Plate spat could trigger ‘trade war’ with Saskatchewan, Alberta minister says – Edmonton

Alberta’s Economic Development Minister continues to bait Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall while promising a court fight after Wall banned Alberta licence plates on road construction sites.

Deron Bilous called the ban desperate and a violation of interprovincial free trade rules.

“You’ve got Brad Wall, who is a premier who is quite desperate to change the channel from his bad for business budget … and so they’ve decided to come after Alberta and Alberta workers,” Bilous said in an interview Thursday with CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM.

“It’s quite absurd, when you think about it. Alberta’s economy is bigger than both B.C. and Saskatchewan’s combined, so starting a trade war with your bigger, older brother is never a wise thing to do.”

Bilous reiterated his promise to launch a legal challenge. If Saskatchewan fails to rescind the restriction within the week, Alberta will be filing the necessary court papers, he said.

‘They’re going to lose this fight’

“I’ve called on Brad Wall to smarten up and kill this ridiculous and discriminatory restriction and within six days, and if Saskatchewan chooses not to, we’ll be taking them to court,” said Bilous.

“They’re going to lose this fight.”

On Wednesday, the province of Saskatchewan announced that it is banning workers with Alberta plates from all new road projects.

The Ministry of Highways said it is singling out Alberta because Saskatchewan workers in Alberta feel forced to register their vehicles in order to work there.

“Saskatchewan operators feel forced to register their vehicles in Alberta if they want to do business there,” said Saskatchewan Infrastructure Minister David Marit on Wednesday. “Today’s announcement just levels the playing field.”

The ban only applies to Alberta. All other Canadian licence plates are welcome on new road construction sites in Saskatchewan. Existing projects will not be affected.

‘They’re going to go after Alberta workers’0:54

Bilous said the ministry’s claims are bogus. Saskatchewan contractors working in Alberta are not required to change plates, or go through any additional vehicle registrations, he said.

He suggested that Saskatchewan’s trade minister might be “confused.”

“Their accusations, we’ve gone through our own departments and found it to be untrue, so the fact that they’re trying to pick a fight with Alberta, I think it’s a little ridiculous. In fact, it’s quite absurd,” he said.  

“This is absolutely a discriminatory process.”

The plate feud is the latest cross-boundary sniping between Wall’s right-of-centre government and Premier Rachel Notley’s left-leaning NDP.

Fishing for controversy 

Wall’s government has previously complained about new rules assisting Alberta’s craft brewers that Saskatchewan calls unfair to out-of-province beer producers.

Political analyst Paul McLoughlin said while the entire spat may be the “silly” target of jokes, it’s an interesting manifestation of a complicated, three-way political feud between the Rachel Notley’s NDP government, Alberta’s United Conservatives and the reigning Saskatchewan Party.

“There is a little partisan game going on here,” McLoughlin said Thursday. “It’s more than a rivalry, it’s political friction between Saskatchewan and Alberta.

“It’s like Saskatchewan took the bait and the NDP said, ‘Fine let’s reel this one in’ “
–  Paul McLoughlin, political analyst

By making Saskatchewan look foolish, the NDP government has managed to cast shade on Alberta UCP leader Jason Kenney and his newly formed party, said McLoughlin.  

All three parties are fishing for a little bit of controversy, he said.

“You have to remember that Brad Wall is a hero to conservatives across the country, including Jason Kenny and the United Conservative Party so any opportunity the NDP has to generate outrage about the terrible things they’re doing in Saskatchewan, they go after it with relish and glee.

“It’s like Saskatchewan took the bait and the NDP said, ‘Fine let’s reel this one in.’ “

‘I wasn’t sure if it was a hoax or not’ 

Terry Parker, executive director for Building Trades of Alberta, which represents 75,000 workers, and former executive director for Building Trades of Saskatchewan said he was baffled by the move.

He said he hasn’t heard any complaints, on either side of the border, about the licensing issue, and the announcement  came as a shock to people working in the construction industry.

“I wasn’t sure if it was a hoax or not when I first saw it, it just doesn’t seem legitimate,” Parker said.

“Why not target all of Canada? Why only target Alberta? This doesn’t make any sense to me.

“It could be that they’re trying to gain political support out there. I’m not sure what Brad Wall, or the Saskatchewan Party, is trying to accomplish with this.”

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