Wall says Harper asked to have equalization suit dropped

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has asked Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall to drop a lawsuit against the federal government over equalization payments.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has asked Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall to drop a lawsuit against the federal government over equalization payments.

Wall made that admission Monday under questioning from Opposition leader Lorne Calvert — the former NDP premier who launched the lawsuit last fall.

Opposition leader Lorne Calvert says the Saskatchewan Party has been going easy on the Conservatives over the equalization dispute. ((CBC))

Calvert asked Wall if Harper or anyone in his government has asked Saskatchewan to "drop our constitutional challenge which fights for a fair equalization deal."

"I've been in conversation with the prime minister of Canada, who's encouraged that this event take place," Wall replied. "I have said to him, as I've said to the media and to the people of the province, that no final decision has been taken."

Calvert asked his question before proposing an emergency debate on equalization, the $12 billion program in which so-called "have-not" provinces receive payments from Ottawa. Calvert couldn't get unanimous approval from MLAs to proceed, however.

Thanks in large part to surging oil and gas revenues, Saskatchewan gets nothing from the program.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said his approach to dealing with Ottawa has already paid dividends, including getting $240 million for a clean coal plant. ((CBC) )

Three years ago, the Saskatchewan Party joined with NDP MLAs in passing a unanimous motion calling on the then-Liberal federal government to take non-renewable resources like oil and gas out of the formula.

The Saskatchewan government estimated that and other promised changes would put an extra $800 million into provincial coffers, year after year.

During the last federal election campaign, the Conservatives promised to make the changes, but after the Conservatives won, they broke their promise, Calvert said.

He accused the Saskatchewan Party of backing away from the fight over equalization.

"They were willing to stand up against Liberals, but when it comes to standing up against Conservatives, not a chance," Calvert said. "They'd sooner sell out the people of Saskatchewan than stand up against this Conservative prime minister."

Documents filed in court by the Calvert government last October said it would argue that the equalization program treats Saskatchewan unfairly under the Constitution and interferes with its ability to manage its natural resources.

Wall, who didn't support the emergency debate Monday, said he's still deciding on the merits of the legal case while he tries to forge a more peaceful relationship with Ottawa.

"We can always go back to those kinds of motions and the fighting that characterized the federal-provincial relationship just prior to the election,"  he said. "That's still an option, it always is."

However, a less confrontational approach appears to be paying off, he said.

So far, Saskatchewan has received $240 million for a clean coal project, plus new funding for the Saskatoon synchrotron and for child care, Wall said.