This story is over 5 years old.


Did the Conservative Party’s Next Leader Use COP21 as a Coming Out Party?

Introducing Brad Wall, Conservative Party leader circa 2018.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall. Photo via Facebook.

When newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that he'd be bringing along a massive delegation of provincial premiers, opposing party leaders, and other politicians from across Canada to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, it was seen as sign of the Liberal Party's new brand of inclusive politics. Yet, one voice in among the Canadian ranks stood out in stark contrast to the rest.


While many provincial leaders and Trudeau himself committed to greater climate change controls, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall rallied against implementing measures such as carbon taxes. Instead, Wall stood alone as the sole voice of dissent in the Canadian delegation, urging other delegates to consider the fragile state of western Canada's energy sector before rushing into such commitments. Wall was unapologetic about his stance, telling reporters that he isn't worried "about what the other kids in class think of me."

"His first objective was to send the message to the Canadian government and other provincial premiers that we have problems in the energy sector and that we don't want to compound those," Joseph Garcea, a professor of political studies at the University of Saskatchewan, told VICE. "He said that he is not opposed to dealing with environmental matters, but argued that we have to do it in a way that doesn't adversely affect the Saskatchewan economy."

Erica Lee is a Saskatoon-based aboriginal and environmental activist who traveled to the COP21 conference as part of the Canadian youth delegation and made headlines by posing for a selfie while sticking her tongue out at Wall during the talks. Lee was troubled by how she saw Wall conducting himself during the conference. "It's disappointing that he was one of Saskatchewan's only representatives, and he spent his whole time at the climate conference making deals with extractive industry and corporations, inviting them into our lands. It was apparent that even the rest of the Canadian delegates viewed Brad Wall as out of touch," she said.


The inclusion of oil and gas companies into the COP21 conference has been somewhat controversial. Some argued that the biggest man-made causes of climate change have no place at the conference, while others contend that extractive industries are an undeniable part of the world economy and will play an important role in controlling climate change.

"As young people, our strength is in breaking through the political games that so many officials want to play—we are here to fight for justice and our futures. A lot of politicians seem detached from that reality," said Lee, "When we called out the government on sending representatives from mining and corporate sectors to an international climate forum, the response was that it wasn't 'practical' to exclude corporations, no matter how unethical their practices. What would be truly practical is to be able to eat food, drink water, and breathe air without being poisoned."

Wall's call for a measured response to climate change was in line with his Saskatchewan Party's previous positions on environmental issues and the energy industry. Wall firmly established himself as a proponent of the Keystone XL pipeline. When that project ultimately failed to come to fruition, Wall took to Facebook to publicly shame President Obama for his choice and went as far as to say that the decision may damage Canada-US relations. Now, Wall has thrown his support behind the proposed Energy East pipeline that would link Alberta and Quebec. Meanwhile, the Saskatchewan Party was also recently implicated in a scandal involving a $1.5 billion carbon capture facility in southern Saskatchewan. The project was flaunted as a major environmental initiative by Wall and his party, however documents leaked to the opposition NDP revealed that the facility was only operated at 45 percent capacity for the year it has been open.


Minister Herb Cox and Brad Wall (right) in the Saskatchewan wilderness. Photo via Facebook.

While Wall has never tried to hide the fact that he is an ally of the energy industry, his statements at the Paris conference, as well as his criticisms of Trudeau's refugee intake plan, seem to indicate that he has ambitions beyond the premiership of Saskatchewan. Wall has so far denied that he has any interest in running for federal office, but that hasn't stopped people from speculating about where he could fit into the federal Conservative Party as their next leader. "Apart from the people who are within the Conservative Party caucus, he's the only major potential candidate the media talks about," said Garcea.

When Wall was first elected premier in 2007, he did so by a landslide. An important part of the Saskatchewan Party's sweep into power was Wall's leadership. Under his predecessor Erwin Hermanson, the party was firmly established in the political right. In order to appeal to a wider range of voters, Wall moved his party's ideology to the center. It's a strategy that could have merit for a Conservative Party in desperate need of a new image in the wake of a devastating election loss this October. "I think it's fair to say that in conservative circles, there's a feeling that there's the right amount of progressivism and conservatism in Mr. Wall that makes him an attractive candidate," said Garcea.

Wall has enjoyed immense popularity in Saskatchewan for years. In the 2011 provincial election, Wall won reelection and secured the third largest majority government in Saskatchewan history, winning 49 of 57 seats in the provincial legislature. Furthermore, Wall has led the quarterly Angus Reid poll which rates the popularity of Canadian premiers for all of 2015. According to the latest poll released on December 10, Wall holds a 60 percent approval rating and is the only Canadian premier to maintain a majority of support.

However, if Wall does choose to run for the Conservative Party, the road will not be without obstacles. For one, provincial premiers have a historically terrible record when it comes to doing so. Furthermore, Wall doesn't speak French, which will immensely damage his prospects in Quebec and is practically a non-starter in Canadian politics. And with the Conservative Party having had several western Canadian leaders in a row, its leadership could decide that it's time for a leader from the East. With Nova Scotian Peter McKay leading in the most recent polls, that could be the direction the party is heading in.

Regardless of these issues, Garcea believes that Wall will remain an intriguing figure in the Conservative Party leadership debate.

"The truth of the matter is that he's well positioned to either become an influential figure or a leader in the Conservative Party. He's highly respected and he performs well. He has both a high and positive profile in Saskatchewan and across the country," said Garcea.