Saskatchewan respondents rank comparable salary and preserving home equity as most important factors in a Just Transition

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.”

Saskatchewan announces $10 million aid for Estevan and Cornach coal transition

A February 28 press release from the government of Saskatchewan announced funding to support the communities of Estevan  and Cornach     – the province’s principal coal-producing communities – as they transition after the federally- mandated phase-out of traditional coal-fired electricity generation by 2030.  Estevan is scheduled to receive $8 million and Cornach  $2 million in this provincial announcement – money that had already been pledged in the government’s Throne speech in October 2019 .

Climate Justice Saskatoon has studied and compiled research into  the coal transition for these two communities as a project called Future of Coal.  A useful timeline highlights key developments in the phase-out process from 2017 to 2019 and a report,   Bridging the gap: Building bridges between urban environmental groups and coal-producing communities  (2018), reports on “in-depth conversations with coal and service industry workers, town administrators, union representatives, and farmers”  in Cornach and Estevan.

The federal Task Force on a Fair and Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities visited the two communities – briefly noted in their What we Heard report  and reported at length by the Estevan Mercury newspaper here.   The  Regina Leader Post reported in detail on the anxiety and frustration of workers in  “ ‘Energy city’ feeling powerless as coal phase-out haunts Estevan” (June 2019) . Workers are members of  United Mine Workers Local 7606 ,  and many are hoping that investment in carbon capture and storage (CCS)  might prolong their working lives.  A  video explains their view of  CSS  here on the Local 7606 website .

Coal transition funds announced for Alberta and Saskatchewan communities

On June 28, the federal government announced funding of $4,489,100 through the Canada Coal Transition Initiative.  Details of the funded projects – four in Alberta and five in Saskatchewan –  are listed in the Backgrounder . The Saskatchewan projects include establishing a solar installation training program in Estevan; development of business retention and expansion plans for Weyburn, Estevan, Moose Jaw and Coronach; and an economic and employment impact analysis with a regional strategic economic mitigation plan to support the Coronach & Region Coal Transition Initiatives. The Canada Coal Transition Initiative is a $35 million, five-year strategic fund to support skills development and economic diversification activities for workers and communities impacted by the government’s February 2018 decision to phase out traditional coal-fired electricity generation by 2030.

Since the June 28 announcements, brief reactions  have appeared: “Federal government gives $1.2M to Sask. groups to phase out coal” at CBC Saskatchewan; “Feds announce funding for coal energy transition in Saskatchewan, Alberta”which quotes a United Mineworkers spokesperson and the official province of Saskatchewan response;  “Leduc, Parkland counties among recipients of federal coal transition handout” in the Edmonton Journal, and  “Edmonton-area counties get help from Ottawa for coal transition” at CBC Edmonton.

The June 28 funding press release also  states:

In response to the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities, the Government of Canada intends to:

Create worker transition centres (funded through Budget 2018);

Explore new ways to protect wages and pensions; and

Create a $150 million infrastructure fund, beginning 2020-21, for impacted communities, administered by Western Economic Diversification Canada and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

Boundary Dam facility estevan

Boundary Dam facility in Estevan -photo by Don Healy / Regina Leader-Post) 

How the coal transition is impacting the communities across Canada is evident from the What we heard from Canadian coal power workers and communities report which accompanied the release of the Final Report of the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities in January 2019.  Climate Justice Saskatoon has also published the results of its interviews with people in Estevan and Coronach in its Bridging the Gap project.   Articles have also appeared: “Estevan, Sask. preparing for coal phase-out putting hundreds of jobs at risk”  at Global News (May 2019)  is a profile of the community;  “Saskatchewan reaches agreement with Ottawa to cut power-generation emissions”(January 2019) outlines the agreement reached between the federal and provincial government, allowing  Boundary Dam Three near Estevan to continue beyond 2030, thanks to its nearly $1.5 billion Carbon Capture and Storage  retrofit.

Saskatchewan Court of Appeal rules for federal carbon tax program

With implications across the country, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal handed down a 3-2 decision  on May 3, ruling that the federal Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act (GGPPA) falls within federal government’s “National Concern” constitutional power. The Saskatchewan Association for Environmental Law has compiled all the legal submission documents here ; the EcoFiscal Commission provides a summary of the 155-page Decision here  .

Local coverage and reaction appeared in the Regina Leader Post (May 3) in “Court of Appeal: Saskatchewan government loses carbon tax challenge , and the Premier of Saskatchewan immediately declared that the province will appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, which it must do within 30 days.  As the Globe and Mail points out,  “Saskatchewan court rules federal carbon tax constitutional in first of several legal challenges” .  According to a CBC report, the Premier of New Brunswick  is still considering his options, but newly-elected Premier Jason Kenny of Alberta will join the Saskatchewan Supreme Court action. The Premier of Manitoba announced that his government will not abandon its own court challenge, which it launched on April 3. In Ontario, the Ford government is aggressively promoting its own battle over the carbon tax: four days of hearings ended on April 18th, and the Ontario Court of Appeal is expected to render its own decision on the constitutionality of the carbon tax in several months – possibly not until after the federal election in October 2019.

