RED DEER, Alta. – Cross-boundary political sniping between Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall has escalated over Wall’s attempt to poach oil and gas firms.
Wall’s government sent letters earlier this week to several Calgary-based energy companies offering them incentives to relocate to Saskatchewan. The government is offering to subsidize relocation costs, trim taxes and royalties and help find space in unused government buildings.
Notley on Thursday called Wall’s plan short-sighted and self-defeating. She said it probably breaks regional free-trade rules as well.
“The efforts of the province of Saskatchewan at this point likely do violate the New West Partnership as well as the (federal Agreement on Internal Trade),” Notley said in Red Deer where she was announcing a new courthouse.
“If I was a business owner that resided in a smaller market, say Saskatchewan, that depended on an agreement that gave me access to a bigger market, say Alberta, I would be very concerned.
“(The New West) trade agreement actually promotes back and forth of business operations that contribute to prosperity on both sides of the border. And you don’t touch one without pulling a really large string.”
Notley said her government will review the trade agreement and decide how to respond, but won’t pull out of the deal, which reduces trade barriers among the four western provinces.
The partnership allows for dispute resolution with fines that can reach $5 million.
Speaking in Regina, Wall said he doesn’t believe he is violating any trade agreements, although he acknowledged he did not consult legal counsel before sending the letters.
“We are letting folks know about existing policies. I think all provinces will continue to do that and have done that,” Wall said.
“We haven’t got a specific relocation program we are putting in the window … that would be counter to the spirit of those trade deals.”
Wall ruled out paying companies to relocate to Saskatchewan.
“There would never be a direct payment to any company like that. We would use existing tax tools.”
A tax incentive for companies that bring head office jobs to Saskatchewan was put in place years ago, Wall said. Companies could use money from it to defray things such as moving costs.
Notley said Wall’s policy lacks leadership and vision.
“In the long term, if we’re going to grow prosperity throughout Canada, what we need to do as government leaders is invest in growing businesses in our provinces, not trying to steal business from other provinces,” she said.
“That’s a zero-sum game and it doesn’t help everybody out in the long run.”
Scott Saxberg, CEO of Crescent Point Energy, said he received a letter from Wall this week, but it was nothing new. Wall asks him to move every time he sees him, he said.
Saxberg suggested Notley change her approach to Wall.
“She should be ‘Game on’ and try to attract more business to Calgary,” he suggested.
Last summer, Saskatchewan cried foul after Alberta rejigged beer markups and introduced grants to help Alberta craft brewers.
And last week the premiers traded barbs over their budgets.
— By Dean Bennett in Edmonton. With files from Dan Healing in Calgary