PHOTOS: Brad Wall, Saskatchewan’s cranky premier and Canada’s answer to Basil Fawlty. (Photo: Saskatchewan Party, grabbed from Facebook.) Below: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, Alberta Trade Minister Deron Bilous, and Saskatchewan Trade Minister Steven Bonk (Photo: Saskatchewan Party).

Devotees of slapstick political humour will be disappointed to learn Saskatchewan’s Monty Pythonesque Licence Plate War on Alberta ended yesterday with an embarrassing climb-down by the province’s Saskatchewan Party government.

Amity again reigns on the peaceful Canadian Prairies. You can leave your Alberta plates on your pickup truck when you work on that Government of Saskatchewan highway improvement site before you head back to your Lloydminister bungalow on the Alberta side a 5 o’clock.

The last act in office of Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall – beneficiary of a long and determined campaign of nauseating hagiography characterizing him as the brilliant and beloved Mr. Congeniality of Confederation – was to be hoist with his own petard.

As a result, when he shuffles off into political history on Saturday, Mr. Wall will be remembered by most Canadians as the petty and petulant right-wing premier whose last official act was to let a personal temper tantrum at Alberta’s NDP nearly escalate into an interprovincial trade war that had the potential to cost his economically beleaguered province’s taxpayers a $5 million dollar fine under the terms of the New West Partnership Trade Agreement.

Indeed, Saskatchewan dropped its claim it was retaliating against Alberta for doing the same sort of thing at the last possible moment – less than 12 hours before the provinces would have been locked into the intramural trade agreement’s dispute arbitration process.

The general consensus hereabouts was that since there was no evidence whatsoever to support Saskatchewan’s claims, a ruling in Alberta’s favour was a slam-dunk. As Alberta Trade Minister Deron Bilous told news reporters yesterday, Saskatchewan’s abject 11th hour surrender came because “they knew they were going to lose.”

Saskatchewan Trade Minister Steven Bonk told media that the people with the evidence declined to share it because they were afraid they would face repercussions in Alberta – typical of a case that was always long on claims and short on verifiable facts.

As did Mr. Bonk, Premier Wall claimed there was a certain reciprocity in his province “blinking first,” as media reports insisted on putting it, not entirely accurately since it’s hard to see how Alberta could blink, there being no evidence forthcoming on either side of the border for Saskatchewan’s assertions.

“The recent confirmation of AB’s willingness to concede and reverse discriminatory beer pricing policies when confirmed on appeal is what we were hoping to see,” Mr. Wall Tweeted. “License plate policy is therefore suspended.”

That’s a bit of a reach. It misrepresents what Mr. Bilous said – to wit, only that Alberta would abide by an appeal panel’s decision in the unrelated dispute if it upholds an earlier panel ruling that Alberta’s program of beer markups and rebates designed to help local craft breweries break the trade agreement’s rules. But you have to let the guy try to save his pride by saying he took something home for his not-very-effective efforts.

Mainstream media tried from the get-go to portray this dispute as a he-said/she-said spat between Mr. Wall and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. As the National Post put it, the two premiers “have been bickering since Notley was elected in 2015, and seem to loathe each other.”

In truth, it’s been more of a he said/he said affair, with Mr. Wall doing most of the bickering and Ms. Notley making the occasional joke at his expense, which no doubt infuriated him even more. The loathing was strictly one way.

As the Edmonton Journal’s Graham Thomson observed: “This whole fiasco seems to have been generated by Wall’s intense, if not irrational, dislike of an NDP government next door.”

We get it, though. Notwithstanding Mr. Wall’s conservative ideology and his party’s instinct to impose austerity on his province’s citizens now that oil prices have gone south and look to stay there, Alberta’s economy is doing better under the kinder, gentler NDP.

Even Saskatchewan’s six-per-cent sales tax doesn’t seem to help that province’s bottom line enough to keep it out of deficit – whereas, if Alberta were to adopt the same sensible measure, it could almost eliminate its controversial annual deficits with a vote of the Legislature.

If it’s any comfort to Mr. Wall, this makes conservatives on this side of the interprovincial boundary just as angry as the Saskatchewan premier, whom Alberta Opposition Leader Jason Kenney used to refer to as “the real leader of Western Canada.” We don’t hear that from Mr. Kenney any more, although it’s not clear if that’s because Mr. Wall has gone down in his estimation or because he aspires to the title himself.