The political significance of the Saskatchewan decision:  Aaron Wherry at CBC  summarizes the general situation in  “The carbon tax survived Saskatchewan. That was the easy part”  (May 4).  The Globe and Mail states what is a widely accepted opinion in its editorial,  “Why conservatives secretly love the carbon tax”: “Round One goes to Ottawa. But the courtroom war against the federal carbon tax continues – waged by a fraternity of conservative provincial governments with more of an eye on immediate political returns than ultimate legal outcomes.”

Update:  Three law professors- Jason MacLean (University of Saskatchewan), Nathalie Chalifour ( University of Ottawa) and Sharon Mascher (University of Calgary)  published a reaction to the Saskatchewan Court’s decision on May 7 in The Conversation“Work on Climate not weaponizing the constitution”   takes issue with some of the finer legal points of the decision, but welcomes the Court’s recognition of the urgency and scale  of the climate emergency, and concludes: “We have to stop weaponizing the Constitution and start working together, across party lines at all levels of government, on urgent and ambitious climate action.”

Generational justice and climate change: we can all strike for our future

The constitutional challenge by the government of  Saskatchewan to the Canadian government’s Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act of 2018  is underway – hearings were held in February and a decision is pending, with a similar challenge by Ontario to be heard in April. The main purpose of the court challenges is to nullify the federal government’s national carbon tax program , the signature issue of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.  But the case has also given youth activists an opportunity to address the intergenerational justice of Canada’s climate change policies, as described in “Canada obliged to protect future generations from climate change, test case on carbon tax hears”   (Feb. 20)  in The Narwhal.

The preamble of the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act of 2018  states: “…Parliament recognizes it is the responsibility of the present generation to minimize impacts of climate change on future generations.”   This gave the Intergenerational Climate Coalition, led by  Generation Squeeze ,  a platform, as recognized intervenors, to argue that: “Failure to price pollution discriminates against younger Canadians, because it puts in jeopardy our reasonable aspiration to thrive in 2030 and beyond” and “the health threats to children and future generations are vastly disproportionate to their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions”. A press release in December 2018 describes the coalition and summarizes their arguments – mostly based on health consequences of climate change.

This issue of intergenerational  justice was also addressed by Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood in “The all too ugly truth: Climate change is generational genocide” , published  in Behind the Numbers in February.  Echoing the strong and direct tone we have come to expect from Greta Thunberg,  Mertins-Kirkwood states: “For the generations poised to inherit our warming world, the complacency and greed of their predecessors is no longer being tolerated. From Autumn Peltier’s presentation to the United Nations to the climate strikes organized by school children across Europe to the Quebec youth suing the government for failing to protect the environment, young people are refusing to sit by while this existential crisis deepens.”  He continues: “The perpetrators of the climate change genocide include the fossil fuel industry and climate-denying politicians, of course, but also the silent majority of fossil fuel consumers who actively ignore the mounting scientific evidence or otherwise take no responsibility for the path we are on. It is this generation’s campaign of destruction that is being inflicted upon all other and future generations.”

Youth are asking for help:  The main point of Mertins-Kirkwood’s article is to urge us all to act:  First, by recognizing and acknowledging how we have contributed to the problem; Second, by making climate change “a central concern for everyone in your life” ; and third, by supporting  those fighting for a better future, through donations, but also by amplifying youth voices “online and beyond”.  Greta Thunberg has also stated:  “If you think that we should be in school instead, then we suggest that you take our place in the streets, striking from your work. Or, better yet, join us, so we can speed up the process.”

How to respond? “Intergenerational” organizations exist to support the actions of youth activists:  for example, in Canada, Canadian Parents for Climate Action, and  For our Grandchildren Canada ; in Australia, Australian Parents for Climate Action and  1 Million Women .   Fridays for Future Canada   is coordinating the school strikes, but there are many more  youth-led activist groups, many of whom are asking for support and donations.   Some Canadian examples:  Canadian Youth Climate Coalition ; ENvironment JEUnesse  (Quebec group for under-35’s suing the government) ; PowerShift Young and Rising  ; Youth Climate Lab ; The 3% Project .

Youth in at least 22 communities in Canada are participating in the Global Fridays for the Future climate Strike on March 15.  As George Monbiot wrote in Resilience,  “Young climate strikes can win their fight. We must all help”.

fridays for future strikes

An excellent example:  At their most recent climate strike, elementary school students in Sudbury were presented with a letter  of support from the faculty members of Laurentian University.

