Saskatchewan

Brad Wall helped create right-of-centre Buffalo Project and grab investors

Wall helped formulate group but has no formal role

Posted: January 22, 2019
Last Updated: January 22, 2019

Former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall is helping the western Canadian PAC Buffalo Project get investors. (Colin Hall/CBC)

Brad Wall may have stepped down from his role as Saskatchewan premier, but he is not leaving the political arena. He has helped raise money for a new political action committee (PAC) called the Buffalo Project.

The PAC was founded by six like-minded Alberta businessmen. Co-founder and Calgary businessman Bill Turnbull spoke with CBC on behalf of the group.

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"[Buffalo Project] was spawned from some thoughts of ex-premier Brad Wall. There were a group of us in Calgary who were becoming very concerned," Turnbull said.

"We were thinking we were getting kicked in the stomach again by the federal government and continually ignored by the federal government as to our hopes to try and keep confederation together and treat us equally."

Turnbull said he and the other founders came together in 2018. The group consists of Don Chynoweth, Grant Fagerheim, Brad Gustafson, Stan Grad and Dallas Howe. He said the group represents the oil and gas sector, agriculture, forestry, cattle and grain producers.

He pointed to five major issues at the core of the Buffalo Project's frustration: failed or stalled pipeline projects, Ottawa's carbon policy, Bill C-69, equalization and the recent trade deal with U.S.

"We all thought that the brightest tool in the shed was ex-premier [Wall] to talk about these issues. We made overtures to him and the Buffalo Project was created."

"Brad's involvement early on was to help us formulate this. To pull a larger group than the founding group together in hopes to raise some money so that we could make a difference."

Turnbull said Wall does not have a formal role with the group but does advise them on occasion, as does businessman W. Brett Wilson. Turnbull also said Wall gave a series of fundraising speeches at private dinners in people's homes. 

Derek Robinson, a spokesperson for the group, previously worked for six years as head of digital strategy for Brad Wall in the premier's office. He said he doesn't think Wall was paid for his speeches on behalf of the Buffalo Project.

"He's retired from politics but he hasn't retired from having an influence."

Wall declined CBC's interview requests.

Last May, Wall took a job as a special advisor with the Calgary-based Osler law firm.

No separatists in group

Turnbull said the group is firmly right of centre, but it's not a western separatist movement.

"We are more about trying to fix the problem of confederation than separate from it," he said.

"My personal opinion is that confederation is badly fractured. Within those fractures it is easy to get extreme, we are not there."

While the Buffalo Project's aim is on the federal government, Turnbull said the group will be involved in the upcoming Alberta election in order to "get something a little more to the right." He said those efforts could include supporting political parties, advertising or helping other like-minded PACs.

Just how the group will go about making a change in government is not as clear. Turnbull said it is doing well raising money despite a lack of publicity.

In 1900 there was a proposal to make one large western province and call it Buffalo. (Saskatchewan: A New History)

Turnbull said the group has been "very quiet" but has grown to about 75 investors with more on the way.

"I get a call every day from people wanting to know more about Buffalo and asking how they can help."

The group's initial plan runs through this fall, to coincide with October's federal election.

When asked if a win for Alberta's United Conservative Party and federal Conservative Party in this year's elections would fulfil the group's mandate Turnbull said, "it would definitely assist greatly in fulfilling the goal."

Why 'Buffalo Project'?

In 1905, Sir Frederick Haultain, premier of the North-West Territories, proposed to create a province with what is now Alberta and Saskatchewan and name it Buffalo.

Liberal Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier scuttled the proposal and the separate provinces were created in 1905.

"It seems every time we get a French Canadian Liberal prime minister in Ottawa there's huge discontent in the west and you can track it through a series of them," Turnbull said.

"Here we are probably at its pinnacle, an epitome of a mess and it's the same thing. The west is left out. That's why we named it the Buffalo Project."

Frederick Haultain, the North-West Territories first and only territorial premier. (University of Saskatchewan Archives B-360)

'Pushing back'

Robinson said the Buffalo Project is also a response to things like Leadnow, the Tides Foundation and advertising campaigns from unions.

"It's the left that's been pushing the agenda and pushing the narrative over and over again and now finally the right is pushing back," Robinson said.

"We all love Canada. But the west is decimated right now so we need to rise up and fix some of these issues. It starts by changing the narrative, changing the way we think and sometimes changing governments too."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Hunter
Journalist

Adam Hunter is the provincial affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. He has been with CBC for 12 years. He hosts the CBC podcast On the Ledge. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca