Thursday, July 17, 2008

Equalization: Premier Brad Wall sets new standard for hypocrisy and betrayal; elephant in the room is Prime Minister Stephen Harper, not litigation



Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has set a new standard for hypocrisy and betrayal.

After stalling and stringing people along for eight months the Saskatchewan Party government has officially abandoned a reference to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal on the equalization issue.

The announcement was made by Justice Minister Don Morgan on July 10, 2008.

Morgan said the challenge has been hampering federal-provincial negotiations.

“The litigation is always the elephant in the room when you’re trying to negotiate something. So we’d just as soon try and not have that there at all,” Morgan told The Canadian Press.

On the contrary, for anyone that has followed this issue closely the real elephant in the room has been Prime Minister Stephen Harper whose presence seems to hang over the Saskatchewan Legislature Building like a dark, threatening cloud.

Morgan neglected to mention that Premier Brad Wall said on June 13, 2007 that he supported the legal challenge in principle. On Oct. 4, 2007 he said “If there’s a chance to win this case we ought to pursue it.”

When the federal Liberals were in power Opposition Leader Brad Wall was relentless in his attacks for a fair deal for Saskatchewan, but after the Harper Conservatives took the reins in Jan. 2006, Wall eased off, speaking up occasionally, but careful not to upset the elephant in Ottawa too much. After all on Nov. 29, 2005, he said he was voting for them.

“Regardless of who forms the federal government, the Saskatchewan Party will always fight for Saskatchewan interests. The commitments on equalization and agriculture must be kept by the new Parliament,” Wall said in a Jan. 24, 2006 news release.

There was no talk then, as there is now, about downgrading expectations to accepting “the equivalent or more of an equalization deal,” which can only result in a war of numbers.

On Oct. 10, 2007, the day the provincial election was called, Wall said he was asking voters “for a mandate to demand and negotiate a fair deal for the people of Saskatchewan.”

After winning the election, though, Wall seemed to disappear down the nearest gopher hole. He drew closer to Harper and began ignoring past promises. As premier he has failed to do the things that he demanded of former Premier Lorne Calvert.

The following is a timeline of Premier Brad Wall’s road to hypocrisy and betrayal:

Feb. 25, 2005: Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall demands that equalization be the first order of business in the upcoming spring session of the legislative assembly that begins on March 14.

“The message that came out of last week’s all-party meeting on a better deal for Saskatchewan under the equalization program is this: we have to ramp up the fight,” Wall said.

“The Saskatchewan Party wants an emergency debate on equalization on opening day,” Wall said. “And what could be a better present for Saskatchewan’s centennial than a new equalization deal for the province?” [Saskatchewan Party news release, Feb. 25, 2005]

The Hansard shows that Premier Lorne Calvert agreed with the Saskatchewan Party’s request. It’s interesting to note that on Mar. 20, 2007, the Opposition Saskatchewan Party would not allow debate on an emergency motion from the NDP expressing disappointment in the federal budget. Then on Mar. 17, 2008, Premier Brad Wall refused to agree to an NDP call for an emergency debate on equalization at the legislature.

Mar. 14, 2005: NDP and the Opposition Saskatchewan Party unanimously pass a motion in the legislature asking the federal government for a “Saskatchewan Energy Accord” and urging reforms to the system to recognize that natural resources are non-renewable.

“Leave of the Assembly having been granted, pursuant to Rule 49, it was moved by the Hon. Mr. Calvert, seconded by Mr. Wall:

“That this Assembly urge the Prime Minister and the Federal Minister of Finance to respect the principle of equity in the treatment of provincial energy revenues and immediately begin negotiations with the Government of Saskatchewan on the achievement of a Saskatchewan Energy Accord that guarantees 100 per cent protection from Equalization claw backs on its energy revenues beginning in the 2005-06 fiscal year;

“And further, that this Assembly urge the Prime Minister and the Federal Minister of Finance to introduce reforms to the manner in which Equalization entitlements are determined to recognize that natural resources are non-renewable, and that the financial benefits from the depletion of these resources should remain with the province that owns them, and that any program reforms include the return to a national determination of provincial fiscal disparities.

“A debate arising and the question being put, it was agreed to.” [No. 72, Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly, Province of Saskatchewan, March 14, 2005]

Mar. 21, 2005: Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall makes a presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance Subcommittee on Fiscal Imbalance. The committee stopped in Regina as part of a series of hearings across Canada, gathering information on the fiscal imbalance between provinces and the federal government.

In his address to the committee, Wall said “the equalization formula is fundamentally flawed in at least three areas: inclusion of non-renewable oil and gas revenues; the use of national proxies to measure Saskatchewan’s mining tax base; and the use of a five province standard to establish the average fiscal capacity of all ten provinces.”

“We in Saskatchewan also acknowledged the value of the accords to the people of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia while making the legitimate point that Saskatchewan families deserve the same deal.

“The Atlantic Agreements essentially allow Newfoundland and Nova Scotia to retain 100% revenues generated for their respective governments by offshore oil and gas.

“The agreements also ensure that any reduction in equalization entitlements to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia triggered by offshore oil and gas revenues will be paid back to those provinces from outside the equalization funding envelope,” said Wall.

“The Official Opposition strongly supports the position taken by Premier Calvert in calling for a Saskatchewan Energy Accord.”

Wall also told the committee “We see it as a simple decision for the Prime Minister and his Liberal Government to make.

