been winning too many battles. By we, I mean this sector and the resource importance of Western Canada.”
Wall said both the oilpatch and governments have to keep making the case about the economic importance of the energy industry in Canada and its commitment to operating in an environmentally sustainable manner.
He said polls show there is support for energy development and pipelines in Canada, meaning that “social licence” for projects already exists.
Alberta’s NDP government has launched a sweeping climate change plan, including a new broad-based carbon tax and an increase to its existing carbon levy on large emitters, in part to win social licence for pipelines that would ship oilsands crude to coastal waters and open new markets.
Wall repeatedly stressed that his Saskatchewan Party government will not introduce carbon pricing at this point, when low energy prices are dragging down both resource industries and the broader Canadian economy.
But Wall told reporters he will not criticize any other provincial government for its approach.
“Alberta has made their decision. I think the timing for another new national tax, carbon tax or levy of some sort, is just wrong,” he said, comparing the situation to a hypothetical new tax on vehicles being introduced when the auto industry was in turmoil during the economic crisis of 2008-09.
Wall also praised Premier Rachel Notley for “a good job making the case for pipelines,” though the Saskatchewan premier acknowledged he is trying to attract energy investment from Alberta to his own province.
While the governments of the two neighbouring provinces have occasionally sniped at each other, NDP Finance Minister Joe Ceci said Wall and Notley are “collaborators on important things like supporting the energy industry.”
“They’ll continue to do that in the best interests of their own provinces, but certainly for Canada.”
Gary Leach, president of the Explorers and Producers Association of Canada, praised Wall’s tough talk on energy issues and noted it hadn’t affected his standing as the most popular premier in the country.
“I would suggest other political leaders give it a try,” he said at the end of Wall’s speech
Leach told reporters he wouldn’t comment on the different approaches of the Alberta and Saskatchewan governments, saying he would wish them both luck.
But he said the increased carbon costs in Alberta could affect investment in the province.
“It’s a potential risk,” said Leach. “The extent to which our industry is shouldering a competitive burden that our competitors are not, that is a serious concern.”
Wall said he isn’t suggesting governments shouldn’t try to curb greenhouse gas emissions but he downplayed Canada’s 1.6 per cent contribution to global carbon output. He said Canadian jurisdictions should be focusing more of their efforts on adaptation measures and new technology, pointing to Saskatchewan’s $1.5-billion investment in carbon capture and storage for a coal-fired power plant.
Wall’s message was met with skepticism in some quarters, however.
Simon Dyer, of the Pembina Institute environmental think tank, noted Alberta’s carbon pricing plan had won the support of oilpatch heavyweights CNRL, Suncor, Cenovus and Shell.
Wall’s government, in contrast, has repeatedly delayed its own plan for a carbon levy on large emitters since it was first introduced in 2009. At the same time, Saskatchewan’s greenhouse gas emissions are slated to quickly rise, while Canada has committed to significant reductions, said Dyer.
“Saskatchewan’s talking points are a little bit behind the times, still focused on framing this as a communications battle and ‘Us versus Them,’ rather than taking responsibility,” he said.