Promoting “Small” Nuclear Reactors Is Just Another Diversion From Saskatchewan’s High Carbon Emissions

by Jim Harding

Premier Moe has announced he will work with Ontario and New Brunswick to bring small nuclear reactors into their energy mix. They claim this is “to mitigate the effects of climate change”. This is not only wishful thinking but very flawed and hypocritical. The premiers fiddle away, while the UN conference in Madrid confronts a planet already starting to burn.

There is no demand or market for these “small” reactors; it is the industry and those who directly benefit that are promoting them. To become a viable industry these “modular” reactors would have to be mass produced and then transported elsewhere. Otherwise they would be uncompetative. And there would have to be some agreement on design, whereas at present, there are over 100 designs circulating.

Meanwhile the role of nuclear power is shrinking globally and there is no secure capital for such a high-risk industry. So, once again, the industry is trying to get government financial and ideological backing. Unfortunately, there will always be naïve politicians who want to appear forward thinking, and opportunistic academics who will gladly take from the public purse.

These small reactors will never be cost-effective. They would be far less cost-effective than larger reactors that have the advantage of economies of scale, but face long-licensing periods, have continually overshot construction timelines and had massive cost overruns.

Proponents will cloud these problems by exploiting the climate emergency with more greenwashing. The fatal flaw of nuclear reactors, whether large or small, is, however, that they couldn’t contribute to carbon reduction for decades, and we must reduce emissions before 2030. Meanwhile there are much cheaper and faster ways to produce electricity that can quickly reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) by replacing coal plants and electrifying transportation. The mainstream International Energy Agency (IEA) recently reported that offshore wind turbines could produce eleven times the electricity that the world presently uses globally each year. Yes 11 times!

Wind and solar energy are both growing globally. Meanwhile, while promoting these “small” reactors, Ontario’s Ford Government has scrapped all investments in renewables, while putting billions into refurbish old reactors. And the Sask Party is deliberately undermining the solar industry. It should be supporting the growing number of small solar businesses, as one way to lower carbon and create green jobs. Instead, it recently undercut the Net-Metering Program.

SaskPower should also be creating Feed-In Tariffs. With advances in battery and other renewable storage it should be promoting Microgrids, which would reduce transmission costs and create a more reliable, resilient, decentralized electrical system. This will be needed as we face more extreme weather. And, the fastest and cheapest way to reduce GHGs remains investments in energy efficiency.

We shouldn’t be surprised, though, since the Sask Party has a terrible track record on climate. It invested nearly two billion dollars in Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) to try to save coal plants. It never met its targets and the carbon is used to extract more oil, which in turn just adds more carbon to the atmosphere. If the government had directly invested this money in renewables it could have shut down a polluting coal plant. Investing in small nuclear reactors would just be another financial boondoggle that postpones serious climate action.

Small reactors are another distraction from Saskatchewan having the highest levels of GHGs on the planet (nearly 70 metric tonnes per capita). While the rest of Canada has been lowering emissions, those here, along with Alberta, with its high-carbon tar sands, have continued to rise. Saskatchewan and Alberta’s emissions are now almost equal to all the rest of Canada. Shame on us!

Meanwhile, the Sask Party vehemently opposes carbon pricing, one way to lower carbon. The Sask Party has done little concretely to show it truly cares about the climate emergency and promoting these small nuclear reactors is just another ill-informed diversion. Premier Moe is squandering precious time, when we must act now to prevent irreversible climate change from undermining our grandchildren’s future.

Other motives are probably at play. These small reactors can be a back-door for bringing nuclear wastes to Saskatchewan. They will not require more uranium mining, which is already in economic trouble here, since Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011. They would initially use enriched uranium which presents its own proliferation risks, and could end up using unused uranium in spent fuel and/or reprocessed spent fuel from existing reactors, such as the CANDU reactors in Ontario and New Brunswick. The nuclear industry clearly has a “radioactive waste problem”, which it doesn’t know how to solve, and so it would love to have the government offer us up as guinea pigs. Other Canadians may rightly be asking what is going on here that we are seemingly so gullible.