“If Mr. Martin believes in fairness, he should immediately support Saskatchewan’s call for an Energy Accord that allows our province to retain 100% of our oil and gas revenue without losing equalization entitlements.

“If Mr. Martin believes Saskatchewan families do not deserve the same fair treatment his government recognized is appropriate for families in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, then he will deny our province’s request for a Saskatchewan Energy Accord.”

Wall went on to say “[I]n Saskatchewan, the federal government has been confiscating between 90 percent and 108 percent of our non-renewable oil and gas revenue for the past five years.

“In effect, Saskatchewan is not being given access to its oil and gas resource revenues.

It is worth noting…that over the same five year time frame, the provinces of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia have been able to retain more than 100% of off-shore oil and gas revenues.

“I question how that kind of disparity, created by the equalization formula, contributes to achievement of a fiscal balance which is the very purpose of the federal equalization program?”

“Clearly, any formula, equalization or otherwise, that allows the federal government to confiscate virtually all of the oil and gas revenue that rightfully belongs to the people of Saskatchewan is fundamentally flawed and needs to be fixed,” Wall said.

“To summarize, the Official Opposition Saskatchewan Party urges the subcommittee to recommend three long term changes to the federal equalization formula that will restore fairness and address the fiscal imbalance that exists in Canada today:

1) use of a ten province standard to determine relative fiscal capacity of each province for the purpose of calculating equalization entitlements;

2) exclude non-renewable oil and gas revenues from the calculation of equalization entitlements; and

3) return to four separate mining tax bases instead of using proxies to determine the fiscal capacity of the mining sector in each province.

“I want to conclude by emphasizing that, for Saskatchewan, the first critical step in finding a solution to Canada’s fiscal imbalance is the immediate negotiation of a Saskatchewan Energy Accord that allows Saskatchewan the same opportunity to retain 100% of our oil and gas revenues without an equalization penalty as was recently afforded the provinces of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.”

“Members of the subcommittee, Saskatchewan families deserve no less than the same fair deal.” [Brad Wall, Leader of the Official Opposition, Presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance Subcommittee on Fiscal Imbalance, Monday, March 21, 2005]

Premier Brad Wall refuses to defend Saskatchewan like this today.

May 12, 2005: Responding to questions regarding Premier Lorne Calvert’s trip to Ottawa for equalization meetings with Finance Minister Ralph Goodale and a discussion with Prime Minister Paul Martin, Opposition leader Brad Wall said the benchmark for success remains the exclusion of resource revenues unless the premier comes back with a whopping check.

“If we get a deal that’s the same as Atlantic Canada he will hear good things from the Opposition. And if he falls short of that it’s our job to hold him accountable,” Wall told reporters. [Calvert could come home with empty cap in hand (Leader-Post, May 13, 2005)]

Nov. 28, 2005: Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall tells reporters that Premier Lorne Calvert must be more aggressive in his tactics on equalization during the election campaign and should ask for meetings with every major figure campaigning in the province.

“Meet with them after a (media) scrum where the cameras are rolling or in a private room, whatever it takes to make the case,” said Wall.

“It’s far short of pulling down a flag but yeah, it’s an idea that’s out there a little bit for sure. You can make sure the premier’s not waiting around and hoping he doesn’t turn and walk the other way . . . we gotta make the case a little more loudly than we have and if that means getting in the face of federal politicians regardless of their party, then let’s do that.” [Calvert to push Martin on equalization deal (StarPhoenix, Nov 29, 2005)]

Since becoming premier, Wall has hypocritically refused to get in the faces of federal Conservative politicians in Ottawa.

Nov. 29, 2005: The elephant enters the room. Reacting to the fall of the Liberal minority government on Nov. 28 and the national election set for Jan. 23, 2006, Saskatchewan Party leader Brad Wall said the best way to advance Saskatchewan’s interests is to vote for the Harper Conservative’s.

“You know, there are two parties that are interested in an energy accord, support an energy accord for Saskatchewan,” he said. “One of them has a chance to form the government and the other doesn’t.”

Wall said that means he’ll be voting Conservative. [Calvert, Wall weigh in on federal race (CBC News, Nov. 29, 2005)]

As it turned out Wall was wrong, the Harper government had no interest and does not support an energy accord for Saskatchewan.

Jan. 24, 2006: Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall congratulates the elephant, Stephen Harper, and the Conservative Party of Canada on their victory in the Jan. 23 federal election. In the news release Wall said that with 12 members on the government side of the House the province will have its strongest voice in Ottawa in many years.

“The Conservative Party election platform contains positive commitments for Saskatchewan and it’s important for Saskatchewan that these commitments are kept,” Wall said. “Chief among these commitments is a promise to revamp Canada’s unfair and outdated equalization program.”

Wall requested that a new equalization formula be retroactive to April 1, 2006; and that non-renewable resource revenue be removed from the calculations used for equalization payments to Saskatchewan.

“The importance of a fair equalization deal for Saskatchewan transcends provincial and federal politics and it needs to get done quickly. And I am committed to doing what ever it takes to make sure that happens,” Wall said.

“Regardless of who forms the federal government, the Saskatchewan Party will always fight for Saskatchewan interests. The commitments on equalization and agriculture must be kept by the new Parliament.” [Saskatchewan Party news release, January 24, 2006]

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his 12 Saskatchewan MPs broke their equalization promise. With the Conservatives in power Premier Brad Wall is failing to fight for Saskatchewan interests.

