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Saskatchewan

Transition Time?: Energy Attitudes in Southern Saskatchewan

By Andrea Olive, Emily Eaton, Randy Besco, Nathan Olmstead, and Catherine Moez - Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Fall 2020

If you woke up in southern Saskatchewan today, chances are it is windy, and the sun is shining. Regina and Saskatoon are among the sunniest cities in all of Canada, and southern Saskatchewan has some of the highest solar photovoltaic potential in North America (Government of Canada nd). It also has some of the highest wind energy potential on the continent (Saskwind nd). Yet there is little solar or wind energy production occurring in the province — indeed, at present, wind contributes 5% and solar contributes less than 3% of energy consumed. Instead, Saskatchewan is known as an oil and gas economy with a dependence on coal for electricity and a deep opposition to carbon pricing. While high oil prices and a shale oil revolution initially led to a “Saskaboom,” the tides have quickly turned. With the collapse in oil prices in 2014 and the COVID-19 crisis of 2019-2020, boom has turned to bust, and oil and gas communities are hurting.

The problems with a steady reliance on fossil fuels are twofold: economic and environmental. For starters, an oil and gas economy is a volatile economy. As COVID disruptions revealed, any shock to the system can devastate the industry. When demand fell — as airlines cancelled flights and people lived under lock-down — oil prices tumbled to $3.50 USD a barrel in April. Pumps across Saskatchewan went idle. Similar slumps were felt during the 2008 global recession and the 2014 global drop in oil prices. When government revenues are closely tied to oil and gas production the fear of the next bust is always — and rightfully — around the corner.

The environmental externalities of fossil fuels are also ever present. Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels like oil, gas, and coal are the leading cause of climate change, including unpredictable weather patterns, such as extreme heat, droughts, and flooding. In 2017, Saskatchewan’s emissions were 75% higher than they were in 1990. Today, the province’s emissions per capita are the highest in Canada and among the highest in the world (UCS 2018).

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Winds of Change: Public Opinion on Energy Politics in Saskatchewan

By Andrea Olive, Emily Eaton, and Randy Besco - Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives - April 2018

Energy politics are controversial in Canada. Debates over pipelines, from the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion to TransCanada’s Keystone XL, are often splashed across newspaper headlines. In Saskatchewan, however, the Saskatchewan Party government and the official NDP opposition have rarely disagreed about the importance of defending the province’s oil industry from anti-pipeline activists and federal climate change policies. Most recently, the interim leader of the NDP sided with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley in the dispute between Alberta and British Colombia over Kinder Morgan.1 Although Saskatchewan produces no bitumen itself, the NDP joined Premier Notley in condemning BC Premier Horgan’s announcement that British Colombia will place restrictions on the shipment of bitumen through its territory.

Given the seeming political consensus that defending the oil industry is consistent with defending the province’s interests, one might assume that Saskatchewan people are relatively united in their support for fossil fuel extraction. In this report we present some surprising results of public opinion polling that we conducted on issues of oil extraction, environment, and climate change in the province. Our results show that people living in Saskatchewan support a transition away from fossil fuels and agree that the government should invest more in solar and wind power while strengthening environmental regulations.

Read the report (PDF).

Saskatchewan workers in solidarity with Standing Rock

By Denise Leduc - Rank and File, November 30, 2016

Organizing on social media brought a group of Saskatchewanians together to travel south to North Dakota to visit Standing Rock earlier this month. Amongst this group were several union members and labour activists. Speaking with four from the group – Cat Gendron, Darin Milo, Nathan Schneider and Chelsea Taylor-Flook, they share why they went, some of their experiences and what they bring back home.

All expressed the desire to learn as one reason to make the trip. Darin Milo added that the human rights and environmental issues were reasons he went. “Does an oil company get the ultimate say,” he asks, “Can they override democracy?”

Milo, a member of COPE Local 397 also explains that in the original plan for the pipeline, it was to be built closer to Bismarck. When people in the town rightly voiced their concerns about the pipeline it was rerouted closer to Indigenous land. Additionally, the pipeline would travel beneath the Missouri River which is the water supply for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of approximately 10,000 people.

One cannot ignore the question of racism when a mostly white town can get the pipeline moved but the concerns of Indigenous people are not met with the same consideration. Furthermore, construction of this pipeline in the planned location would also break the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty.

Milo adds that the AFL-CIO and USW have supported this pipeline project, yet individual American trade unionists are taking a stand, and even defying union leadership for what they believe is right. In fact, many have become frustrated by the mainstream union support for pipelines. Many workers have come to the camp on their own and together have established a labor camp as part of the larger protest. Milo said it was surprising the number of American workers that were there from the building trades. He admits many of these workers are between a rock and hard a place-on one hand their concerns over what they believe is right and just, while on the other hand having concerns over good jobs and feeding their families. Even here in Saskatchewan, frictions can be caused over the Dakota Access Pipeline as the actual pipeline would be manufactured at Evraz in Regina.

Milo is troubled over the use of dogs, pepper spray, and rubber bullets on peaceful protesters. Yet, he says, “As trade unionists we have to stand up for union jobs, but we also have to stand up for human rights.”

Cat Gendron a labour and climate activist admits that she wasn’t expecting the frequency of helicopters, drones, and the number of police she witnessed while at the camp. Nathan Schneider, also a member of COPE went for a walk one of the evenings of the trip. As he strolled across the highway and over a hill, behind barricades he viewed dozens of police and military vehicles. He was surprised and concerned over the heavy hand the state was using against peaceful protestors.

Despite the militarized environment, there was also a feeling of hope at the camp. Gendron went to learn and help out and within minutes of arriving at the camp the Saskatchewan group found themselves unloading supplies delivered to the camp. She claims that the Octei Sakowin Camp which is the largest camp at the protest was well-coordinated, very organized and inclusive. Thousands of people were there. She also appreciated that it was respected throughout the camp that this was an Indigenous-led movement. There was also a legal camp, a place for healing, as well as treaty and direct action classes, and building crews for the winter construction.

Gendron describes a candlelight vigil put on by the Youth Council. A thousand people walked through the dark with candles guiding their way to the Missouri River. Once at the river prayers were offered for the water and for the water protectors. Then prayers were also offered to the construction workers in spite of a construction worker pulling a gun on members of the camp that same day. There was acknowledgement that construction workers were just there trying to do a job and provide for their families. Gendron believes it is the system that pits people against each other.

Of the people at Standing Rock she says, “Where you are expecting anger and frustration, instead you get compassion and empathy.” She adds, “We have a lot to learn.”

Chelsea Taylor-Flook agrees. Although she has a lot of experience in labour, environmental and Indigenous Rights activism, she said the vigil was one of the largest and most powerful marches she has been a part of. Despite the constant police and military presence she enjoyed the atmosphere of the camp. It was a safe place where everyone was looking out for each other. There was support, healing and the understanding that people on both sides of this issue were facing challenges. In the evenings there were drummers, singers and an emcee. Taylor-Flook feels it was the asserting of local traditions that were carrying the camp. She also believes that labour and Indigenous group are natural allies.

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