Canada: the year past and the battle over carbon pricing in the year ahead

The Energy Mix Yearbook Review for 2018 is undoubtedly the most thorough and informed review of 2018 climate issues for Canadians.  It compiles its newsletter coverage of 2018 stories and adds context and analysis, as well as a multitude of links to further reading.  The sections of exceptional interest include “Jobs and Just Transition: Renewables and Efficiency Jobs Surge while Fossil Employment Sags “; “Fossils go for Broke”  and “Canada’s Contradiction: Low-Carbon Leader or Perpetual Petro-State?”  .  Other, briefer overviews for Canada include “State of Play 2018”  from EcoJustice, highlighting legal issues;  “ 10 wins for Canadian energy and climate action in 2018: Year in review” with a positive slant from the Pembina Institute (Dec. 20) ; and from the Council of Canadians 2018 in Review: Offshore drilling (December 21),  a chronology from Atlantic Canada.

On December 20, easily overlooked because of the holiday season,  Environment and Climate Change Canada published five separate review reports.  Clean Canada:  Protecting the Environment and Growing our Economy   is a snapshot of Canada’s federal climate action policies and expenditures, and seems intended for a wide popular audience.  Second Annual Synthesis Report regarding the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Action   (French version here )  is a more detailed accounting of the policies and programs by the federal and provincial governments in 2018, organized in chapters relating to carbon pricing, complementary measures (buildings, transportation, electricity, agriculture, etc.); adaptation and resilience; clean technology and innovation and jobs; reporting and oversight; federal engagement and partnership with Indigenous people .  2018 Canada’s Greenhouse Gas and Air Pollutant Emissions Projections Report  (French version here ) provides, again,  a policy overview but its main purpose is to continue the series of annual reports (since 2011) of detailed emissions data for economic sector and  geographic region. It also includes emissions projections to 2030 under two different scenarios – (spoiler alert: oil and gas will be Canada’s leading source of emissions, followed by transportation and heavy industry).

Other substantial reports published on December 20 will form the basis for consultations in 2019.  The new draft for the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy 2019 to 2022 will inform a public consultation until April 2, 2019. (The companion 2018 Progress Report on the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy  evaluates the 2016 to 2019 strategy goals and the activities of  41 federal departments and agencies.)

The final Clean Fuel Standard Regulatory Design Paper focuses on the liquid fuels regulations, with comments requested by February 1, 2019. The draft regulation is scheduled to be published in 2019 and a final regulation by 2020, bringing to an end a complex consultation process that began in 2016 (summarized by WCR  in January 2018).  The Clean Fuel Standard will apply to the full life cycle of all fuels, gasoline and diesel, aviation fuel, natural gas for heating, and metallurgical coal, and has been called the single most important policy tool to achieve Canada’s emissions reductions target for 2030.

And finally, a regulatory proposal relating to the most publicized issue for 2019: carbon pricing.  Next Steps in Implementing the Federal Pollution Pricing System for Large Industry (the “Output Based Pricing System”)  was released on December 20, and carries  a deadline for public comments of February 15, 2019. The Output Based Pricing System registration system went live on November 1, 2018, with reporting and verification requirements starting on January 1, 2019.

The coming battles over Carbon tax in 2019:   As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in late October 2018,  the federal government has not backed down on its determination to impose a carbon pricing policy across all Canadian jurisdictions in 2019, despite resistance and constitutional challenges led by the premiers of Saskatchewan and Ontario.  In some provinces – British Columbia , Alberta , Quebec  – established carbon pricing systems continue; in Nova Scotia , Prince Edward Island , Newfoundland and Labrador –  newly approved systems which meet the government’s benchmarks under the Pan-Canadian Framework will begin.   In the other provinces who have opposed the federal plan – Manitoba , Saskatchewan , New Brunswick and Ontario  –  the federal backstop fuel charge will be imposed starting in April 2019, sweetened by a “Climate Action Incentive”,  whereby all carbon revenue collected by the federal government will go directly back to people in the provinces from which it was generated.  The Annex of the Second Annual Synthesis Report of the Pan-Canadian Framework  provides up to date summaries for the situation in each province.

Public opinion supports the government’s carbon tax actions, though barely, according to polling made public by Global News on January 3 . Based on a November 9 internal poll conducted for the Liberal party, 46 per cent supported and 44 per cent opposed the plan  in Saskatchewan and Manitoba ; in Ontario, 43 per cent were in support and 32 per cent opposed. Nationally, support was at 47 per cent and opposition was at 29 per cent, with women more supportive than men.

Recently, one article appeared in the labour press, supporting carbon pricing:  “Pricing carbon first step to tackling climate change” in CUPE’s Economy at Work newsletter (Jan. 2).  The mainstream press has been far more active, with general support for a carbon tax: for example,  an editorial in  the Globe and Mail newspaper is titled: “ Do you want a carbon tax, or do you want to be lied to? “(Dec. 26) . The editorial is critical of the Ontario government’s Ontario Carbon Trust proposal, about which it states:  “One emerging conservative alternative to carbon pricing is working with business to spur the development of green technology. What that usually means is taxpayers giving subsidies to business.… “Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives ….say they will dish out $400-million on a “Carbon Trust” that will collaborate with industry on emissions cuts. They can rail against carbon pricing all they want; spending taxpayer money has the same effect on pocketbooks as asking consumers to pay more.”