Feb. 3, 2006: A Saskatchewan Party news release advises that party leader Brad Wall received a phone call on Feb. 2 from the elephant, Prime Minister designate Stephen Harper.

“I offered my sincere congratulations to him and his 12 Saskatchewan colleagues,” Wall said.

“We also had a chance to speak about issues of importance to this province.”

“We also discussed the need for a new equalization formula that is fair to Saskatchewan, one that removes non-renewable resource revenue from calculations for payments to our province. I also introduced the concept of making a new deal for Saskatchewan retroactive to April 1, 2006,” Wall said.

“I believe Mr. Harper understands the priorities of Saskatchewan people and I look forward to a positive working relationship with the new federal government.” [Saskatchewan Party news release, Feb. 3, 2006]

Harper and his 12 Saskatchewan colleagues broke their equalization promise and Wall’s “positive working relationship” with the federal Conservatives failed to result in a new deal for Saskatchewan.

June 5, 2006: Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall reiterates the Saskatchewan Party position that any new federal equalization formula must exclude 100 per cent of provincial natural resource revenue and must be based on a ten-province standard.

“The Saskatchewan Party believes any new equalization formula should not penalize Saskatchewan for having natural resources,” Wall said in a news release. “That was the principle of the Atlantic Accord. What is fair for those provinces should be fair for Saskatchewan.”

Wall was reacting to the report released [June 5] by the Expert Panel on Equalization and Territorial Formula Financing with a recommendation that 50 per cent of provincial resource revenues should be included to determine the size of the new equalization pool. The panel was appointed by Liberals prior to the last federal election.

“The Saskatchewan Party also believes that a new equalization formula should be retroactive to April 1, 2006, to compensate Saskatchewan for any loss of revenue from equalization which may accrue during the period leading to the adoption of a new equalization formula,” Wall said.

Wall was confident an agreement that will meet Saskatchewan’s needs could still be delivered.

“To date, the Conservative government has delivered on a number of its campaign promises, and I anticipate the same with respect to its commitment to a new equalization formula that excludes 100 per cent of resource revenues and is based on a ten-province standard,” Wall said. [Saskatchewan Party news release, June 5, 2006]

Sept. 12, 2006: Saskatchewan Party MLA Wayne Elhard renews his Party’s call for the federal government to keep its election commitments to exempt non-renewable natural resources from the equalization formula and to move to a 10-province standard. Elhard also reiterated the Saskatchewan’s Party call for any new equalization formula to be applied retroactively to April 1, 2006, regardless of when the deal is finalized.

Saskatchewan people expect the Prime Minister and his government to live up to the commitments they made during the election campaign,” Elhard said.

“Our Leader, Brad Wall, has both written and spoken to the Prime Minister on this issue. We have impressed the importance of it to our Saskatchewan MPs, and in fact, Saskatchewan Party members approved our position at our 2005 policy convention.” [Saskatchewan Party news release, Sept. 12, 2006]

Page 27 of the Saskatchewan Party Policy Book states, “Reforming the Equalization Program: Be it resolved that a Saskatchewan Party government will negotiate with the federal government to: a) Move to a ten-province standard for the purpose of calculating equalization; and Have Saskatchewan’s oil and gas resource revenue treated in a manner similar to the Maritime provinces in the calculation of equalization payments.”

Jan. 17, 2007: Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty informed the Saskatchewan government on Jan. 16 that it wouldn’t get any equalization money in 2007-08.

On Jan. 17, Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall urged the federal Conservatives to make good on their equalization election promise.

“A deal is a deal -- absolutely,” Wall said. “The promise that was made in the campaign is something we expect to be delivered this spring.”

Wall said he had already delivered that message to Revenue Minister Carol Skelton and Gerry Ritz, secretary for small business and tourism. [Equalization news frustrates gov’t (StarPhoenix, Jan 18, 2007)]

Skelton and Ritz would later co-author a letter to the editor on behalf of the Saskatchewan Conservative Caucus that was published in the StarPhoenix on July 19, 2007. The MPs claimed Leader-Post political columnist Murray Mandryk had treated them unfairly in one of his recent columns and that he should apologize. Skelton and Ritz said that their government’s equalization policy for Saskatchewan was “good and fair.” None of the 12 Saskatchewan Conservative MPs has ever apologized for breaking their equalization promise.

Mar. 19, 2007: Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tables the federal budget in Ottawa.

Flaherty announced an equalization plan that sees provinces now able to choose from different equalization formulas -- either 50 per cent or 100 per cent exclusion of natural resources --whichever suits the jurisdiction best.

But Flaherty also put a cap on equalization based on a province’s relative fiscal capacity compared to Ontario.

With that cap, Saskatchewan gets $226 million in equalization under either formula this year, while the payment drops to zero for the province next year.

“What we have here is a broken promise; what we have is a betrayal of a promise made to the people of Saskatchewan,” NDP Premier Lorne Calvert told reporters.

Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall said his party will fully support Calvert in his demands for a Saskatchewan accord.

“I’m upset and I think the people of the province will be as well ... today, the issue is -- did (the Conservatives) keep a promise that they made, a pretty clear promise without a cap. The answer is no,” he told reporters. [Gov’t, Sask. Party angry: Two Thousand and Seven Federal Budget: Saskatchewan (Leader-Post, Mar. 20, 2007)]

Mar. 20, 2007: The elephant in the room is not amused. A day after slamming the federal Conservatives for breaking their equalization promise the Opposition Saskatchewan Party would not allow debate on an emergency motion from the NDP expressing disappointment in the federal budget and calling on all 14 Saskatchewan MPs -- 12 of whom are Conservatives -- to vote against the budget.

