Activists want to see more environment talk in Saskatchewan election

REGINA – Anyone in Ottawa who thinks the outcome of next week’s Saskatchewan election could rid the country of a premier who opposes a carbon tax should think again.

Current Premier Brad Wall — one of the loudest voices against a national carbon tax — is riding high in the polls heading into Monday’s election.

But Opposition NDP Leader Cam Broten doesn’t like the idea either, so opposition to the tax wouldn’t be likely to change if he were to pull off a surprise win next Monday.

“I don’t support an economy-wide carbon tax. It’s not the right approach for Saskatchewan,” Broten said at a recent campaign stop in Regina.

Wall has repeatedly said that a national carbon tax would “kneecap” an already struggling Canadian economy. He has suggested Canada should focus on technological solutions, such as carbon capture and storage, which is being used at a coal-fired power plant in southern Saskatchewan.

Both Wall and Broten back the idea of a carbon levy on heavy emitters, with any money collected going to a fund for clean technology.

The Sask. Party has passed such legislation, but it’s never been brought into force.

Broten said a green technology fund would ensure that any dollars raised would stay in the province and “we’re not siphoning dollars off going to Ottawa.”

“That would allow proper innovation, proper steps here in Saskatchewan to make sure that we are doing the innovations and the transitions are in fact needed and required.”

Even the Saskatchewan Green party says it wouldn’t impose a carbon tax if elected. Leader Victor Lau said there are better ways to curb greenhouse gas emissions and a carbon tax “would hurt people already struggling in the current economic climate,” as well as those who live in rural and remote areas.

Environmentalists are upset that their cause hasn’t played much of a role in the three-week-old campaign.

Allyson Brady, executive director with the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, appreciates that the environment is mentioned in the parties’ election platforms, but suggests that “we’re probably not hearing enough about what needs to be done in Saskatchewan.”

“For example, in climate change, Saskatchewan has one of the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita in Canada, so we need to take some fairly drastic steps soon. I don’t think that the leaders are really talking about that serious issue,” Brady said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“They have been talking a little bit about renewable energy, which is very positive to hear about. However, what we need to start to see are things like a carbon tax, which right now we’re hearing some resistance from.”

In a province where a large portion of the power comes from burning coal, the Saskatchewan Party has already announced a goal to have 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030.

The NDP says in its platform that it would aim for 60 per cent renewable power by 2030, with a legislated target of at least 50 per cent by that date.

“I think we need to be far farther than that by 2030,” said Gideon Forman, a climate change policy analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation.

“If there’s a commitment to continue to burn coal, even with that 50 per cent renewables, that’s a big concern.”

Forman also said there’s concern that restricting a carbon levy to heavy emitters is “too limited.” Carbon pricing needs to be felt by everyone so that it affects consumers, he said.

“We certainly support an economy-wide carbon tax and so we’re concerned that these parties are not taking the climate issue seriously enough.”