Saskatchewan's Wall Last Tory Standing in Canada Liberal Shift

  • Provincial premier says he's concerned about deficit vogue
  • Wall says oil industry paying bills in Canada for a long time

Brad Wall is now something of a lonesome figure in Canadian politics -- a conservative provincial leader amid a growing throng of Liberals.

On Monday, six weeks after Liberal Justin Trudeau won a decisive federal victory, voters in oil-producing Newfoundland and Labrador ended 12 years of Progressive Conservative reign, kicking out Premier Paul Davis’ party and handing power to Dwight Ball’s Liberals, who won a convincing majority.

The fall of conservative leaders like Davis and Alberta’s Jim Prentice earlier this year leaves Wall, premier of oil-producing Saskatchewan, as the only conservative premier among Canada’s 10 provinces. Wall says the string of election results that steadily knocked aside conservative governments in Canada this year is making him a lone voice against deficit spending.

"We’re sort of walking into an era where political parties -- and to some extent maybe Canadians -- are accepting of structural and maybe even significant deficits, and that concerns me," Wall told Bloomberg News Monday in a telephone interview from Paris, where he’s attending a climate summit with Trudeau, who campaigned on a pledge to run deficits to stoke growth. "You cannot do that interminably.”

Holding Fort

Saskatchewan, Canada’s sixth-most-populous with 1.1 million people, has New Democrat neighbors to the east and west, while Liberals govern federally and in every other province. The Liberal resurgence leaves Wall’s Saskatchewan Party holding the conservative fort. Canada’s thinly populated northern territories have one right-leaning party in power, led by Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski, while British Columbia’s governing Liberals have traditionally been a coalition of the center-right that included conservatives.

Wall’s party heads to the polls early next year, aiming to avoid defeats that befell the conservative leaders in Newfoundland and Alberta, two provinces also hit by the oil price shock. Slumping crude prices should lead to caution among Canadian policymakers, particularly on emissions policy, Wall said from Paris.

"The energy economy of Western Canada has shed thousands and thousands of jobs, and there’s no prospect for immediate recovery," he said. "Were this any other sector in Canada’s economy, there would be a race to bail out the industry from governments and, frankly, much more coverage of the issue, but there isn’t. So we’re going to continue to speak for the importance of the energy sector, of the oil and gas sector specifically, in Canada."

Saskatchewan has advocated investments in carbon capture and other technological innovations to help lower global emissions while pushing against any domestic environmental rules that would add to the Canadian oil patch’s woes.

‘Paying Bills’

"We want to make sure that whatever we’re doing with respect to the environment remembers how we’ve been paying bills in this country for a long, long time, and I just hope there’s that generosity in the rest of Canada, and with our federal government," he said. "Maybe we should be focused on new technologies that can help clean up transitional fossil fuels in other parts of the world."

Wall acknowledges conservatives across Canada have hit a slump, punctuated by Trudeau’s defeat of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, because they haven’t been able to articulate a convincing vision. “We don’t finish the sentence,” Wall said of fellow conservatives. “The start of the sentence is usually something like, ‘I support lower taxes that might lead to expanded GDP,’ and then we don’t finish it. And the end of that sentence isn’t actually even job creation, we want to create jobs. We have to speak to quality of life.”

His own province is projected to run a deficit of C$262.2 million ($197 million) this fiscal year amid the oil price shock, figures released Monday show. Wall said the government is working to return to surplus, and that low taxes and restrained spending lead to a stronger economy, which can support social programs. Wall cited his own government’s funding of programs for people with intellectual disabilities.

"You can’t do any of it without a strong economy, so that’s the end of the sentence. It’s the quality of life we seek for Canadians, in my case for Saskatchewan. That would be my advice for conservatives."

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