Premier Lorne Calvert accused Sask. Party Leader Brad Wall of backing off on the issue because of links between the Sask. Party and the Tories.

“I wanted to send a clear message to the prime minister from the legislature of Saskatchewan about the disappointment of this legislature and the people of Saskatchewan on a broken promise,” he told reporters. “I tell you what’s happened -- overnight somebody in Ottawa has jerked the chain of the leader of the Opposition in Saskatchewan and told him to quit with that.”

But Wall said he spoke to some Conservative MPs after the budget came out and “I don’t think there are federal Conservatives who are particularly happy with our comments (on Monday).”

The government motion did nothing constructive because it did not talk about steps such as a side deal for the province, said Wall.

Wall sidestepped the question of whether the federal budget should be defeated.

“The budget’s not going to be defeated. The budget is going to pass; that’s clearly been signaled. Do we wish this budget would pass in its current form? No,” he said. [Tories muzzled Wall: Calvert: Solidarity of provincial rivals frays in equalization fight (StarPhoenix, Mar. 21, 2007)]

June 13, 2007: Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall said he has written a letter to Premier Lorne Calvert, supporting in principle the government’s decision to launch a legal challenge against the federal government on the basis that it is violating the constitution by failing to deliver a fair equalization deal to for the people of Saskatchewan.

Wall also called on Premier Calvert to release copies of any legal opinions obtained by the government regarding a possible court challenge.

“The people of Saskatchewan must be assured that any challenge based on the Constitution Act has a reasonable expectation of success,” Wall said.

“To that end, the legal opinions must be available to members of the public who are following this important issue so there can be an open and informed public debate.” [Saskatchewan Party news release, June 13, 2007]

Showing considerable hypocrisy the Wall government has abandoned the legal challenge and failed to release the legal opinions regarding it.

Oct. 4, 2007: The NDP government took its equalization battle with Ottawa to court filing a constitutional challenge with the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal on Oct. 3.

Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall expressed skepticism about the legal challenge, but said “If there’s a chance to win this case we ought to pursue it.”

Wall said that if he becomes premier he will continue to hold the Conservatives to account for the broken campaign promise on equalization. But if they won’t keep it he will push for continued federal investment in Saskatchewan in areas such as First Nations, health care, post-secondary education and a national energy grid as “the equivalent or more of an equalization deal.” [NDP taking issue to court (Leader-Post, Oct. 5, 2007)]

This appears to be Wall’s first public mention of the downgrading of expectations and mirrors what the party’s election platform would state when it was released on Oct. 19.

Oct. 10, 2007: Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall said he was extremely disappointed that the federal government had reached a deal to allow Nova Scotia to exempt all of its oil revenues from equalization payments, while there is no similar deal for Saskatchewan.

“This is just plain wrong,” Wall said. “In order for Confederation to work properly, all provinces must be treated equally, and that’s not happening.”

Wall said if oil revenues are exempted for Atlantic provinces, the same deal must be extended to Saskatchewan.

“Over the next four weeks, I will be asking voters for a mandate to demand and negotiate a fair deal for the people of Saskatchewan,” Wall said. [Saskatchewan Party news release, Oct. 10, 2007]

This news release, issued on the day the provincial election was called, represents the last that the Saskatchewan Party has issued dealing primarily with equalization.

Since becoming premier Wall has demanded little and has not come close to getting a fair deal for Saskatchewan.

Oct. 10, 2007: Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces the federal government will allow Nova Scotia to opt out of the equalization formula set out in the federal budget last spring, reverting to the funding formula contained in the original 2005 Atlantic accord. That accord protected provincial resource revenues from being clawed back under the equalization program.

Within hours of the announcement, Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall was accusing Harper of cutting a special deal with Nova Scotia.

Saskatchewan deserves to be treated the same as any other province in Confederation,” said Wall.

“Whatever arrangement is available to other resource-based economies, other provinces who obviously have an oil and gas asset in their natural resources, should be available to all the provinces in Canada.” [Calvert, Wall blast Harper on ‘special deal’ for Nova Scotia (StarPhoenix, Oct. 11, 2007)]

Oct. 19, 2007: Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall releases the entire Saskatchewan Party election platform. Page 22 contains the following promise regarding equalization: “A Fair Deal for Saskatchewan: A Saskatchewan Party government will work with the federal government to secure a Saskatchewan Energy Accord modeled on the Atlantic Accord, or its financial equivalent, to support economic growth initiatives in Saskatchewan.”

The Saskatchewan Party bailed long ago on the first part and is stumbling badly on the second.

Nov. 8, 2007: Premier-designate Brad Wall’s immediate to-do list does not include equalization.

Wall said the Saskatchewan Party still wants the same equalization deal as other provinces when it comes to resources. Newfoundland and Nova Scotia have side deals exempting non-renewable resources.

But he said he could not comment on whether his government will continue the constitutional challenge over equalization filed by Calvert's government against the federal Conservative government until he sees the legal opinions.

He said there are other tactics to pursue, including pushing for increased federal funding in areas such as infrastructure, post- secondary education and First Nations. [First things first; Wall establishes fixed date for next provincial election (StarPhoenix, Nov. 9, 2007)]

Nov. 22, 2007: Bill Boyd, the former provincial Progressive Conservative leader and a Sask. Party founder, has the intergovernmental affairs portfolio and will handle equalization, along with Premier Brad Wall.