Finally, these reactors are not really small. This is just another marketing strategy (“small is beautiful”) to try to make nuclear power more palatable. It is most notable that they are referred to as SMR’s or Small Modular Reactors, with the “nuclear” taken out. These proposed “small” reactors would likely be around 300 Megawatts, not much below those that Grant Devine and Brad Wall promoted. And the smaller they get the more cost-ineffective they would become.

Premier Moe has no mandate to risk public money on this high-risk industry, when there are cheaper, and faster ways to reduce our extremely high carbon. After his election in 2007, Sask Party Premier Wall launched his pro-industry Uranium Development Partnership, to try to steamroll us to build nuclear power plants and take nuclear wastes from abroad. Public consultations showed deep and broad opposition. So why is Premier Moe such a nuclear promoter? No means “no”, Moe!

This will become a major issue in the 2020 provincial election. Concerned citizens should raise this matter with their MLAs, with the NDP Opposition and in their networks. We don’t want Saskatchewan to become a sucker province regarding this sham. Nor should the Sask Party government be left off the hook for its atrocious record of growing emissions and ignoring the climate emergency. Saskatchewan people will have to stand up once again and protect our province from the nuclear charlatans.

Dr. Jim Harding is a retired professor of environmental and justice studies and a founding director of the Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA.CA).

Contact at: 306-332-4492 or

djharding@sasktel.net

Posted in Climate Change, Government, Human Impact, Nuclear Power, Nuclear Wastes, Politics, Renewables, Sustainability, Uranium Mining | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The West Should Confront Its High Emissions & Stop Blaming Trudeau for Everything

By Jim Harding

An overwhelming majority of us Westerners do not support the post-election hype about separation. It is fairly easy, with the emotional contagion of social media, to amass simplistic support for Wexit. But it would be going from the frying pan of the crash in the international oil market, into a political firestorm, if the two major oil-exporting provinces seriously embarked on secession.

And, once again, colonial mentality has raised its ugly head, ignoring that Indigenous peoples signed treaties with Canada before Saskatchewan and Alberta existed.

It is irresponsible for Premiers Moe and Kenney to exploit this sentiment. Threatening separation does nothing to address the reasons for the fearful and angry populism or find a positive way forward. It is also cheap politics to blame Trudeau for almost everything.

Kenney successfully used this blame game to unite the right to replace Notley’s NDP, and it looks like Moe may use this in Saskatchewan’s 2020 election. Kenney blamed Trudeau for Alberta making deep cuts to services and is now stoking “independence”.

Even if this seems like “smart politics”, it is not smart.

The oil price crash has roots long before Trudeau was even an MP. Western provinces adamantly supported NAFTA, which guaranteed access to the huge U.S. energy market. Due to shale oil, the U.S. is now the world’s largest oil producer and a major exporter; 8th worldwide after a 300% increase since 2014. Holding most political cards, Harper couldn’t salvage Alberta as a perpetual Petro State.

Western Premiers now try to blame the downturn on the lack of pipelines, ignoring that in spite of widespread opposition, Keystone XL and Line-3, from Alberta through Saskatchewan to the U.S., are approved. Keystone will go to Gulf Coast refineries that could handle Alberta’s diluted bitumen (dilbit), but there may increasingly be lower-cost supplies available to meet demand. Meanwhile, will Kenney want to blame Trudeau for the recent oil spill in the new North Dakota Keystone pipeline, which further slowed the flow of Alberta’s oil?

Divestment in Alberta’s tar sands continues. Petro-Canada divested in 2016, before the crash; Shell got out in 2017; Europe’s largest bank, HSBC, did so in 2018; and Norway’s Pension Fund recently divested, saying the tar sands were as climate damaging as coal plants. Kinder-Morgan is divesting since selling its pipeline to the feds. This trend was in place before Encana moved south.

The tar-sands are competing with lower-cost, lower-carbon, more accessible crude oil. It is wishful thinking that an expanded global market can rebound Alberta’s oil industry. Even with the crash, and all the blaming, Canada remains the world’s 4th largest exporter. And the vast majority goes straight south.

