Wednesday, July 23, 2008

So Cozy...

Alberta and Saskatchewawn natural bedfellows

When Alberta premier Ed Stelmach and Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall teamed up to oppose a proposed inter-provincial cap-and-trade scheme on greenhouse gas emissions it became apparent that a potent new political coalition had been formed.

The article, written by Murray Mandryk and published in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix and Regina-Leader Post, asks an interesting question: how did Alberta and Saskatchewan become so cozy in the first place?

"Here's one of the more intriguing "chicken or the egg" type of argument you'll hear on coffee row:

"Did this province elect a Saskatchewan Party government because we were already becoming more like Alberta, or has the election of a Saskatchewan Party government made this province more like Alberta?"

Regardless of which side of he debate you support, what's indisputable is the premise is that Saskatchewan has become more like Alberta.
Some residents of Saskatchewan may find the very premise to be alarming. In the same vein as Canadians who cry foul every time Canada inches too close to our southern neighbours for their liking, many of those who feel Saskatchewan's unique character -- as it were -- is threatened by too closely associating with the cowboys west of Lloydminster, they'll insist that too closely associating with Alberta somehow diminishes Saskatchewan.

Of course, there are some traits that Saskatchewan shouldn't be so eager to share with Alberta.

"More like it, mind you. Not exactly alike.

The outcome of elections in Saskatchewan, after all, are still not a foregone conclusion and will remain so for some time. This province also still has significantly deeper agricultural and small-town roots and significantly less urban pull than does Alberta (or any other province, for that matter).
Indeed, democracy in Saskatchewan is much healthier than in Alberta.

During the 2007 provincial election, 76% of eligible voters reported to the polls, compared to the absolutely dismal figure of 41% in Alberta's 2008 election.

Saskatchewan does maintain a largely rural character, but a newfound determination to develop the province's considerable energy resources -- including oil sand reserves that may rival those in Alberta will inevitably change that. The kind of building projects necessary to support such development will require increased manufacturing capacity throughout Saskatchewan, particularly in the urban centers.

"Most significantly, Saskatchewan is the birthplace of the CCF-NDP and its social democratic influence isn't about to disappear anytime soon. Even at one of its historically low ebbs, the NDP still has 20 seats in the legislature and something close to 40 per cent of public support.

But it's also telling that on the very week that the NDP is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Regina Manifesto, which urged the eradication of capitalism, the most exciting speculation within New Democratic ranks is the possibility of the return of a conservative-minded capitalist such as Dwain Lingenfelter to lead the party.
Certainly, being defeated after 16 years in power must certainly be deflating for the provincial NDP. Likewise, the party's federal prospects in the province are less than encouraging.

"That Saskatchewan's affinity for Alberta actually might have started under an NDP administration is more than a little ironic.

It was under former NDP premier Roy Romanow that deficit control, a curtailing of public investments and even income tax cuts really began. Romanow's successor as NDP leader and premier, Lorne Calvert, extended this agenda with cuts to the province's sales, business and corporate taxes.
Certainly, this would seem ironic if it weren't entirely in line with the political trends of the time.

Consider that Jean Chretien, one considered a stalwart of the liberal wing of the Liberal party, led a government that reduced the country's deficit drastically, and posted some of the only surpluses of the day in the Western World.

Chretien was responding to pressures being exerted upon his government by Preston Manning's Reform party, just as Roy Romanow -- and Lorne Calvert after him -- were responding to pressure being exerted by the upstart Saskatchewan party.

"This change under NDP governance happened at the same time that Saskatchewan's economic interests became more closely tied to the oil economy. The prospect of oil at nearly $100 a barrel was something that even an NDP government from this province could share eagerly with the Progressive Conservative government in Alberta.

It can be argued that Saskatchewan grew that much closer to Alberta with each dollar that a barrel of oil increased in price over the past four years. What's been bad for everyone else's economy has been great for ours, especially since the Saskatchewan Party's election win last November that has coincided with the price hike in a barrel of oil by $50.
It should be considered only natural that Saskatchewan and Alberta would grow closer considering the number of interests they hold in common. Both economies have constantly strengthened with the increasing value of oil and gas. Thus, as goes oil and gas will go the economies of Alberta and Saskatchewan -- although with some creative government and appropriate investment, this need not always be so -- and as goes the economy of Alberta or Saskatchewan will almost inevitably go the other.