“I think that we feel we’re in a better position than the previous administration to work with the federal government and get a deal with Saskatchewan,” Boyd told reporters.

“We think we have a very strong relationship with a number of folks there. We feel that the strength of those types of relationships will be important going forward.”

Wall said that was part of the reason he appointed Boyd to handle the equalization file.

“Bill has contacts across the country, he has contacts in the federal government certainly. I think Bill’s got a reputation, if you talk to some NDP or former NDP cabinet ministers they would agree, Bill has the ability to get things done, to make the kind of arrangements that we know will be best for and are needed by the province of Saskatchewan,” he said.

Wall refused to say during the campaign whether the Sask. Party would continue the court case, saying he would need to see the internal legal opinions on the chances of its success.

Wall said he still has not seen the documents and no decision has been made. [Boyd predicts progress in equalization talks with Ottawa (StarPhoenix, Nov. 23, 2007)]

Sixteen days after the election and Wall still hadn’t bothered to read the internal legal opinions. The stalling had begun.

Boyd’s “ability to get things done” and to “get a deal” has failed.

Dec. 4, 2007: Premier Brad Wall backs the Saskatchewan Party government away from a constitutional challenge on equalization launched by the previous NDP government, calling it “dubious” and appearing to significantly raise the bar for the case to be continued by the new government.

Wall said a final decision on the lawsuit won’t likely be made for weeks.

Wall said the government was looking not only at whether it could win but also what benefit the province would receive from winning.

“If you can win the case, what does that mean? To the extent we go through the process and we don’t get any more money from the federal government for Saskatchewan, how much time has been lost on aggressively advancing other interests that Saskatchewan has?” he told reporters.

Wall said he had not yet discussed the court case formally with the ministers of justice or intergovernmental affairs and had not seen the government’s documentation in detail. But he said “so far it’s pretty dubious.” [Equalization challenge ‘dubious’: Wall (StarPhoenix, Dec. 5, 2007)]

The stalling continues. It’s now 29 days since the election and it appears Wall had still not read the legal opinions, yet he was able to conclude that the case was “dubious.”

On June 13 Wall said he supported the court challenge in principle “on the basis that it is violating the constitution by failing to deliver a fair equalization deal to for the people of Saskatchewan.”

On Oct. 4 Wall said “If there’s a chance to win this case we ought to pursue it.”

On Oct. 10, the day the provincial election was called, Wall said he was asking voters “for a mandate to demand and negotiate a fair deal for the people of Saskatchewan.”

None of this seemed to matter to Wall. The betrayal was in motion.

Dec. 19, 2007: In question period Premier Brad Wall avoided a direct answer to Opposition leader Lorne Calvert’s inquiry on whether he intended to hold firm on the demands that Stephen Harper and the federal Conservatives fulfill an election commitment to remove 100 per cent of non-renewable resources from the equalization formula.

Noting Wall said in the assembly on March 14, 2005, that he stood “in full support and agreement with the premier and the government of Saskatchewan on the solution,” Calvert said this shows how the Sask. Party leader says one thing in opposition and now says something different in government.

Outside the chamber, Wall told reporters his goal is to “get a better deal for Saskatchewan.”

Wall committed to “aggressively negotiate,” and said he could achieve something that “would certainly be comparable” to what "may or may not have happened under 100 per cent exclusion of resource revenue without a cap.” [Leaders spar over equalization (StarPhoenix, Dec. 20, 2007)]

At this point Wall has clearly abandoned the promise he made on Jan. 24, 2006, that “Regardless of who forms the federal government, the Saskatchewan Party will always fight for Saskatchewan interests. The commitments on equalization and agriculture must be kept by the new Parliament.”

Jan. 4, 2008: Commenting on the upcoming first ministers’ meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa, Premier Brad Wall said “Infrastructure investment, our post-secondary priorities, important pieces around energy where we’ve really wanted to carve out a new position of leadership, not just in Canada but on the continent. So these will be some of the priority items I will be raising every time I get a chance, whether it’s at a first ministers’ meeting or the Council of the Federation or western premiers.”

When asked about equalization, Wall said he would be talking more about it in the weeks ahead. He reiterated there “is a very compelling case” for federal investment and partnership in the province.

Wall said that a decision on the constitutional challenge on equalization has still not been reached on whether it will be continued and none will be made before the meeting with Harper. [Wall to push for 'new relationship' with Harper (StarPhoenix, Jan. 5, 2008)]

Jan. 7, 2008: Appeasing the elephant. Premier Brad Wall said he wouldn’t press Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the equalization front because he believes he can negotiate a deal with the federal government that would bring more than the $800 million in annual federal payments the province is losing because of a federally imposed cap on equalization payments.

Wall said he thinks he will be more successful in securing federal dollars if he proposes spending in specific areas such as on roads and other infrastructure as well as on skills training to address the shortage of workers.

Saskatchewan needs its own agreement with the federal government,” said Wall. [Wall to ‘sell out’ Sask. interest’s at meeting, NDP alleges (StarPhoenix, Jan. 8, 2008)]

To date Wall has failed to “negotiate a deal” with the federal government.

Jan. 10, 2008: Just ahead of his meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other premiers, Brad Wall said he didn’t expect Harper’s government to keep its campaign promise on equalization.

“I don’t see a change coming. So my question is . . . what’s next for Saskatchewan?” he told reporters. Wall said he isn’t condoning the broken promise but noted “the formula is what it is right now.”