Endless pipelines, with huge carbon footprints, going in all directions to find the few refineries that may want to refine Alberta’s energy-intensive dilbit is not only a pipedream but a climate nightmare. The original Trans-Mountain is presently pumping 300,000 barrels a day from Alberta, which goes to Washington for refining and not to a higher-priced offshore market. Anyway, Burnaby’s Terminal can’t handle the largest tankers that are now moving oil. A 4,600 km Energy East pipeline pumping Alberta dilbit to the East Coast, would never compete with the much more cheaply refined Middle East oil. And in spite of what Scheer claims, China is not going to shut down its coal plants by importing Canada’s fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency (IEA) just released a report that worldwide, low-cost, off-shore wind can produce eleven times the electricity that we presently use globally. Europe presently leads the way but China is positioned for a 25-fold increase.

Making the overly oil-dependent West “great again” at any climate cost is unacceptable. In spite of its support for carbon pricing, Alberta’s Notley Government ended up setting a tar sands emissions cap of 100 Mt per year. Otherwise the tar sands were even less attractive to big investors. Emissions are underreported, but the official figure of 70 Mt a year, should be a wake-up call. This is almost as much as from all Saskatchewan (76 Mt).

The elephant always in the room is the steadily growing emissions in the West, which hatched Wexit. In 2005, Alberta and Saskatchewan emitted 299 million or mega-tonnes (Mt), which was 132 less than the rest of Canada, which then emitted 431 Mt. By 2017, with only 15% of the population, emissions from the angry oil provinces were up to 351 Mt, almost as much as the rest of Canada (365 Mt), where emissions have been steadily falling. While the climate emergency ramps up and the Paris target is approaching, we are going in different directions.

The anti-carbon tax, pro-pipeline populism encouraged by the Conservatives had the desired political effect. The federal parties concerned about climate likely didn’t want to highlight the West’s growing emissions and be seen as “poking” these provinces. Realizing there was no guarantee that nervous investors would back TMX, the feds took over this stalled project. Ironically, with a minority Liberal government and the Conservative sweep in the West, we still have an angry call for separation.

Western populism has sometimes challenged Canada to progress. Co-operative populism helped get us Medicare and the Reform Party challenged government to be more transparent and accountable. But not in this instance!

The vast majority of us in the West who oppose separation, now need to seriously confront our provincial leaders’ unwillingness to quickly transition to a much lower carbon economy. With steadily growing emissions, directly tied to fossil fuels, those of us in Saskatchewan and Alberta now have the highest per capita carbon footprint on the planet. Shame on us!

Moe and Kenney are hiding behind huge oil subsidies when they attack Trudeau. A recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) report puts global subsidies near 5 trillion dollars a year. Canada’s are around 60 billion. The IMF notes that efficient carbon pricing, accounting for real supply costs, including environmental, would reduce global emissions by over one-quarter. And reduce premature deaths from toxic air pollution by nearly 50%. Meanwhile, after a majority of Canadians voted for parties supporting carbon pricing, Premier Moe had the audacity to call on the federal government to cancel the carbon tax. Really?!

The demonization of carbon pricing and call for more pipelines, or else we will separate, is a cover for the failure of these provinces, including under the NDP, to take the climate crisis seriously. Wanting to hang on to the fantasy of an endless oil-revenue boom, some of my neighbours who personally benefitted from boom times, and perhaps carried a large debt into the bust, understandably feel alienated. There were many more people who were already socio-economically alienated, who did not benefit from the boom.

Certainly, we need to ensure there is a just transition for fossil-fuel workers to a low-carbon world. But many in the West, perhaps already a silent majority, want us to start taking responsibility for our massive emissions and join with the rest of Canada to quickly do something about this.

Author and activist Jim Harding is a retired professor of environmental and justice studies who lives in Saskatchewan’s Qu’Appelle Valley

P.O. Box 2566, Fort Qu’Appelle, SK

 

Posted in Climate Change, Ecology, Human Impact, Politics, Sustainability | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

There Will Be No Calm Before the Storm During this Election

By Jim Harding

There is no calm before the storm with this federal election. It is more of a “mess before the storm”, and the storm will be a real storm, as climate blowback from global warming gains momentum. Seasons are already blurring: our Manitoba neighbors are recovering from an abnormally early blizzard, with crumbling snow-bearing trees still carrying summer foliage, downing power lines everywhere.