"That said, Saskatchewan and Alberta today appear to be as closely bonded by political ties as economic ones. At least that's what some recent developments suggest.

The first ministers meeting in Quebec last week, where Premier Brad Wall and Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach found themselves at odds with their counterparts who were promoting cap-and-trade system on carbon emissions, was only the latest evidence of this emerging alliance.

We saw pretty much the same reaction from the two provinces to federal Liberal Leader Stephane Dion' Green Shift strategy, which takes square aim at Alberta and Saskatchewan's energy resources.

Stuck in the same foxhole and dodging bullets from eastern critics eager to portray Alberta and Saskatchewan as greedy, selfish and environmentally irresponsible, it's only natural that the two provinces would become that much closer.

That said, it's highly unlikely that an NDP government in Saskatchewan would have jumped into that same foxhole on the Green Shift or perhaps even on a cap-and-trade scheme.
Of course not.

It's easy to get along with your neighbours when you see eye-to-eye. And it would simply be less than reasonable to expect a Progressive Conservative government -- particularly one led by an individual like Ralph Klein -- to see eye-to-eye with an NDP government.

Likewise, there's nothing like an external threat -- say, that posed by a federal party with a history of confiscatory tax policies and a habit of breaking its promises -- to bring two provinces even closer together.

"The latest evidence of the bi-provincial political link came Monday with the Saskatchewan Party government signing on to Pacific North West Economic Region (PNWER) -- something the New Democrats of this province not only wouldn't do but would vigorously oppose, because they see it as precursor to joining the Trade and Investment Mobility Agreement reached by Alberta and British Columbia."
Then again, considering the vehemence of the NDP's opposition to NAFTA, it should be considered unsurprising that the NDP would decline to join an organization such as PNWER.

It's also less than surprising that a Saskatchewan party government -- considering that the Saskatchewan party was founded out of a coalition Progressive Conservatives and conservative-minded Liberals -- would be so eager to join.

It's also less than surprising that Alberta -- looking for any dance partner it can find in an effort to resist a potential replay of the infamous National Energy Policy -- would be so eager to get Saskatchewan on board.

"Lest there be any doubt about this newfound closeness, consider what deputy Alberta premier Ron Stevens said about sponsoring Saskatchewan's application to join the private-sector organization his province helped to create:

"I can tell you, as a neighbouring sister province, (Alberta has) seen under Premier Wall a change in attitude," Stevens said during Monday's PNWER press conference.

"The province now has a outward looking, engaging, active attitude and I think that Saskatchewan is going to be a robust, full member of this organization. We are all going to be beneficiaries of that."

Maybe the close bond with Alberta wasn't forged quite overnight. But make no mistake that Alberta and Saskatchewan have become closer than they've been in decades.
Certainly, Alberta and Saskatchewan have grown closer -- more than simply economically or politically.

Numerous residents of either province have migrated to the other over the past numerous years. In particular, there has been a strong trend of Albertans moving to Saskatchewan. And anywhere Albertans are moving in such numbers is almost inevitably due for a conservative resurgence.

In other words, it's no surprise that Alberta and Saskatchewan have become so cozy. Furthermore, it's about time.


  1. Anonymous12:09 PM

    "Chretien was responding to pressures being exerted upon his government by Preston Manning's Reform party, just as Roy Romanow -- and Lorne Calvert after him -- were responding to pressure being exerted by the upstart Saskatchewan party."

    You might be able to argue to a certain extent Chretein was responding to the Reform Party but Romanow was not responding to the Saskatchewan Party as it did not come to be until 1999 almost at the end of his reign as Premier.♦

  2. The vast majority of Romanow's conservative measures were implimented post-99 as well.

    So the thesis stands.

  3. Such as? Much of the policies that would be deemed conservative occured after the 1991 election.

  4. Which was occuring at the same time that the Romanow government was claiming to have produced balanced budgets, and yet were hiding deficits in the books of Crown corporations and spending ridiculous amounts of money on pet projects (such as the potato silo debacle).

    Conservative? Not so much.


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