Wall pointed out the Sask. Party’s recent election platform called for an energy accord for Saskatchewan similar to that of the Atlantic provinces, which exclude non-renewable resource revenues, or its equivalent.

In Ottawa, Wall said he planned to push for more federal funding for Saskatchewan to deal with issues such as the province’s infrastructure deficit and labour shortage, investment he said will help sustain Saskatchewan’s current economic boom.

“I think that if we take a very aggressive approach to the federal government on a file-by-file basis in strategic areas, that we can achieve something better than equalization for Saskatchewan,” he said. [Wall has few hopes for equalization deal (StarPhoenix, Jan. 11, 2008)]

This appears to represent the first occurrence of Wall attempting to use his party’s election platform to justify his course of action and as a means to nullify any promises he might have made in the past.

Jan. 12, 2008: Premier Brad Wall returns from his introductory first ministers meeting, which occurred in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 11.

At the meeting, instead of demanding equalization funding, Wall asked specific items receive funding in order to keep the economy booming.

“If we are successful we will have done more than any equalization can do, where you’re sometimes in and sometimes out, and our goal is to remain a have province,” Wall said, in a phone interview from Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Saturday morning.

Wall’s must have list includes funding for infrastructure, First Nations issues, training initiatives to solve the labour shortage and aid to become an energy leader.

“We need to get some specific results for Saskatchewan and that’s my job and I’m going to work hard at it,” he said. [Beggars no more; Walls sings new tune in Ottawa (Leader-Post, Jan. 14, 2008)]

What Wall failed to say is exactly where the $800 million-plus in annual federal money is supposed to come from. How is he going to get it?

The results Wall promised to fight for are a new equalization formula that is retroactive and that non-renewable resource revenue be removed from the calculations used for equalization payments to Saskatchewan.

On Jan. 24, 2006, Wall said he was “committed to doing what ever it takes to make sure” Saskatchewan gets a fair equalization deal.

Wall said “Regardless of who forms the federal government, the Saskatchewan Party will always fight for Saskatchewan interests. The commitments on equalization and agriculture must be kept by the new Parliament.”

Wall has broken his promise to fight for Saskatchewan interests on equalization.

Jan. 17, 2008: The elephant speaks. While visiting Prince Albert to announce Saskatchewan’s share of a federal aid package aimed at volatile economic conditions, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said “We look forward to working with the new government on shared priorities and we’ve had some good discussions. I’m not going to comment on any specifics.”

Harper was responding to a question about Premier Brad Wall’s strategy to seek an equivalent or greater amount in federal investment on a file-by-file basis rather than press the government to keep its $800 million equalization promise to Saskatchewan.

Harper and Wall had a separate one-on-one meeting after the first ministers meeting on Jan. 10.

Wall said he sensed genuine interest from Harper.

“What the prime minister was referring to is what I have talked about as well. We want to give the opportunity for a new federal- provincial dynamic to work and see where it takes us. I have made the case . . . for some specific strategic investments in our province that will help ensure long-term growth and sustainability,” he told reporters.

Wall pointed to the upcoming federal budget and a possible federal election if the minority Conservatives are defeated in the House of Commons this spring as two important upcoming indicators if the approach is working. [Wall, Harper tout new era for Sask. (StarPhoenix, Jan. 18, 2008)]

The minority Conservatives are still in power but more importantly the federal budget was a huge bust for Saskatchewan showing that Wall’s approach is failing.

Jan. 23, 2008: Premier Brad Wall claims opportunities for additional federal funding in everything from clean coal technology to uranium development to First Nations and highways could add up to more than an additional $800 million a year from Ottawa.

But Wall acknowledged it may be harder to measure such non-direct federal investment, thus making it difficult to tell if it will be equivalent to the federal Conservative government’s $800- million-a-year election promise to remove non-renewable resources from the equalization formula.

Wall said [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper reconfirmed last week that Ottawa has no interest in a separate Saskatchewan accord to fulfill the Conservatives’ equalization promise made during the 2006 federal election campaign.

“This federal government has said there would be no side (deal). Period.” Wall said. “They’ve said that to Mr. Calvert. They’ve said that to me. They’ve said to (Alberta Premier) Mr. (Ed) Stelmach. They’ve been pretty clear about it.” [Province targets increased federal money (StarPhoenix, Jan. 24, 2008)]

This should not absolve Wall from keeping his promise to fight for a fair equalization deal for the people of Saskatchewan or honour his publicly stated support for the legal challenge.

Feb. 9, 2008: Saskatchewan Party cabinet ministers and the province’s Conservative MPs conduct a secret lunchtime meeting.

Notably absent from the meeting, held at Government House, was federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, Saskatchewan’s only MP to sit on the federal cabinet.

Premier Brad Wall focused on the infrastructure framework agreement that was the main topic of conversation. He would not divulge details of what that conversation entailed.

NDP leader Lorne Calvert took the opportunity to criticize the Sask. Party government for not keeping its promise to work towards getting as much as $800 million in equalization payments for the province.

“(Wall) should not confuse infrastructure dollars -- which should be flowing to Saskatchewan, because they flow to every other provincial jurisdiction -- with what they owe us on our resource revenues,” he said.

Wall referred to a Saskatchewan energy accord and hoped-for money from Ottawa for infrastructure and labour shortage issues as ways the province stands to benefit.