Our flawed first-past-the-post electoral system has buried the climate crisis as a major concern of Canadians. How quickly our attention-deficit society forgets what Greta recently said at the United Nations. Climate has become another “issue” to tag on to the party’s main narrative; “moving forward, affordability, the authentic leader”. Jagmeet Singh’s short list of issues includes “climate action”, along with reduced fees for cell phones and a dental plan. He attacks Trudeau’s support for the TMX, while hedging on the millions of tonnes of emissions that will go into the atmosphere from B.C.’s LNG project.

The climate emergency has implications for everything that matters to us.

Singh’s likability ratings have nevertheless helped move the NDP back to its traditional third party standing, leaving Elizabeth May and the Greens, who peaked earlier on, targeting fewer seats, where their message on the climate emergency may still break through. We don’t yet know if Singh’s aspirational and “have your cake and eat it, too” campaign will bring a breakthrough of multicultural, social democratic politics, or just further reinforce ethnic bloc voting, which is never good for democracy. As CBC journalist Eric Grenier pointed out in 2017 articles, the financial and new-member support that got Singh elected as NDP leader largely came from the Greater Ontario area with large Sikh communities. Divisive identity politics of all sorts is rampant everywhere.

The two major parties have been locked in a polling tie, but Trudeau is clearly damaged from broken promises, policy contradictions (owning a pipeline) and ethical challenges. Scheer’s unending personal attacks on Trudeau, his own white lies, and his deserved reputation as an “absentee MP”, don’t bode well for him, either, even if he happens to form a minority government. Who will back him to enact his first promise, to abolish carbon pricing?

We all want to be hopeful. But idealistic, “have your cake and eat it, too” hope, is not the answer to the politics of fear and resentment. It remains to be seen whether Jagmeet Singh ends up as Trudeau 2.0, who only 4 years ago was Mr. Positivity, too. If NDP support grows further during this last week of the campaign, it could work for the Scheer Conservatives, who love the split of the progressive vote. We don’t yet know what Singh’s candidness about a coalition with the Liberals will do to the final vote. What a dilemma for those who want to protect the future.

This is a very messy election, indeed.

The rise of the Bloc Quebecois and the Conservative’s lock on federal ridings in the fossil fuel dependent economies on the prairies, leaves us all in an electoral vice. (This is somewhat reminiscent of the way the pull of Alberta and Quebec politics took us into NAFTA.) Jason Kenney plays the national unity card over getting more pipelines, hopefully distracting us from the steady rise in greenhouse gas emissions in his province. By 2017, the emissions from Alberta and its fossil-fuel sister province, Saskatchewan, were nearly as high as all emissions from the rest of Canada (351 to 365 million tonnes, respectfully). And with only 15% of Canadians.

Meanwhile, all federal leaders are side-stepping the debate about secularism raised by Quebec’s Bill 21. And this is not simply a matter of Charter Rights versus religious discrimination. The Quebec law clearly went too far, but the reasonableness of disallowing face-covering clothing, in public sector jobs, will continue to be ignored because of the touchiness of national and/or personal identity politics in our time. Let’s get real: do any of us want bus drivers or police with their faces covered?

The big losers of the evasive politics will be Greta and her generation, for the adults are left facing a fragmented, no-win, set of choices. The growing list of vote-buying promises may look like a tempting distraction from the gathering storm of climate change, but denial always backfires. The final distribution of seats in our flawed electoral system will leave us where we were when the campaign started, still facing the human mess before the global storm. A minority Liberal government, propped up by other parties demanding a serious Climate Plan, may temporarily save us from ourselves. But we have to get our collective act together, not “soon” but sooner than that.

Author and activist Jim Harding is a retired professor of environmental and justice studies who lives in Saskatchewan’s Qu’Appelle Valley

P.O. Box 2566, Fort Qu’Appelle, SK

 

Posted in Government, Politics | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Watershed Wakeup

Jim has recently completed a publication about the threats of climate change and water use especially as they concern the Qu’appelle Valley watershed.

Follow this link to download the PDF  Watershed Wakeup

Posted in Climate Change, Ecology, Human Impact, Politics, Sustainability, Water | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Moving Beyond: Neo-liberalism in Saskatchewan

cover_front

You can download the full pdf of the book here: Neoliberalism_in_Saskatchewan.

