Energy sector loses an ally with Brad Wall’s departure
Yedlin: Energy sector loses an ally with Brad Wall’s departure
DEBORAH YEDLIN, CALGARY HERALD
Published on: August 11, 2017 | Last Updated: August 11, 2017 6:05 AM MDT
FILE PHOTO: Premier Brad Wall speaks with members of the media following the 2017 budget speech at the Legislative Building in Regina Wednesday, March 22, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS
The energy sector is one year away from losing a passionate and articulate advocate.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall took the political world by surprise on Thursday, announcing he will be retiring from politics.
The reaction from Canada’s energy sector could only be described as one of collective disappointment, though many expressed views that he will continue to be active and effective in a different role, once he determines what that should be.
Wall was the outspoken advocate — the guy who wasn’t afraid to link economic growth driven by natural resource development, talk of its importance not just to the province of Saskatchewan but to the entire country.
He got competitiveness. He understood the challenges faced by the oilpatch and the need for gaining access to new markets. He didn’t care for a carbon tax — and was very outspoken on what the implications were for trade-exposed industries.
His pronouncements on the subject of a carbon tax were received as positive by some, but not all; there was a sense that Wall was out of step with what was taking place on carbon pricing — not just in Canada but around the world.
That said, there is no denying he was — and is — passionate about his province and his country.
“He understood the economic pillars of Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia in an unusually experienced way … if it made sense, he’d stand up for the economic interests of Western Canada,” said Ken Hughes, former Alberta natural resources minister.
That’s why, when he was honoured by the Fraser Institute last November at a dinner in Calgary, he was welcomed and thanked with two standing ovations.
The master of ceremonies, Andrew Judson, went as far as proposing a trade of sorts that evening: Wall in exchange for a number of Calgary-based but Saskatchewan-born business leaders, including Murray Edwards, Brett Wilson and Grant Fagerheim.
“He was the only credible politician in my mind, in Canada, defending logic and reason on issues around climate change, on issues around the economy, around energy, around pipelines around competing with that other nation to the south,” said Wilson on Thursday. “He was the sole voice of reason in office.”
The news hit the same day as the B.C. government said it was seeking intervener status on the Trans Mountain Expansion project and it dramatically underscored the differences between the governments of B.C. and Saskatchewan.
Where one province thinks about the impact on the country, the other does not.
There is more than a wee bit of irony in the fact that the steel being used in the construction of the TME project will be coming from a mill in Regina.
In other words, energy development is not province-specific, neither when it comes to benefit nor when it comes to risk.
“I don’t think we have had a better advocate, across jurisdictions, that’s been able to build bridges for the betterment of the country since Peter Lougheed,” said Don Chynoweth, president of SNC Lavalin O&M Logistics.
On a provincial level, Wall has taken the approach — not unlike Lougheed — of the province coming first and the party second; if the government looked after the electorate during its mandate, it would be re-elected.
The current president and chief executive of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Tim McMillan, served as the minister for energy and resources under Wall.
“I had the pleasure to work with him for seven years,” said McMillan. “He was a very disciplined politician. He was clear it was your job to serve the citizens of Saskatchewan from whom you would be asking for support in the next election. He was unabashed in his belief that growth was important — not for growth’s sake but that growth allowed governments, his government, to invest in health care, social programs and in the people who needed it most.”
He was very good at tying the growth to the ability to provide services to the citizens of Saskatchewan.
“As premier, he represented everyone,” said McMillan.
And that included the energy sector when it needed a strong voice on the national stage.
McMillan said Wall was proud of Saskatchewan’s contribution to Canada’s energy sector and that he wanted to see it grow.
The fact Wall was unambiguous in wanting to see Saskatchewan as a place for energy companies to invest, meant there was certainty at a time when other provinces, such as Alberta, were changing policies.
For Scott Saxberg, president and CEO of Crescent Point Energy, the certainty provided by the investment climate in Saskatchewan — because the rules didn’t change — has been very important to his company through the years.
Equally important, said Saxberg, is the fact the province is willing to deal with industry — and companies — directly, as issues have surfaced; it’s an approach, he said, that’s not necessarily followed in other jurisdictions.
But it was during his first term as premier that Wall faced a big test: that would have been the hostile takeover bid for Potash Corp. by Australia’s BHP.
After much consultation — that included significant time with former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed — Wall came out against the bid, making a strong case for leaving Potash as a Canadian-owned company.
“That was a turning point for Saskatchewan because the province did not lose an important industry to a foreign player,” said Chynoweth, who has known Wall since 1989 when he worked for Chynoweth as a summer student in Saskatchewan.
Wall’s work on behalf of Canadian companies — mostly natural resources and agriculture — has extended south of the border, where he has played an important role in maintaining and expanding trading relationships through the complexity of changing administrations.
But there is one area, however, where the nationalism goes out the window and it becomes all about Saskatchewan: football.
Nothing comes between Wall and a Saskatchewan Roughriders game. So in that context, it’s a good thing he has a year before he steps down. By then, the Riders might have figured out how to play a decent game.