“We campaigned in the election on a commitment to pursue a Saskatchewan energy accord or its equivalent, and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” Wall said. [Infrastructure dominates talks between Wall, federal MPs (StarPhoenix, Feb. 11, 2008)]

Once again Wall tries to deflect attention away from his past promises by using his party’s election platform as a way to justify his actions.

The fact of the matter is prior to Oct. 4, 2007, just before the election was called, Wall never mentioned his party’s intention to downgrade its equalization expectations by seeking “its equivalent.”

Feb. 26, 2008: Finance Minister Jim Flaherty delivers his budget in the House of Commons. In an editorial the following day the StarPhoenix exposed Premier Brad Wall’s strategy as a failure:

“And for Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who insisted he could capture more bees from Harper’s government by using honey instead of the vinegar that spewed from his predecessor’s office, there was little to show for the efforts.

“There is $400 million in the budget to “encourage provinces and territories to recruit 2,500 new front-line police officers,” but it’s unlikely Saskatchewan will get much more than its per capita entitlement of three per cent (or $12 million). Given that Saskatchewan consistently rates among Canada’s leaders in per- capita crime, this likely won’t make much of a dent.

“Although there might be some good news for Saskatchewan, in that it should get $240 million for its leadership role in CO2 sequestration, that money is required to be matched by Saskatchewan taxpayers and used to partner with business. This province is the site of North America’s premier sequestration experiment, in southwest Saskatchewan.

“However, this money is a far cry from the revenue that would have flowed this way if Ottawa wasn’t counting non-renewable resources in the equalization formula -- something the Harper Conservatives unequivocally had promised before forming government.” [Budget positions Harper’s Tories for full-term run (StarPhoenix, Feb. 27, 2008)]

Mar. 13, 2008: Saskatchewan Party Justice Minister Don Morgan said Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams -- along with the former NDP government in Saskatchewan – “have done the most destructive things” in their dealings with Prime Minster Stephen Harper’s government on equalization.

“They have chosen a path of confrontation,” Morgan said.

Morgan also decried the NDP for trying to “litigate their way out of problems,” a reference to the court challenge filed by the former government over the equalization dispute.

Morgan told reporters the Sask. Party government still hasn’t decided if it will drop the constitutional challenge.

“We’ll make a decision at some point in the future,” Morgan said. [N.L. premier Williams ‘destructive’ in dealing with feds: Sask. Party (StarPhoenix, Mar. 14, 2008)]

Morgan ignores the fact that on Nov. 28, 2005, Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall complained that Premier Lorne Calvert wasn’t being aggressive enough in his tactics on equalization saying “we gotta make the case a little more loudly than we have and if that means getting in the face of federal politicians regardless of their party, then let’s do that.”

Now that the Conservatives are in power Morgan and Wall are afraid to get in the elephant’s face.

Mar. 17, 2008: Premier Brad Wall said Prime Minister Stephen Harper requested the province drop its constitutional challenge on equalization when the two leaders met early this year.

“He was very blunt. He just said obviously the federal government didn’t think it had a chance to succeed and thought it should be withdrawn,” Wall said of Harper's reaction to the legal challenge initiated by the province's previous NDP government.

The premier told reporters that Harper’s reaction was taken “under advisement” and there are “varying legal opinions” on the challenge.

But while Wall said the Saskatchewan Party government still hasn’t decided whether to abandon the court challenge, he declined Monday to agree to an NDP call for an emergency debate on equalization at the legislature.

Wall told reporters that sidestepping the debate is part of the government’s continuing plan to “give peace a chance” when it comes to its relationship with the federal government.

“We can always go back to fighting,” Wall said. “We’ve said we’re looking for an energy accord or its equivalent in our campaign platform and that’s what we’re working hard to do.” [Wall not in fighting mood; Declines emergency equalization debate call (StarPhoenix, Mar. 18, 2008)]

What the news article does not mention is that the only reason Wall made the admission was because it came under questioning from Opposition leader Lorne Calvert. And once again Wall hid behind his election platform to justify his actions.

Apr. 10, 2008: On this day the Leader-Post published an excellent letter from John D. Whyte, the Law Foundation of Saskatchewan Professor at the College of Law, University of Saskatchewan that offered several good reasons why it was important that the government proceed with its constitutional challenge on equalization.

In his letter Whyte said “Premier Brad Wall seems to consider a constitutional case an inferior way to pursue Saskatchewan's interests. He fears that speaking of legal entitlement will be seen as offensive by the Harper government and will, therefore, garner less for the province than pursuing the practices of support and supplication.

“But this view denies the civility of constitutional litigation. To initiate legal action does not impugn the good faith of another government, but raises the sensible claim that constitutional rules, always vital to preserving the integrity of a sound nation, impose restraints on federal power that may have been ignored.”

“Of course, litigation can be utilized as a political weapon brought into play not because there is a genuine claim, but simply to express stark disagreement -- a politer version of showing disagreement than tearing down the national flag,” Whyte said. “But this is not the situation in Saskatchewan’s constitutional challenge to federal equalization policies. There are three arguments that Saskatchewan could make. Each one is based on a reasonable reading of the Constitution.”

“First, the equalization program must not be exercised to destroy other constitutional rights; the Constitution's equalization provision explicitly states that federal transfer policies cannot alter provincial authorities. What the new equalization principles do is tax Saskatchewan's provincial natural resource revenues so that, up to a point, every Saskatchewan dollar gained from oil and gas production flows to the federal level as a discount of equalization. Such tax effect on provincial assets is forbidden in the Constitution.

