This past week, Canada’s Premiers got together to talk about a number of important issues going on in our country. This was the first opportunity for the rest of Canada’s Premiers to get a measure of the new Quebec Premier and how she would react to issues affecting all Canadians. We have seen in the past where Quebec Premiers have only been interested in issues which are relevant to that province and really don’t give a darn about the rest of Canada. I was very pleased to see that the Premier of Alberta and the Premier of Quebec were leading the discussion on how we could make better use of western Canadian oil production by moving it to large eastern Canadian refineries rather than selling at discount to the Americans.
As I have mentioned in previous commentaries, western Canadian oil has been selling at a large discount because of the inability to move our production to other jurisdictions. The whole issue around the keystone pipeline is to move more of our oil to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas or Louisiana. I believe that rather than selling more of our oil to this discounted market so that the American oil companies can refine our oil and sell the refined products at a large profit, we should look at moving some of that production to Canada’s largest refineries and at least have those refining premiums stay in Canada. I have maintained for a long time that the PC Party legacy of working with companies like Federated Co-operative and Husky Oil to upgrade and refine in Canada is the best solution for everyone - consumers, governments, companies and us the taxpayer.
What was really shocking to me is that our Premier chose not to attend this gathering and instead his presence was only there by teleconference. There was the flimsy excuse that he would be saving Saskatchewan taxpayers money because we must all pitch in with the difficult financial problems which have arisen because of falling resource prices. Our Premier has no problem jetting off to Ireland to recruit workers because that falls nicely into his “Grow Saskatchewan” mantra. He has no problem jetting off to Asia and being front and centre at international conferences with a large entourage following him around. His Minister of the Economy will get on an airplane at the drop of a hat or the prospect of a warm climate and fly all over the world at taxpayers expense but now they cannot fly to the other side of the country because of austerity.
Saskatchewan is the 2nd largest oil producer in Canada and will soon be – if we aren’t already – the largest producer of conventional oil. Much of the oil we produce is the sweet light crude which is in high demand by refiners. If there was a discussion and an attempt to reach agreement on moving large volumes of this crude oil to new markets, I would think our Premier should have been there. I think this was more of the case of Brad Wall not wanting to be upstaged by two strong female Premiers who have sensed that Canadians would like to see a Pan-Canadian energy strategy that would benefit us all. Prime Minister Harper should heed the Premier’s invitation to attend these gatherings and so should our Premier. There is nothing like sitting down at the table with your peers, looking them in the eye and coming to a hard fought agreement which benefits everyone. Saskatchewan was not there looking anyone in the eye and we will be the losers for it.
Speaking of something that I believe the government missed in it’s recently announced changes to liquor laws in this province was allowing current institutions which have been serving Saskatchewan customers for years to expand their sales outlook. The government has made a big thing about announcing new private, stand-alone liquor stores which will be built by the private sector and run by the private sector. The stated reason for this is that the government did not want to spend money on new infrastructure when they have other places to put that money. I don’t think anyone in the PC Party disagrees with the premise that building liquor stores may not be a good use of taxpayer’s money. But perhaps before finding some more friends of the government to reward, the Sask Party should have looked around at what we already have in place.
There are already well-established brew pubs and micro-brewery operations in our major cities who have been serving and retailing to the public for many years. Many of these establishments have the square footage to dramatically increase their shelving space and also the ability to warehouse large amounts of product. No where in the discussion or the legislation did I see any opportunity for these entrepreneurs to expand their businesses. In both Regina and Saskatoon, these existing businesses are well-spaced and have become well known as providers of alcoholic beverages to their area clientele. Why not give these people the opportunity to grow their business, provide employment and provide service to Saskatchewan residents before building new stores in either community. If these businesses have no interest in adding on or renovating for an all-encompassing liquor outlet so be it - then you proceed with new stand-alone operations. The haste with which this whole initiative came out tells me that the Sask Party government wanted to get their changes to the liquor laws and liquor consumption well out of the way before the next provincial election campaign rather than do things with a well-thought out plan. You did not hear a hint of this in the last election campaign and I am sure they don’t want anyone talking about it in the next one.
I know this was a little long this morning but this will be last MMC until December 17th so I had to get a bunch of stuff off of my chest.
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These issues must be debated for “The Right Reasons”.