In what can only be described as the silliest trade battle in Canadian history, Conservative and free trade icon Brad Wall has been beaten by his most hated enemy – Alberta’s NDP government.
Wall’s government has tucked its tail between its legs and fled a battlefield it created in December when it banned vehicles with Alberta licence plates from Saskatchewan government work sites.
On Monday morning, Wall’s minister responsible for trade, Steven Bonk, sent a letter to Alberta’s trade minister, Deron Bilous, saying Saskatchewan would “suspend” the licence plate ban as a show of “good faith” in upcoming talks on cross-border issues.
What Bonk didn’t mention was that if he hadn’t dropped the licence plate ban by 11:59 p.m. Monday, the issue would have gone to binding arbitration through a trade dispute panel. If found guilty of violating the New West Partnership Trade Agreement between the two provinces, Saskatchewan would face a penalty of up to $5 million.
And it was very clear Saskatchewan would be found guilty.
For a man who describes himself publically as a champion of free trade, it’s clear that Wall doesn’t actually stand by his principles when it comes to governing.
When Wall announced the ban last month, he initially said he was retaliating for Alberta banning Saskatchewan-plated vehicles from Alberta’s highway construction sites.
The Alberta government, and Alberta construction companies, vehemently denied Wall’s accusation.
Wall presented no proof to back up his allegations. One of his ministers then said the ban was to help level the playing field because Alberta has no sales tax on construction material. That simply allowed Premier Rachel Notley to crow about Alberta’s low tax regime and suggest Saskatchewan lower its taxes.
So why did Wall go crazy about license plates? Was it because Saskatchewan voters were outraged? Was he standing by his principles in the face of NDP protectionism?
There was a sneaking suspicion Wall timed his announcement during the Calgary-Lougheed byelection campaign to put the NDP on the defensive and help out his friend, United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney, who was vying for a seat.
When it comes to principles, Conservatives like Brad Wall are willing to give them up for cheap shots against their enemies. Too bad it usually ends up backfiring.