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce was also widely cited as supporting a carbon tax, to the extent that they issued a press release on December 17 2018, clarifying their position:  “While some of the [media] coverage notes the Chamber’s support for carbon pricing, it neglects to include that the support is contingent upon significant caveats. The report calls for government to take concrete steps to reduce the overall regulatory burden on businesses in Canada, and to return the revenues from the carbon tax to business to help them lower their carbon emissions and their energy costs.”  The report referred to, outlining the full arguments, is   A Competitive Transition: How smarter climate policy can help Canada lead the way to a low carbon economy, which was published in December 2018.

Take it to the Courts!  Saskatchewan filed its challenge to the constitutionality of the federal price on carbon pollution in April 2018; the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal announced that it will hear the case in February 13 and 14, 2019, and released the lengthly list of intervenors which it has allowed to appear.  Intervenors include the provinces  of Ontario and New Brunswick on the side of Saskatchewan, and the province of British Columbia on the side of the federal government; other intervenors include the Canadian Public Health AssociationEcoJustice, representing the David Suzuki Foundation and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation; and the Council of Canadians , as part of a  group of seven other civil society groups, including the National Farmers Union and  Climate Justice Saskatoon.

A separate case  was filed by the Government of Ontario and will be heard by the Ontario Court of Appeal in April 2019.  The full list of intervenors, as well as the court filings by the Ontario government, appear at the Court of Appeal website here . British Columbia and New Brunswick have also applied for intervenor status in this case.

How will the courts decide?   “Courts should not have to decide climate change policy” appeared on December 21  in Policy Options,  with a discussion of the carbon pricing cases as well as the recent litigation by Quebec’s ENvironnement JEUnesse . Co-authors Nathalie Chalifour and Jason Maclean  argue that “only a collaborative  approach to policy-making is capable of delivering the kinds of rapid, forward-looking and systemic changes in how industries and societies function that are necessary to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. Litigation, by contrast, is necessarily reactive and typically divisive, time-consuming and influenced by the incremental development of legal precedent.”  Regarding the provincial carbon tax challenges, they state that “the federal Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act is an example par excellence of cooperative federalism.”…. “There’s little doubt that the courts will confirm the federal government’s jurisdictional authority to regulate GHG emissions. They may even decide that the Constitution obliges the government to take more serious climate action.”

A complex road is ahead, as indicated by a C.D. Howe Institute Memo published in October 2018:   “Federal carbon-pricing backstop is new constitutional territory”.

 

New climate legislation in Saskatchewan – Prairie Resilience without carbon pricing

On October 30,  the first Bill introduced to the new session of the Saskatchewan legislature was Bill No. 132—The Management and Reduction of Greenhouse Gases Amendment Act, 2018 , which, according to a Regina Leader-Post article , carries on  Bill 95, which was introduced in 2009 by the previous government of Brad Wall .  The government’s press release   states that the new legislation: “provides the regulatory framework for performance standards to reduce industrial greenhouse gas emissions, a provincial technology fund, performance credits and offset credits…. In addition to performance standards and compliance options, these amendments require large emitters to register with the province, provide for administrative efficiencies in governance of the technology fund, and enable associated regulations and standards. ”   The press release carries on the province’s existing climate change strategy from December 2017,  titled Prairie Resilience, which rejects carbon pricing.   saskatchewan Prairie Resilience cover

Saskatchewan introduces climate change legislation as feud with Ottawa continues”   in the National Observer  provides a summary; the “feud” referred to was most recently in the news on October 29,  “Doug Ford attacks ‘terrible tax’ on carbon alongside Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe” .

As yet, the text of the Bill is available only through a two-step process: Bills are listed here , which lists a PDF file “ Progress of Bills 2018 – 2019”  which includes a live link to Bill 132.

Just Transition Summit in Saskatchewan – updated

saskfordward just transition jobsAlthough Alberta is the clear leader in oil and gas production in Canada, the province of Saskatchewan ranks second, with about 13% of Canada’s total crude oil production.  Saskatchewan also derives approximately 40 per cent of its power from coal.  Yet on October 27 and 28, progressive organizations in that province convened an enthusiastic forum,  Just Transitions: Building Saskatchewan’s Next Economy Summit in Regina. Sessions most related to employment issues included:  “Transitioning Employment and Work”,   moderated by Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and including panels on  “Labour and Just Transition” by Unifor, CUPW and SEIU West.  There was also a session on “Phasing out Coal” , presented by Climate Justice Saskatoon and Chris Gallaway of the  Alberta Federation of Labour. The full list of presentations is here .

