A provincial election campaign is underway in Saskatchewan – a province with a strong oil and gas production industry, and where 72% of electricity comes from coal and gas. Although the conservative-leaning Saskatchewan Party led by Scott Moe is favoured to win the election on October 26th, a new report published by the Saskatchewan Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Analysis on October 14 reveals that there is strong concern about climate change, and surprising support for a shift to renewable energy in the province. Transition Time? Energy Attitudes in Southern Saskatchewan was written by professors from University of Toronto, in collaboration with Emily Eaton, Associate Professor at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan. It reviews the energy politics of the province briefly, and reports the responses of over 500 residents to a survey of five broad issues: climate change, transition, regional differences, energy production, and SaskPower.
While over 40% of respondents were worried about climate change, 50% disagreed that “it is necessary for Canada to phase out oil and gas production as our contribution to mitigating climate change”. 65% of respondents agreed that “Canada can continue to develop fossil fuels such as oil sands in Alberta and still meet its climate commitments” (only 18% disagreed). Regarding carbon pricing, 47% strongly disagreed that Saskatchewan needs a price on carbon emissions. (Saskatchewan is one of the provinces currently fighting the federal carbon tax in the Supreme Court ).
Yet in a contradictory way, 60% of respondents supported a phase out of oil, gas and coal production in Saskatchewan – with 23% favouring a 10-year timetable for such a phase out. Even in oil-producing areas, half of the population agreed with phasing out fossil fuels, and 30% within 10 years or less. Respondents rated comparable salary and benefits, and maintaining equity in house/property values as the most important considerations in a Just Transition- more important than support and training to transition to new roles, and employment opportunities in your current community. Saskatchewan was one of the provinces visited by the federal Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities, and the views of Saskatchewan citizens were reported in the Task Force’s 2019 report, What we Heard.
The discussion which concludes the paper states that “it is clear that there is an urgent need for honest climate change leadership in the province. The fossil fuel industries have attempted to obstruct a transition to zero-carbon economies by suggesting that climate change can be tackled while continuing to produce fossil fuels, a belief widely held in Saskatchewan and propagated by both the government and the official opposition.”