Posted in Government, Politics, Social justice, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

WE NEED SOME HONEST REFLECTION IN THE SK LEADERSHIP RACES

BY Jim Harding

Both major parties are in the grips of a leadership race. There is a lot to discuss: our accumulating net debt, dependence on non-renewables, the gathering storm of climate change and more.

The Sask Party however, seems more concerned with rebranding, perhaps to distance itself from retiring Premier Wall. This could be an opportunity for the NDP to propose some bold, forward-thinking policies. But they, too, seem caught in their own baggage, apparently afraid to reflect on the role of past NDP governments in getting us into our present fix.

So, there’s no serious debate over our record-high carbon or radioactive footprint. Or about carbon pricing. No debate over the Line 3 pipeline from the tar sands, going through our vulnerable prairies. No debate over our dependence on NAFTA, with a “roll the dice” president in the White House. No debate about the health of our watersheds and water, on which all of life depends.

The silence is deafening. It is also counter-productive. A sustainable future is not going to come out of political party bubbles.

How did Saskatchewan end up in this political purgatory?

Did Wall perhaps step down so abruptly because he didn’t want to face the electorate again? Any way you cut it, the Sask Party failed to erase the debt, lower taxes and save for a rainy-day fund. Meanwhile the boom brought an end to rural and northern public transportation.

Perhaps Wall now realizes how vulnerable our economy has become, being so dependent on fossil fuels and the U.S. market. He feverishly promoted continental trade, travelling across the border often to promote our oil. But Trump’s ultra-nationalist, protectionism may not bode well for Wall’s legacy.

Wall was quite successful in his ideological mission. Since he took power the value of exports more than doubled from $16 billion in 2006 to $35 billion in the peak year, 2014. But most telling, half of these record-breaking 2014 exports involved non-renewables, mostly oil, at $13 billion and potash at $5 billion. And two-thirds, or $23 billion of the $35 billion in exports, went straight across the border under NAFTA.

Corporate Rip-Off

But what did this continentalist resource boom bring? What did it leave us?

While exports were doubling, Public Accounts show that the net debt grew from $3 billion in 2009 to more than $12 billion projected for 2018. While the value of exports and profits more than doubled, non-renewable resource revenues remained flat, at around $2 billion a year. And though resource exports remained at $27 billion in 2016, the non-renewable revenue to the province went down to $1.4 billion. This was lower than when resource exports were around half as valuable ($16 billion in 2006) under the previous NDP government.

You do the math on the corporate rip-off.

Even with the “good years”, the Sask Party failed to create a Futures Fund. Why might that be? While the value of resource exports more than doubled, corporate taxes, like non-renewable resource revenues, remained flat, at around $1 billion. And when the Sask Party finally confessed to its debt and introduced austerity after being reelected, it announced it would further lower corporate taxes. So, after this unprecedented resource export boom, we get debt, austerity and increases in the sales tax.

Environmental Rogue province

Wall’s legacy is becoming clear. Our provincial economy is much more dependent on non-renewables, particularly the fossil fuels that fuel the climate crisis. Cost-ineffective carbon capture and ignorant opposition to a price on carbon pollution have made Saskatchewan Canada’s environmental rogue province. The Sask Party failed to diversify the energy sector with job-creating renewables. It favoured toxic agribusiness over sustainable agriculture. Its’ policies squandered environmental health, undercut biodiversity, and further contaminated our watersheds.

This matters a lot, especially to our grandchildren. So where is the discussion? Where is the leadership?

The NDP, perhaps, hopes to regain support from growing disillusionment with the Sask Party. But political opportunism carries big risks. This won’t help the NDP prepare to inherit a multi-billion dollar net debt. This also happened when the Romanow NDP replaced the debt-ridden Grant Devine government. And what did we get then? Cuts to balance the budget and more of the resource economy status quo, which helped us get to where we are.

This time the NDP would inherit a precarious high-carbon economy and dependence on revenue from toxic non-renewables. How would they transition to a sustainable economy? This requires some serious, candid public debate.

It is necessary to understand what the Sask Party has left us. It is also necessary to critically scrutinize past NDP governments that helped lay the ground for Wall’s rise and fall.

Leadership requires honest reflection. Both the Sask Party and the NDP could use a big dose of truth-telling. We need for some truth and reconciliation with the overall electorate. Time is running out for this in the leadership races.