“Second, equalization is rooted in equal treatment of all provinces. Saskatchewan is the only province that bears a penalty on revenues from oil and gas extraction. Alberta, independently of oil and gas revenues, is a rich province and falls outside equalization entitlements. Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, the other two oil-and- gas producing provinces, have had these revenues dropped from the calculation of their income and, therefore, suffer no equalization penalty. This arrangement is sensible policy. It is based on the idea that positive shifts in revenue need to be in place for some time in weaker economies so that secondary industry, infrastructure, a stable, trained workforce and economic diversity can be developed. If revenues are stripped away on the advent of new wealth, these provinces are doomed to lurch from poverty to riches and back again, never able to implement plans for a durable economy. The Atlantic provinces were able to convince Ottawa of the soundness of this position; Saskatchewan was not listened to, even though, at the time equalization promises were made, the argument applied equally well to it.

“Finally, the Constitution gives the province ownership and full taxing authority over non-renewable natural resources. These powers came into the Constitution in 1930 and in 1982. They were given in recognition that a province's destiny is tied to how it uses or preserves its natural resources and it is entitled to full autonomy over those decisions. The taking of resource revenues through uneven equalization rules returns the province to the era where it had neither ownership nor regulatory and tax autonomy and, thus, the two most important constitutional improvements in Saskatchewan's history are abridged.

“To raise these concerns through a court challenge to federal equalization policy is not an exercise of hostile politics. It turns the Canada-Saskatchewan debate over equalization back to guiding national principles. In initiating constitutional debate, respect is shown to the Harper government's commitment to being guided by the rule of law.” [Province has good reason to go to court (Leader-Post, Apr. 10, 2008)]

Premier Brad Wall has shamefully denied the people of Saskatchewan this important process.

July 10, 2008: Saskatchewan Party Justice Minister Don Morgan announces that the government is dropping a court challenge of the federal equalization program, saying the case has been "the elephant in the room" in talks with Ottawa.

Morgan said the challenge has been hampering federal-provincial negotiations.

“When you’re litigating you can’t sit down and say, ‘well let’s jointly fund a bridge, let’s set some priorities here,’” Morgan told The Canadian Press.

“It’s, ‘well, we’ll wait and see what happens with the litigation.’ The litigation is always the elephant in the room when you’re trying to negotiate something. So we’d just as soon try and not have that there at all.”

“Nobody’s held out threats or said we’re demanding you do this,” added Morgan.

There have also been suggestions from Prime Minister Stephen Harper that Saskatchewan drop the case. Premier Brad Wall has said Harper “made it clear” in a meeting in January that the legal challenge should be withdrawn. Wall said he took it under advisement. [Sask. drops legal challenge of equalization (CBC News, July 10, 2008)]

On the contrary, the elephant in the room has, and continues to be, Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Instead of looking out for Saskatchewan people’s interests Premier Brad Wall has successfully allowed the PM to bully the province into withdrawing the equalization.

July 15, 2008: Premier Brad Wall said that the equalization controversy is dead, arguing Saskatchewan will get more out of Ottawa without a legal challenge looming over the federal government's head.

But when asked if he feels the Sask. Party government’s new relationship with the federal government is generating enough cash to make up for not getting the $800 million that had been expected from equalization, Wall balked at answering.

“I’m not going to have this debate again,” he said.

However, when pressed, Wall later said he’s pleased with the progress so far. “I absolutely believe that over the course of time we’re going to succeed in this relationship where the previous (provincial NDP) government failed,” he said.

Wall said it’s clear that no federal government, including the current Conservative administration, will make the changes to the equalization formula Saskatchewan had called for and the Tories had promised prior to being elected.

“We’ve said that’s not going to happen so it’s time to move on,” Wall said.

Wall said the province hasn’t decided if it will make public the legal opinions on the province’s court challenge of equalization, in case the Sask. Party government decides to challenge other programs that federal governments may launch.

“I’m not sure it would serve the province’s interest to disclose the opinions on either side of the issue, in the event that something similar is needed in the future to protect Saskatchewan’s interests,” Wall said. [Wall defends lawsuit decision (Leader-Post, July 16, 2008)]

It would appear that Wall has downgraded expectations yet again. From now on success will be measured not by receiving “the equivalent or more of an equalization deal” but by how the “relationship” between the province and the federal government is faring.

Wall seems to have forgotten that he supported the legal challenge in principle and said on Oct. 4 that “If there’s a chance to win this case we ought to pursue it.”

On Oct. 10, the day the provincial election was called, Wall said he was asking voters “for a mandate to demand and negotiate a fair deal for the people of Saskatchewan.” Wall has broken that promise.

Wall’s conduct has indeed taken hypocrisy and betrayal to a new level.

1 Comments:

At 11:06 AM, Blogger neil said...

How can - as a citizen, or group of citizens, or an interested constituency - mobilize to advance a legal claim for equalization payments? Can we direct a lawsuit at Wall and his party on the grounds of gross public negligence? Or the against the govt's successful insulation of government from the public constituency it is supposedly representing? Can we advance a lawsuit against the feds? Class-action?

While some may decry this as seeking some kind in institutional amend, as not being "radical" enough, there may be something to be said for actually undertaking this publicly...Joe's piece has certainly provided a detailed account of the SP record on the matter...This would be a democratic act in the real sense - an intervention into the status quo space of the highly policed discourse of governmentality and politics-as-usual. The part of no part ought to dictate.

There must be some social-justice-minded lawyers out there? Jurido-legal theorists? Activist economists? What say you all?

 

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