Former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall recently joined Calgary-based Avenue Living Asset Management as a special business adviser, as well as a trustee to the Avenue Living Real Estate Core Trust. The company has more than $1.3 billion in assets with more than 8,500 residential units across Western Canada. Calgary’s Business has a two-part question and answer with Wall. Yesterday, he talked about Avenue Living. Today, he discusses the economy and politics.
What are your thoughts on the Alberta economy and where we’re at?
Wall: I’m very hopeful for a couple of reasons. I do think that TMX (Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion) is going to get built. I’m hopefully not being naive about it. I think it will. I think you’ve got Line 3 coming and to the extent that’s really going to help with the (oil price) differential – the discount at which Canadians sell their oil because we can’t get world price, we can’t get our product to tidewater. That’s going to provide some relief.
I think the election helps. A lot of economic development I believe is psychological and here you have a new Premier (Jason) Kenney moving very quickly in terms of his promises to both be proactive in promoting the Alberta economy as a place to invest but also to defend it against external threats and that’s what he was doing that first trip to Ontario. I thought it was pretty telling. It was right after the government was sworn in effectively. And he’s in Ottawa defending the province against Bill C-69 and C-48 in his commentary – the tanker ban. And then on the way home he stopped in Toronto and gave a speech to promote the fact that they were open for business.
He signalled that he’ll keep his promise on the carbon tax and he’ll keep his promise on the corporate tax. That particular tax reduction is not as important for other jurisdictions in Canada if they don’t have a lot of head offices but of course Alberta is fortunate to have those head offices and there’s been a hollowing out here through this very difficult time but it’s still a strength of Calgary and Edmonton that they have the corporate involvement and that tax plan he has is compelling. Cautious optimism is a reasonable thing for Albertans to be feeling right now for those reasons.
Part 1 of our interview with Brad Wall
I’m just going to finish up on my own province. I think this is the ninth month in a row of job creation, of adding jobs. The last one Saskatchewan led the country with 15,000 new jobs created year over year. My last budget was a difficult one. We decided to get off the resource revenue roller-coaster. I wanted to take those decisions so whoever was next – the successor didn’t have to do them. But what Premier (Scott) Moe has is completed what we started then, which is this two-year plan to balance.
Alberta took a much different approach, racking up massive deficits. There is a point to stimulus but at some point it can be counterproductive. So in Saskatchewan we have the fiscal probity, the fiscal responsibility, that’s now the foundation for competitiveness and I think you’re going to see Premier Moe make things even more attractive and more competitive but it’s really coming back there. And Manitoba’s been still relatively stable throughout all this time.
Why are you positive about Trans Mountain?
Wall: It’s informed by the folks that I work with, my colleagues. One of my other advisory roles is with Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP – with the law firm that has worked on that pipeline for a long time. I just sense from colleagues there and from what I understand the federal government has been saying about it – they are now the owners of the pipeline – there’s reason to believe that June 18 will see the moving forward with this project … I’m cautiously positive about that.
How important is the October federal election going to be in where this country goes forward economically?
Wall: I happen to think it’s important. I make no bones about it. I think we need a change in Ottawa. However, I think if this current government is re-elected and does not proceed with Bill C-69 as it is and does not proceed with the tanker ban and moves ahead with the pipeline, well that’s basically achieving perhaps the three most important things that a change in government could achieve. Well, except, I think the carbon tax is bad environmental policy and worse economic and consumer policy.
But those three things if the current federal government is re-elected and they don’t go through with them as they are, that’s positive.
If the government changes from what I’ve read of platforms and commitments of (Andrew) Scheer (Conservative Party leader), all those things are going to happen anyway. If we come out of that election and we still have Bill C-69 – which will make it almost impossible to do major resource infrastructure projects including pipelines – that’s what the industry says, it’s not what I’m just saying as a retired politician – if that’s passed and if C-48 passes as it is, this is a patently unfair piece of legislation that says to Alberta and Saskatchewan: “We’re going to ban your oil from export. We’re going to basically prevent you from exporting your oil but there will be no such (policy) on the Atlantic coast that would prevent us from importing oil from places like Saudi Arabia.”
Can you imagine what that will do for national unity?
It’s bad economic policy. It’s terrible for the West. But perhaps even more serious, it’s very bad for national unity and national unity that’s already under great stress.
Besides Avenue Living and Osler, are you working with anyone else right now?
Wall: I’m doing some other board work and have a few independent clients as well. I should say the first board I accepted was NexGen Energy, which is a great uranium company, project, in northern Saskatchewan. I’m excited to be on that board and perhaps providing some advisory help if I can there too.
So is politics completely done for you? Or is that still a possibility in the future?
Wall: No. I had 18 years in elected politics and I am grateful for that. I had my dream job for 10 years. Best job I’ll ever have.
But I’m really enjoying this phase just building this business and I’m still commenting on politics. I’m writing in the National Post every now and then and BOE Report and a few other places. I do want to stay involved. There’s issues that are important to me that I feel strongly about and I want to be able to contribute if I can if only from the sidelines.
But not back into politics?
Wall: No. No.
– Mario Toneguzzi