Hosting organizations included: Saskforward   , the Corporate Mapping Project, Climate Justice Saskatoon , the Regina Public Interest Research Group and Unifor.

Local media coverage appeared in the Regina Leader-Post newspaper, and several items at CBC-Saskatchewan, including:  “Indigenous perspective must be heard on climate change, Regina conference told” ;  “Regina summit looks at what shift from coal to renewable energy means for future of Sask. Economy” (specifically reporting on the  town of Coronach, home of the Poplar River coal mine and associated Poplar River Generating Station, threatened by the federal government’s goal to phase-out coal generated electricity by 2030); and an Opinion piece by Emily Eaton from the University of Regina “Beyond ‘jobs versus environment’: Transitions to renewable energy present opportunities for us all”  (Oct. 25).

winds of change saskatchewanEmily Eaton was one of the authors of  “Winds of Change: Public Opinion on Energy Politics in Saskatchewan” , published in April 2018 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Saskatchewan office.  Based on a public opinion poll of 500 Saskatchewan adults, the report summarizes the political climate in Saskatchewan and shows that despite the government’s opposition to carbon taxes and the Pan-Canada Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, there is public support for a transition away from fossil fuels, and for government investment in solar and wind power.

The Saskatchewan event follows the Just Transition and Good Jobs for Alberta 2018 meetings, held in Edmonton on October 22 and 23, with active participation and sponsorship of USW, Unifor, and the Alberta Federation of Labour.  This was the third year of meetings, coordinated by BlueGreen Canada.

Update:  In November, Climate Justice Saskatchewan  has released a report, The Future of Coal in Saskatchewan: Bridging the Gap: building bridges between urban environmental groups and coal-producing communities in Saskatchewan . The report summarizes what was heard during 17 interviews with citizens of the small coal-producing communities of Estevan and Coronach during the spring of 2018, and draws some conclusions which might have application for other social justice and climate justice initiatives.  In general, the interviews exposed the unique challenges of each rural community, but found a common sense of uncertainty stemming from a lack of planning and communication about phasing out coal, bound up in wider challenges of rural decline, agricultural trends, and the boom-and-bust cycles of oil and gas.

 

 

Manitoba joins the Pan-Canadian Framework, leaving Saskatchewan the odd-man-out

Facing a deadline of February 28 to qualify for approximately $67 million in federal funding through the  Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, the province of Manitoba announced on February 23 that it will sign on to the Framework agreement.  However, the province will not compromise on its flat $25-a-tonne carbon price, as outlined in its Made-in-Manitoba climate policy document (October 2017).  Manitoba’s letter announcing its adoption of the Pan-Canadian Framework is here .  The federal government’s letter welcoming  Manitoba is here , stating that Manitoba will only be in compliance with the carbon pricing provisions until 2019. Ottawa has stated that it will review each province’s carbon price plan every year starting in 2019, thus postponing until then any further conflict over the federal standard of a $50 per tonne carbon price . Details of the $2Billion Low Carbon Economy Fund, for which Manitoba now qualifies,are here.

According to a CBC report (Feb. 26), Saskatchewan is now the only province not part of the Pan-Canadian Framework, and the federal government is “just waiting” and hoping that they will commit.  New Premier Scott Moe, so far, is holding to the policies outlined in Prairie Resilience: A Made-in-Saskatchewan Climate Change Strategy, released in December 2017 under previous Premier Brad Wall – a strong opponent of a carbon tax.

Saskatchewan’s new Climate Strategy maintains old positions: No to carbon tax, yes to Carbon Capture and Storage

Prairie Resilience: A Made-in-Saskatchewan Climate Change Strategy was released by the government of Saskatchewan on December 4,  maintaining the province’s  position outside the Pan-Canadian Framework  agreement  with this introductory statement:    “A federal carbon tax is ineffective and will impair Saskatchewan’s ability to respond to climate change.”  A summary of all the strategy commitments appears as  a “Backgrounder” from this link.  An Opinion column in the Regina Leader Post newspaper summarizes it as  a “repackaging” of past policies, and “oil over the environment”.

