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What's up with Brad Wall's bizarre War on Licence Plates?

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Larry Hubich

Whatever can Premier Brad Wall be up to with his bizarre War on Licence Plates, in which he and his Saskatchewan Party henchmen have vowed to ban trucks with Alberta tags from provincially financed highway construction jobsites?

As Saskatchewan Federation of Labour President Larry Hubich posted to social media Thursday, the province's beleaguered lame-duck conservative leader didn't have a problem with trucks with out-of-province plates back in the days when their operators had been hired to undermine Saskatchewan's Crown corporations.

On Friday, Wall doubled down on his government's peculiar Dec. 6 press release, declaring war on work trucks with Alberta plates.

The premier published a long screed on social media, with copies to favoured Alberta journalists, explaining several new reasons for launching Wall War III. Each new explanation was different from the reason Wall's government gave in the original news release, which was that "Saskatchewan operators feel forced to register their vehicles in Alberta if they want to do business there."

This was a surprise to puzzled highway contractors on both sides of the border, none of whom seem to have been aware of any such thing. Other than Shantel Lipp, that is, president and chief lobbyist of the Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association, a group that has frequently donated to the Saskatchewan Party. She was quoted in Wednesday's government news release.

Fact: There is no Alberta government policy to make the operators of vehicles from Saskatchewan working on Alberta government contracts register their vehicles in Alberta unless they have lived here for more than 90 days as per longstanding vehicle registration laws in both provinces.

Wall's rambling post on Facebook gave four additional reasons for the declaration of war, two of which are false, one of which unclear, and one of which is both silly and contradicts a previous official statement. He claims that:

  • Alberta contract tender packages are not available to Saskatchewan contractors. (Fact: They are.)
  • Alberta takes measures to protect its construction industry from out-of-province competition. (Fact: It does not.)
  • At the premier's meeting in Whitehorse in July, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley sought a 20-per-cent set-aside for Alberta-based companies for government contracts. (Fact: Alberta has no such set-asides. If Notley wanted them, there is no public evidence of it. However, someone did call for it, because one news commentary piece mentions the proposal at the time of the meeting without indicating whose idea it was.)
  • Alberta beer taxes and grants to small, locally based craft brewers were found by a Agreement on Internal Trade panel to be unfair to brewers from other provinces, and Alberta is appealing the ruling. (Fact: That's true.)

So, in the end, the only point Wall makes that holds any water -- or, rather, beer -- is that Alberta is appealing a trade panel decision that went against it. And the problem with this is what?

It says something about Wall that he is having a public tantrum because Alberta is properly using a process Saskatchewan signed onto, which includes the right of appeal.

It also says something that this particular claim runs directly counter to Saskatchewan Infrastructure Minister Dave Marit's statement Wednesday the plate war had nothing to do with the 2016 Alberta-Saskatchewan beer feud.

The rest of Wall's points seem to be either outright falsehoods or based on unattributed claims by unidentified people.

Whatever can it mean? Several theories have been advanced, among them:

  • Saskatchewan contractors residing and working in Alberta just want to hang onto their cheaper government vehicle insurance.
  • Wall is so cranky about the state of the Saskatchewan economy and the Sask Party's resulting troubles he can barely think straight.
  • He is trying to do a favour for his United Conservative Party buddy Jason Kenney in Alberta, who is running in a by-election in Calgary on Thursday.
  • He is trying to distract Saskatchewan voters from the RCMP investigation into inflated land sales involving people with Sask Party connections at the Global Transportation Hub, the so-called inland port near Regina.

In the latter case, the RCMP said 10 days ago the investigation of the GTH deal by its financial crimes specialists is complete and their findings had been handed off to Crown prosecutors in Manitoba. Are charges pending?

It's probably not any single thing that prompted this, however, Hubich told me yesterday. "They might be attempting to distract and change the channel on a whole host of issues, like their failure to get buy-in or public sympathy for their proposed 3.5-per-cent public sector wage rollback, like the closure of the provincial bus company, like their dismal budget … They haven't been having a very good last couple of years, and they're feeling it."

However, Hubich observed, "it could be as simple as Brad just taking a parting cheap shot at Rachel. He's such a petty little person, and he really hates being upstaged -- especially by a woman, and an NDP woman at that!"

Wall has until Jan. 27, when his resignation takes effect, to try to skate through this mess. After that, some other Sask Party premier will have to carry the can.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: David Climenhaga.

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