Alberta Energy Companies Pumping Money into Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party

Alberta companies, many involved in the oil and gas sector, contributed more than $2 million to Premier Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party between 2006 and 2015.

That’s according to a new online searchable database created by Progress Alberta, a progressive, non-profit government watchdog group, that compiles nine years worth of party donation disclosures.
Energy companies topped the list, including $126,923 from Crescent Point Energy, $83,347 from PennWest Petroleum and $68,108 from Cenovus Energy.
An additional $850,000 has flowed into the party’s coffers from other provinces, bumping the total of out-of-province donations to around $3 million since 2006 (banks and pharmaceutical companies from Ontario make up another significant chunk). Tweet: Out-of-province $$ makes up ¼ of all recent SK Party corporate donations @PremierBradWall #skpoli #oilmoney #cdnpoliCollectively, out-of-province corporate donations make up one-quarter of all recent corporate donations.

Such figures, which don’t include donations for the recent 2016 election, are of concern due to Premier Wall’s adversarial posturing to the federal carbon tax, most recently exemplified by the province’s climate plan that favoured significant public investments in pro-fossil fuel technology over a broad-based carbon tax.
Duncan Kinney, executive director of Progress Alberta, says that Wall’s speech on June 8 to an adoring crowd at the Calgary Petroleum Club about pipelines and the “existential crisis” that the energy industry faces pointed to the ways that public and private interests can intersect when large amounts of out-of-province money is involved. 

“No-one really dug into why he was actually there,” Kinney says. “It was a fundraising trip. Brad Wall can come to Alberta, talk directly to the oil and gas community and raise millions of dollars.”

New figures released by the Petroleum Services Association of Canada anticipate Saskatchewan will drill more oil and gas wells in 2017 than any other province.

No Cap on Corporate and Union, Out-of-Province Donations in Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan’s campaign finance laws are regarded as some of the worst in Canada.

There isn’t any cap on contributions, or restrictions on corporate and union donations. In addition, out-of-province contributions — banned in Alberta in 1977 under Peter Lougheed — are sanctioned, as are out-of-country donations so long as the company has a Canadian presence of some kind.

“Obviously the fear is that corporations will use contributions to buy favourable policies or legislation, or at least buy access to these leaders,” says Simon Enoch, director of the Saskatchewan Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

“Whereas if you have a cap, there’s no distinct leading contributor that you can point to.”

The CCPA’s Saskatchewan office published a report in December 2012 that arrived at many of the same conclusions as the Progress Alberta findings: contributions overwhelmingly funnel to the Saskatchewan Party and most out-of-province corporation donations come from Alberta (between 2008 and 2010, contributions from Alberta accounted for 42 per cent of the party’s top donations).

”The oil industry looms large as key contributors to the Sask Party,” Enoch says.

Many Alberta-based oil and gas companies have significant investments in Saskatchewan oil plays, with potential interests in reducing obligations around environmental assessments and “playing” royalty regimes off each other to keep rates as low as possible.

‘We Can All Agree That They Expect Something In Return For These Really Large Cash Donations’

Enoch said the last time the province had a serious conversation about campaign finance reform was during Erin Weir’s run for leadership of the Saskatchewan NDP, which featured a policy proposal to ban all corporate and union donations.

A corporate lobbyist registry was launched in August, which is “pretty rudimentary and certainly not as good as some other provinces, but at least we have a picture of who’s meeting with the government and why.”

But there’s still no cap on donations, unlike in Alberta which sports limits of $15,000 in non-election years and $30,000 in election years. That means that in Saskatchewan politics, individuals, corporations and unions can donate as much as desired. Oddly enough, that’s resulted in sizable donations from Saskatchewan-based crown corporations, government agencies, municipalities, health regions and school boards.

Enoch’s quick to clarify that there’s no clear evidence of a “pay to play” relationship, but that we can “all agree that they expect something in return for these really large cash donations that they’re making.”

Wall Says He Has No Interest in Changing Election Finance Laws

That’s where a ban on corporate and union donations could come in. The very first bill the Alberta NDP passed, introduced in June 2015, implemented such a measure, although there were concerns of loopholes that allowed for corporations and unions to provide loan guarantees and donate the paid time of employees to ‘volunteer’ for political parties.

However, Wall told CBC News he has no interest in changing campaign financing laws. NDP interim leader Trent Wotherspoon has indicated that his party wants to see a ban on corporate and union donations.

A similar situation has taken shape in B.C. where the ruling BC Liberals have refused to update the province’s scant political donation laws. Both the B.C. Green Party and the provincial NDP have promised to overturn or review B.C.’s campaign finance laws if elected in the spring 2017 race.

“I think there’s an opportunity for opposition politicians as well as the general public in Saskatchewan to rise up and say that this is unacceptable and unneeded and that people in Saskatchewan should be the only ones who can donate to Saskatchewan politics,” Kinney concludes.

Image: Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall. Photo: Canada 2020 via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

James Wilt is a freelance journalist based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a journalism degree from Mount Royal University in…

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