The provincial government defends their plan as “broader and bolder than a single policy such as a carbon tax and will achieve better and more meaningful outcomes over the long term” by encouraging innovation and investment – and yes, that Prairie spirit of independent resilience.  The strategy includes provisions re protecting communities through physical infrastructure investment,  water system management, energy efficiency for buildings and freight, and disaster management.   It commits to “maintain and enhance partnerships with First Nations and Métis communities to address and adapt to a changing climate through actions that are guided by traditional ecological knowledge.”   In the electricity sector, which at 19% is the third largest source of emissions, it proposes  to introduce regulations governing emissions from electricity generation by SaskPower and Independent Power Producers; meet a previous commitment of up to 50 per cent electricity capacity from renewables; and “determine the viability of extending carbon capture use and storage technology to remaining coal power plants while continuing to work with partners on the potential application for  CCUS technology globally.”    The Strategy is still open to consultation on the regulatory standards and implementation details, with a goal of implementation on January 1, 2019.  Consultation is likely to reflect the state of public opinion on climate change issues as revealed by the Corporate Mapping Project  in Climate Politics in the Patch: Engaging Saskatchewan’s Oil-Producing Communities on Climate Change Issues. The participants in that  study “were largely dismissive over concerns about climate change, were antagonistic towards people they understood as urban environmentalists and Eastern politicians, and believed that the oil industry was already a leader in terms of adopting environmentally sound practices.”      The oil and gas industry is Saskatchewan’s largest emitter, at 32% of emissions in 2015.  For an informed reaction, see Brett Dolter’s article in Policy Options, “How Saskatchewan’s Climate Change Strategy falls short”  (December 11).

sask-power-boundary-damOn the issue of carbon capture and storage:  The Climate Strategy document released on December 4 states a commitment to:  “determine the viability of extending carbon capture use and storage technology to remaining coal power plants while continuing to work with partners on the potential application for  CCUS technology globally.” On December 1, CBC reported that Saskatchewan had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming  to “share knowledge, policy and regulatory expertise in carbon dioxide capture, transportation, storage and applications such as enhanced oil recovery.”  By late 2017 or early 2018, SaskPower is required to make its recommendation on whether  two units at the Boundary Dam will be retired, or retrofitted to capture carbon and storage (CCS) by 2020.  As reported by the CBC , the research of economist Brett Dolter at the University of Regina has found  that conversion to natural gas power generation would cost about 16% of the cost of continuing with CCS ($2.7 billion to replace all remaining coal-fired plants with natural gas plants, compared to  $17 billion to retrofit all coal-fired plants with carbon capture and storage.)  The final decision will need to  consider the economic implications for approximately 1,100 Saskatchewan coal workers, and isn’t expected until a replacement for Premier Brad Wall  has been chosen after his retirement in late January 2018.

For more details:  “Saskatchewan, 3 U.S. states sign agreement on carbon capture, storage” at CBC News (Dec. 1) ; “SaskPower’s carbon capture future hangs in the balance” at CBC News (Nov 23)  , and  “Saskatchewan Faces Tough Decision on Costly Boundary Dam CCS Plant” in The Energy Mix (Nov. 28).

$2 Billion Low-Carbon Economy Fund announced, but Saskatchewan headed in a different direction

On June 15, Canada’s  Federal Environment and Climate Minister announced  details of the  government’s five-year, $2-billion Low Carbon Economy Fund , to support the goals of  the  Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.  The Low Carbon Economy Fund consists of two parts: the larger, Leadership Fund of  $1.4 billion, for projects proposed by  provinces and territories that have signed on  Pan-Canadian Framework , and the Low Carbon Economy Challenge, which  will be launched in fall 2017,  to support projects submitted by all provinces and territories, municipalities, Indigenous governments and organizations, businesses and both not-for-profit and for-profit organizations.  As described in “’Only fair’: McKenna on excluding Saskatchewan, Manitoba from $2B carbon fund” , Manitoba and Saskatchewan must sign on to the Pan-Canadian Framework by December 2017 to be eligible to receive any funding .

geothermalA CBC report summarizes the response by Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall – who states, “”If this fund, which Saskatchewan taxpayers have helped create, is really about reducing carbon emissions, how does withholding those funds for green initiatives in Saskatchewan help that objective?”  Saskatchewan objects to the carbon tax mandate of the Pan-Canadian Framework, and has directed its climate change fight to carbon capture and storage, and more recently, Canada’s first geothermal power plant.  The press release from SaskPower regarding the geothermal power purchase agreement is here. Read  this article from DeSmog blog for a wide-ranging description of Saskatchewan’s energy policy and the announcement of its geothermal plant.

Federal government releases “Backstop” policies for provinces not already pricing carbon – Comment period open till June 30

As part of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, the federal government had outlined the  Pan-Canadian Approach to Pricing Carbon Pollution,  a national carbon pricing system with mandatory benchmarks for each province.  Most provinces, representing 97% of the population, already have, or are in the process of designing, their own systems – British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia (in process).   On May 18, the Government of Canada addressed the remaining 3%  – most notably in the province of Saskatchewan –  with the release of its Technical Paper on the Federal Carbon Pricing Backstop .

The “Backstop” refers to the fact that the policies  will only apply to provinces that do not have a carbon pricing system of their own  in place by 2018.  The proposal is composed of two parts:  a levy on fossil fuels, and a cap and trade system,  patterned after Alberta’s output-based allocation system, to price pollution from industry.  The levy system would include solid, liquid and gaseous fossil fuels: gasoline, diesel fuel, natural gas, coal and coke – and notably, aviation fuel.  Rates would initially be set for 2018 to 2022, progressing with $10 per tonne increments annually from $10 per tonne of CO2-equivalent (CO2e) in 2018 to $50 per tonne in 2022.  The federal commits to  return direct revenues from the carbon levy to the jurisdiction of origin, but there is flexibility about how the provinces can redirect that revenue.

