Brad Wall says not enough attention on economy in campaign

Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall is calling on federal party leaders to respond to his concerns about energy, the economy, genetically modified organisms and equalization payments.

Saskatchewan premier wants to hear more about the economy - and less about Mike Duffy

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says there isn't enough discussion on the economy in the lead-up to the federal election Oct. 19. (Liam Richards/Canadian Press)

Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall wants to see federal party leaders focus more on the economy during the federal campaign than on the Mike Duffy trial.

"It's remarkable that we've heard as little as we have," Wall said in an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House.

"Obviously a certain trial underway in Canada is taking up a lot of oxygen…but I hope we begin to focus very, very directly on the economy of this country."

Wall's economic concerns prompted him to send a letter last week to Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, asking the party leaders for their policies related to energy, genetically modified organisms, pipelines and equalization payments.

Wall may not be wading into the federal campaign in as direct a way as Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne, but he said his Saskatchewan Party is prepared to take a stand on which party they think would be best for the province.

"We'll look at the platforms and announcements of the party leaders and the responses to the letter that we sent through that filter — what do we think best for Saskatchewan going forward?" Wall said.

"We'll reveal the responses we get and we'll make a comment thereafter and say, 'from our perspective we think this is good or not so good for the province.' We'll make that public and people can make up their own minds."

Wall said he has yet to receive any replies from the federal party leaders.

Equalization program not so equal, Wall says

One of the key issues raised in Wall's letter was the federal equalization program, the revenue-sharing formula between Ottawa and the provinces that groups provinces into "have" and "have not" regions.

Wall is calling for a reconsideration of the $17 billion program, specifically when it comes to two points he deems unfair to Saskatchewan.

"One change we'd like to make, to modernize it, is to include hydro in the calculation," he said. "We'd also argue those provinces with the great advantage of hydro, that other's don't have, should probably have to have that included in their calculation of economic capacity."

Provinces that have hydroelectric power are able to export it, but profits made on those exports aren't part of the equalization formula, according to Wall.

The other "unfairness" Wall cited is what he described as a time lag of three to five years built into how the equalization formula calculates what individual provinces pay into the program. 

He pointed to Alberta as an example of how the lag negatively affects provinces that rely heavily on one sector.

"Albertans will fund their share, probably $2 billion of the $17 billion program, even though they're getting hammered by $40 oil and there's massive lay-offs — and this lag may last for five years," Wall said.

Wall added he believes there's a need for the equalization program in Atlantic Canada, but argued the current formula could be tweaked with half of the money in the fund going towards supporting infrastructure across the country.

"Larger provinces, on a per capita basis, like Quebec would benefit," he said. "I think it would be a great advantage to all of Canada, but I understand it's controversial."

Pipelines 'top of the list' of economic issues in campaign

Equalization is just one part of a larger conversation Wall wants to see happen during the campaign. 

"We should be focused on what does Canada need to do to remain competitive," he said. "What do we need to do to come through this time of economic softness?"

For Wall, the answer lies in pipelines.

"Energy transportation has to be at the top of the list as an economic issue," he said. "We have to decide as Canadians, are we comfortable with the fact that we have the third greatest oil reserves on the planet, and therefore are we comfortable in getting it to market? That's a principle question we have to ask."

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