Regardless, there is also a certain irony in the Alberta NDP’s use of a trade agreement like the New West Partnership to put an end to Mr. Wall’s extended tantrum, because such so-called “free-trade” deals have not, historically, been supported by New Democrats, and for good reason.

The bitter truth is free trade deals and free trade rhetoric are normally about corporate rights but not citizen rights, and typically have the effect of trading away democracy and the environment to help make the largest corporate players more profitable.

As the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives pointed out last year, Canada’s international free trade deals are probably incompatible with both Indigenous reconciliation and effective climate action.

Internal trade deals like the New West Partnership are not all that much different in that they are designed to privilege corporate rights over citizen rights, including the right for local governments to develop environmentally sound policies or provinces to encourage the development of a craft beer industry if it cuts into the sales of watery corporate brew from Saskatoon.

Still, the New West Partnership is not without some merit, obviously. At least it has managed to silence Mr. Wall – who has become Canada’s answer to Basil Fawlty – for a few blessed moments.

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  1. Finally the plate madness has ended. Glory has certainly not been showered on the Saskatchewan Party over this idiotic affair.

    Now if we could only end this beer war. If Alberta brew can’t compete without the NDP giving them tax dollars then maybe they shouldn’t be making beer in the first place.

    That so-called “watery” Sask brew from Original 16 is actually pretty good. Not as good as Two Sergeants from Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta though.

    1. Brad Wall? The hero of resisting corporate take over of Potash Corp? Pass me a blue pill please.

    1. You could also read: “RBC projecting Saskatchewan economy to rebound in 2018 and 2019.” Posted Dec. 12,2017. RBC is projecting that Saskatchewan will lead Canada in economic growth in 2018 and 2019. So while Rachel Notley is chastising Brad Wall for his economic policies Brad might get the last laugh. My Dad always told me that discretion is the better part of valor, many times in my life that has proven to be good advice lol.

  2. Wall is so deserving of this. His pathetic attempts to fight the NDP cross border suggests a reworking of the old saying to: Provincialsim is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

  3. “Mr. Wall – who has become Canada’s answer to Basil Fawlty…”
    From the Wikipedia description of the owner of Fawlty Towers, “On occasion he assaults them, such as strangling a guest in “The Hotel Inspector”, kneeing Major Gowen in “Basil the Rat”, “accidentally” elbowing a young boy in the head in “Gourmet Night” and in the same episode, famously beating his “vicious bastard” of a car with a tree branch when it breaks down.”
    Mr. Wall may not be perfect, but I cannot imagine him doing these things, even over lower craft beer taxes and rebates in Alberta.

    1. I think so too. I thought this story was particularly lame, although the wording of the first graph suggested to me the author read this post first thing in the morning. Regardless, my colleague Dave Cournoyer, author of the blog, thought it was funny, so there you go. Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent blokes. DJC

  4. I’m not sure if it was pure embarrassment or what that made Wall change his mind. Certainly the thought of having one of the last items of his legacy being a free trade sanction against him with a financial penalty was probably not very appealing. Perhaps his potential successors may have also asked him to deal with this, so they would not have to climb down on his behalf. It would not be a good start for any successor.

    Whatever the reasons, Wall tried to make it sound like he got what he wanted. I suppose part of his success in politics over the years was a fairly good ability to make things appear the way he wanted – well at this point maybe not to everyone, but at least to his core supporters. People in Saskatchewan seem to be becoming more skeptical of Wall’s party now than a few years ago, but in any event he will be safely out the door before the voters deliver their verdict the next time.

    Hopefully Wall’s successor will focus their energies on solving their own province’s problems rather than trying constantly trying to attack and pick fights with their next door neighbour. At least we don’t hear Kenney and crew singing the praises of Wall as much as they used to. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if that starts again in a while now that the license plate war is over. I think one of things the shrewd career politician Kenney counts on is that voters memories are short. The UCP already seems to want to have a re-run of Ralph’s happy days, although like TV shows the nostalgic version is seldom completely accurate – the not so great parts are conveniently forgotten or left out. As Yogi Berra said – “Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be’.

  5. Not hearing much Brad Wall adulation from Jason Kenney et al lately!

    Perhaps this is attributable to the huge discrepancy between how Alberta is coming out of the recession compared to the poor economic performance in Sask.

    There was a reason why Brad Wall bailed. Things do not look so promising for the Saskatewan Party in the next election. Brad Wall was good on the blowhard routine but not so good when it came to delivery and forward planning.

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