UPDATE:  The EcoFiscal Commission released a helpful blog post on May 24: Explaining Output-Based Allocations (OBAs),  with a promise of a further explainer about the pitfalls of OBAs, to be released soon.

Public comments about the proposals are accepted until June 30, 2017, at Carbonpricing-tarificationcarbone@canada.ca and will be used to design the final carbon system and enabling legislation and regulations.  A sampling of reaction (below)  gives the government high marks for protecting Canadian competitiveness while reducing emissions.

“Is Canada’s carbon-pricing policy striking the right balance?” (May 18) in the Globe and Mail is a general affirmation of the federal proposals by three experts from varied points of view: Christopher Ragan (Chair of the Ecofiscal Commission), Peter Robinson (CEO of the David Suzuki Foundation), and  Steve Williams ( CEO of Suncor Energy).  A business response, in a press release from  TD Economics, covers similar ground: “ Feds Stick to their carbon- pricing guns” (May 18).  It states: “Botton Line: Carbon pricing is the most efficient way of reducing emissions, and today’s announcement should help Canada achieve meaningful emissions reductions. However, follow-through post-2022 will be crucial to achieving the 2030 target. The details of the carbon pricing backstop strike a good balance, providing clear incentives for emissions reduction while taking competitiveness issues into account, recognizing that a large industrial base cannot be “turned on a dime” and will continue to face competition from non-carbon priced jurisdictions.”

From environmental advocacy groups : In “Five things to know about Ottawa’s carbon pricing plan” , Clean Energy Canada highlights the similarities of the Alberta and Saskatchewan economies, and commends the output-based credit system, saying “there’s no question that a made-in-Alberta approach will also fit Saskatchewan’s economy very well.”  Clean Energy notes that the open question of distribution of revenues will cause much future debate, as will working out the details of the allocations for heavy industry, due by 2019.

The Pembina Institute response, “Ottawa taking carbon pricing cues from provinces”  also commends the output-based allocation system, and concludes:  “It’s worth taking a moment to celebrate how far we’ve come as a country – in large part due to the vision and ambition of provincial premiers – and to reflect on how to maintain this momentum despite choppy international waters.”

The elephant is the room that everyone is talking about is the anticipated court challenge from the government of Saskatchewan, whose Premier Brad Wall has stated that the federal government lacks the constitutional authority to enact a federal carbon price, and who likened  the Technical paper to “a ransom note.”   The Globe and Mail summarizes the tension in “Ottawa, Saskatchewan brace for battle over carbon pricing” .  The Pembina Institute has published a  Q& A interview with Professor Nathalie Chalifour of the University of Ottawa, who also wrote  “The feds have every legal right to set a carbon price” in October 2016 in iPolitics .

Saskatchewan’s preferred route to emissions reduction was clearly laid out in its White Paper on Climate Change released in October 2016, which states: “We should be focusing our efforts on innovation and adaptation, not taxation” – “innovation” largely meaning Saskatchewan’s investment in carbon capture and storage.  And while CBC reports  that Saskatchewan environmental groups are backing the federal Technical paper, there is widespread support for the Premier’s opposition.  According to a CBC report in March, the  Saskatchewan Taxpayers Federation,  the Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association, and the United Steelworkers Local 5890, sent Prime Minister Trudeau a  joint letter outlining how a federal carbon tax would hurt Western Canada.  In  a CBC report on May 19, ‘You can’t buy a Prius and move dirt’: Critics say carbon tax will punish industry , those two industry groups make the case that  “there aren’t green alternatives for building roads, hauling trailers and working with heavy machinery.”

 

 

Canadian government announces a phase-out of “traditional” coal-fired electricity by 2030

On November 21, the federal Environment Minister announced  that the four remaining provinces with coal-fired electricity  (Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia) must  speed up the their emissions reduction targets. All traditional coal-fired units (i.e. those without carbon capture and storage)  will be required to meet a performance standard of 420 tonnes of carbon dioxide per gigawatt hour by no later than 2030, and performance standards must be developed  for new units to ensure they are built using efficient technology.  Details are set out in a Backgrounder  .  To allow for flexibility, Equivalency Agreements can be negotiated under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act , and both Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan are pursuing such agreements.  Nova Scotia, which announced  on November 21 that  it would  implement a cap and trade system which would  meet or exceed the federal emissions reduction target , will be allowed to continue to use coal in high-demand winter months even after 2030, (with no  specific date set yet for full compliance) .  Saskatchewan, which relies heavily on carbon capture and sequestration technology to meet its recent emissions reduction plan, is “displeased”  about the coal phase-out plan, according to a CBC report .  Alberta has already announced its own plans   for a coal phase-out by 2030, promising  support for workers and communities.  See the “Liberals present plan to phase out coal-powered electricity by 2030” CBC (Nov. 21) for a good overview.

