Moe, Wilkinson talk collaboration rather than confrontation on energy, environmental policies

On Wednesday, Premier Scott Moe said
On Wednesday, Premier Scott Moe said

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson are calling for collaboration and conversation as the two levels of government move forward on environmental and energy policies.

Moe's government has had a sometimes-tumultuous relationship with the federal government in recent years, specifically when it comes to energy and climate policies.

On Wednesday, he hinted at a more collaborative tone.

"If there's a new tone from the federal government — a tone where we'll work collaboratively together on ensuring we will have affordable energy, affordable energy security, and food security for Saskatchewan residents, Canadians and North Americans, while doing right by the environment — we're happy to have those conversations."

Moe said the province's recent Saskatchewan First Act and preceding white paper are meant to signal the province's intention to outline its autonomy over natural resources.

"We know where the provincial jurisdiction is. We know where those lines are. We're going to defend those lines when we feel they're being infringed on. But where the federal government is willing to work and work collaboratively, we will always work with them."

Moe said it is not about Saskatchewan versus Ottawa.

"I think we need to get back to a point in time where, whether we serve in government or whether we are involved in one of the industries, we're all Canadians first."

Federal minister calls for end to 'rhetoric' from both sides

Federal Minister of Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson was in Regina on Wednesday and met with provincial government ministers.

Wilkinson attended the official opening of the Awasis solar project, located on Cowessess First Nation reserve land about three kilometres southeast of Regina,

SaskPower said the project will provide 10 megawatts of solar energy to the provincial grid — enough to provide power to 2,500 homes per year on average.

Wilkinson was asked about the recent Saskatchewan First Act and the provincial government's white paper.

"I have read the Saskatchewan First Act, I should perhaps start by saying that a long time ago I actually negotiated the Constitution on behalf of Saskatchewan. So I'm pretty familiar with how the Constitution works," he said.

"We respect areas of provincial jurisdiction, just as the provinces respect areas of federal jurisdiction."

Kyle Bakx/CBC
Kyle Bakx/CBC

Wilkinson said the two sides should not be adversaries in areas of the economy and environment that "overlap."

"I think Canadians expect us to try to figure out ways to work together, and where there are some disputes that can't get resolved, ultimately the Supreme Court will decide on the issue of jurisdiction as they did in the case on the price on pollution."

Wilkinson said the federal government is working toward regional energy and resources tables, meant to drive discussion on issues like clean energy generation.

"I do think we need to set aside some of the rhetoric, and that's not trying to take a run at the province. That's the federal government too. We have to take ownership of some of that too and look at how we can actually get back to a place where we can have a better conversation."

Coal phase-out concerns

On Wednesday, Moe was asked about the federal government's policy to phase out coal and how it related to the government's position in the Saskatchewan First Act.

In 2016, the federal government announced an accelerated phase-out of coal-fired electricity by 2030 in Saskatchewan, Alberta, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.

Moe said a change in "tone" on climate policies, specifically in terms of the coal phase-out, would be welcome but also "news to us."

"There should be substantial wiggle room on all of these policies. But unfortunately, that's not what we've seen in the development of the policies in days gone by. If it takes a change in government at the federal level in order for that policy to change, that's fine by us as well," Moe said.

Coal-fired electricity accounts for 30 to 40 per cent of the province's electricity generation.

Moe said he is bothered by the "changing" goalposts of federal policy.

"We were looking at a net-zero plan in Saskatchewan and across Canada by the year 2050 that's now been bumped to 2035. Well, there are provinces, quite frankly, that aren't going to achieve those types of targets by 2035."

Moe said Wednesday that "stranding" the 276-megawatt power station 12 years before its retirement date of 2042 does not make sense.

"Who would be willing to give up that asset 12 years early? Would you? It's like moving out of your house 12 years before it's at its end of life. It's like parking your car with 130,000 kilometres on it when you know you could get another couple hundred-thousand kilometres out of that car," Moe said.

Moe said the government is committed to lowering its emissions and has been "working very, very ambitiously on how we're going to do that."

He said the province is looking for and developing alternatives. It is pursuing small modular nuclear reactors, which would not be operational until 2032 at the earliest.

This week SaskPower announced 700 MW of renewable power generation projects for south central Saskatchewan.

"There are three points when it comes to transitioning an electrical generation mix in the province of Saskatchewan. The first is to keep our electricity affordable for Saskatchewan residents and industries. The second is to do right by the environment and continue to lower those emissions. And our third is to provide that energy security for people that live here," Moe said.

Wilkinson said the country is in the midst of a historic energy transition.

"It's not just about phasing out coal. We need to double or triple the amount of generation capacity we have in this country as we move toward 2050. We need to figure out how we work together, because that is going to require enormous investments and it's going to require collaboration."

Wilkinson said one area is the Clean Electricity Standard, which aims to have a net-zero electricity system by 2035. He said that policy is still being "consulted on."

"I characterize the work that we have to do on the grid as kind of the railroad of this century," he said.

"It's an enormous undertaking it will only happen if we work together."