The climate is changing. So should Wall.

September 1, 2016

Illustration of Brad Wall riding a unicorn, featuring pixies.

Premier Wall mocked the Leap Manifesto, writing on Twitter he was “blinded by the pixie dust and gored by the unicorn.” Illustration by Remie Geoffroi

In 2012, Saskatchewan surpassed Alberta as Canada’s largest per-capita emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG). In support of the polluters (or perhaps to avoid any cognitive dissonance) the Brad Wall government also went beyond the climate denying rhetoric we were used to hearing across our western border.

The federal government and most provincial governments appear to have grasped the severity of climate change and are beginning to act. At the end of June, the Trudeau government announced a review of Harper-era environmental reforms, including the controversial hollowing out of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, Fisheries Act and Navigable Waters Act. Public consultations will be an important part of this review, which will also consider the needs and concerns of Indigenous peoples with the objective of incorporating Indigenous traditional knowledge into environmental decision-making processes. 

The Ontario government just released a Climate Change Action Plan that will invest nearly $2 billion annually—the expected proceeds from a cap and trade program to be implemented in 2017—in public transit, building retrofits and the development of carbon-neutral technology.  Quebec launched its cap and trade program in 2012, while British Columbia implemented a revenue-neutral carbon tax in 2008 to ensure emitters pay the full price, and to make clean energy alternatives more attractive.

Alberta, once seen as the most oppositional to climate action, just passed legislation implementing a carbon tax that will take effect in 2017. And in June 2016, New Brunswick announced GHG reduction targets that surpass national standards. The conversations around climate change are not only shifting at the legislative level, but also in the courts. Consider the recent Federal Court decision to overturn the approval of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline because the Harper government failed to adequately consult with First Nations.

So what of Saskatchewan? Unfortunately, the province is led by a premier who has rejected climate change science and the Leap Manifesto as “misguided dogma that has no basis in reality.” Wall recently started an embarrassing Twitter fight with environmentalist and Leap co-organizer Naomi Klein, in which he misquoted research from Stanford University environmental engineering professor Mark Jacobson that was cited in the manifesto.

The premier has also taken it upon himself to be the travelling spokesperson for TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline, visiting Toronto, Montreal and Saint John to bolster the project—all on the public dime. To top it off, Wall is the loudest provincial leader opposing a national carbon pricing strategy. “This is fundamentally the wrong time for the country, and especially for Western Canada, to be looking at another tax on everything,” he said in July, just before a meeting of the premiers in Whitehorse.

While Ontario successfully phased out coal-fired electricity generation in 2014, the Saskatchewan government boasts of having the world’s first “post-combustion coal-fired carbon capture and sequestration project” integrated into a power station. But is it a sign of innovation and cutting edge technology or just a really bad idea? I believe it is the latter.

When electricity is generated through the burning of coal, the carbon that is produced is captured, sold and transported by pipeline to nearby oil fields where it is used for oil recovery. Excess carbon is injected and stored deep underground in a sedimentary basin. Instead of combating climate change, Saskatchewan is using captured carbon to extract more non-renewable resources.

Saskatchewan’s First Nations Power Authority is a good step toward more autonomy over energy projects for the province’s Indigenous communities. But without a provincial policy on climate change or energy production, renewable energy projects will continue to struggle to gain real traction. Here Ontario offers another positive example in its set-asides for First Nations within the lauded Green Energy Act, which used feed-in-tariffs to encourage green energy production. 

In November 2015, Wall did announce that Saskatchewan would get 50% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 by developing three new wind power projects that will nearly double Saskatchewan’s wind generation by 2020. This is a step in the right direction that should diversify our electrical grid. Still, it does little to relieve Saskatchewan’s economic reliance on non-renewable resource extraction.

The metaphoric dragging of our feet in Saskatchewan matters to all Canadians and, frankly, to the world. Our economy is broken and we all face a very real threat of a changing climate. But with policies that reflect the current global need to address climate change, we can create a new economy that provides skilled employment and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Davida Bentham is an activist and community organizer in Saskatoon, Treaty 6 territory. She is a law student at the University of Saskatchewan and is passionate about environmental, immigration and Indigenous rights and reconciliation.

This article was published in the September/October 2016 issue of The Monitor. Click here for more or to download the whole issue.