 What does this mean for coal workers?  Currently, coal-fired power  generated at 35 plants represents over 70% of emissions in Canada’s electricity sector, but provides  only 11% of our  electricity.  The coal industry employs approximately 42,000 direct and indirect workers.   In “Canada’s rejection of coal will clear the air but impact workers and power bills” , the CBC (Nov. 22) examines the likely higher  electricity bills in store for consumers, and  the likely job losses.  The CBC article quotes Warren Mabee, a researcher with the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change project and the associate director of the Queen’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy: he states that many workers in coal mines will be laid off  “while others will shift to extracting metallurgical coal, which is used in the steel-making process.”  It is important to note that the government press release explicitly promises:“ The Government of Canada will work with provinces and labour organizations to ensure workers affected by the accelerated phase-out of traditional coal power are involved in a successful transition to the low-carbon economy of the future.”

Much of the government’s motivation for its initiative comes down to the health benefits of removing pollutants of coal-fired electricity – carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide, mercury and other heavy metals .  The Pembina Institute, along with the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Canadian Public Health Association   and others, released   Out with the coal, In with the new: National benefits of an accelerated phase-out of coal-fired power  on November 21.  The report estimates that a  national coal phase-out by 2030 would prevent  1,008 premature deaths, 871 ER visits, and health outcomes valued at nearly $5 billion (including health and lower productivity costs) between 2015 and 2035.  The Pembina Institute reacted to the government announcement, calling it “timely” and “necessary .  Clean Energy Canada responded with  Quitting coal will drive clean growth and cut pollution.   BlueGreen Canada, which includes the United Steelworkers union, recently published the  Job Growth in Clean Energy report, which recognizes the world-wide decline of the coal industry, and states that, “if properly supported now, Alberta’s renewable energy sector will create enough jobs to absorb the coal labour force”.

Saskatchewan backs CCS and Nuclear power in its Climate Change Plan

The White Paper on Climate Change released by Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall on October 18  makes 13 recommendations in the hopes of redirecting the national conversation away from a national carbon pricing policy, as introduced by Prime Minister Trudeau on October 3. A CBC report headlined one of the proposals, to  “redeploy” $2.65 billion in federal funds for developing countries to invest in clean technologies,  but the real story is that Saskatchewan’s White Paper continues to  reject the national carbon pricing scheme, advocating instead for  innovative technology such as next-generation carbon capture and storage (CCS), and nuclear power.   The Climate Examiner from PICS provides a thorough summary of the White Paper   .  Climate Justice Saskatoon’s reaction calls for carbon pricing and technological solutions together,  and the Pembina Institute states that Premier Wall is out of step with climate reality by remaining outside the fold of provincial support for carbon pricing .

The  Saskatchewan’s Boundary Dam Carbon Capture and Storage project which Premier Wall  holds up as his solution is the world’s first large-scale application of carbon capture technology in a power plant, according to a profile in the Smart Prosperity newsletter (October 13).  SaskWind, a community-owned wind and solar project,  released a report in March 2015  which concluded that Boundary Dam generated losses of over of $1-billion, which Saskatchewan’s  electricity consumers must pay for.  The Boundary Dam website provides its own statistics.

Mapping the power of the Oil and Gas Industry in Canada

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (B.C.) announced a new initiative, funded by a $2.5 million partnership grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada on November 12, 2015.  Mapping the Power of the Carbon-Extractive Corporate Resource Sector will bring together “researchers, civil society organizations, and Indigenous participants to study the oil, gas and coal industries in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan.” The goal of the 6-year project is to identify the major corporate interests in the fossil fuel sector, and uncover their influence in policy decisions.

 

Carbon Capture and Storage – Canadian case studies, and a Labour view

The recent report Global Status of CCS 2015  by the Global CCS Institute provides a glowing overview of the technology, and profiles the Quest project near Edmonton  , as well as a link to an August 2015 report about the Boundary Dam in Saskatchewan . In October, the B.C. government introduced Bill 40, the Natural Gas Development Statutes Amendment Act, 2015, amending legislation which allows carbon capture and storage “as a permanent solution for disposing of carbon dioxide (CO2) in British Columbia”. Reference materials from the 2014 public consultations on CCS in B.C. are here  .

In a working paper published by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, author Sean Sweeney writes that “CCS may have a place in the transition to a post-carbon world, but this place must be determined democratically, and by public need.”   Hard Facts about Coal: Why Why Trade Unions Should Re-evaluate their support for Carbon Capture and Storage states that, whether intended or not, CCS can provide political cover for the ongoing and increasing use for coal.