Jim Harding is a retired professor of environmental and justice studies. He is active with the Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association. His newest small book, Moving Beyond Neo-Liberalism in Saskatchewan, will be published in January 2018.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

THE WRITING WAS ON THE WALL IN SASKATCHEWAN

BY Jim Harding
Retired Professor of Justice Studies,
University of Regina

There have been tongue-in-cheek phrases shared on coffee row and social media as Premier Wall’s support declined. “Up against the wall”, comes to mind. With Wall now leaving the premier’s job, it was “written on the wall” will now be in vogue.

But there is a very serious side to what happened under Wall’s premiership. The Wall government was careful not to table a budget until after it got re-elected in April 2016, and then in 2017 it gave us the real news. Simply put, they kept us in the dark, behind a “wall of deceit”. 

Grass-root “Read-Ins” succeeded in rolling back the $4 million-dollar cut to libraries, but that was easy when the province’s net debt is on its way to $12 billion. Rural and northern communities have lost their public bus system (the STC), the Sask Party is now selling off low-income housing, and privatizing utilities is in the works.

WALL’S REASSURANCES

In Vision 2020 and Beyond, Wall said “non-renewable revenue received by the province will continue to pay down the debt”, and Saskatchewan will become a “debt-free province.” Then “after the province’s debt has been fully retired, the government will establish the Saskatchewan Heritage Fund.Vision 2020 and Beyond, reassured the people of Saskatchewan that “The purpose of growth is to build a better quality of life for all Saskatchewan people”?

Wall talked this way for years. In the 2011-12 budget, he coined his favourite slogan “defining the Saskatchewan advantage.” The 2012-13 budget talked of “maintaining lower debt and historic tax deductions.” The 2013-14 budget talked of balancing “growth with social progress” and the next two were about keeping Saskatchewan “on the path of steady growth”. And after living so long in “Next Year Country” many liked to hear all this up-beat bragging. 

GROWTH, DEBT AND TAXES

So, what happened? 

Certainly “growth” happened. From 2006, when the NDP was last in power, to 2014, the value of exported commodities more than doubled: from $16 to $36 billion. Even with the 2016 “bust” it remained $29 billion.

But what happened with the resource revenue that was to take us out of debt? 

Budgets are largely political documents; Public Accounts tell a more truthful story. Provincial non-renewable revenue went from $1.7 to $2.3 billion from 2006-08, but then, even with the doubling value of exports, the revenue didn’t rise. Corporate-favouring royalties kept revenues around $2 billion-dollars right up to 2015-16, and then they dropped to $1.4 billion, which was lower than when the NDP was still in power.

The only exception was 2008-09, when this revenue rose to $4.1 billion, much of it from potash sales. But, the year after the global financial crash, this revenue dropped sharply to $1.4 billion.

So, what happened to Wall’s promise to retire the debt? While net debt did go down to $3.5 billion in 2009, it rose steadily after that. By 2016 it was larger ($7.9 billion) than it was when Wall was first elected, and it is now projected to be over $12 billion by 2018. So much for Wall’s extraction economy!

And what about Wall’s promise to reduce taxes? We know that, while corporate taxes went down in the 2017 budget, the sales tax went up. We have new taxes on insurance, including on supplementary healthcare. Small businesses are feeling it; we are all feeling it. But the revenue from the sales tax has been steadily rising all along; it went from $.99 billion in 2007 to $1.3 billion in 2016. And what about personal income tax? The amount of revenue here, too, also rose; from $1.9 billion in 2007 to $2.5 billion in 2016.

This contrasts with corporate taxes paid by companies. That revenue was lower than from either sales or income tax. It barely went over $1 billion in 2011 and then dropped to $.85 billion by 2015. It was just $1 billion in 2016, before the rate was cut to 11.5% in 2017. And the Wall government has announced that the corporate tax rate will be lowered further, to 11%, by 2019. 

The resource boom was supposed to take the province out of debt and reduce taxes, but the opposite has happened. Neither resource revenue nor corporate tax revenue increased during the boom and now it is ordinary people that are expected to pay off the rising debt. And, to also endure severe cuts to environmental protection, education, health, and housing, while paying even more.

But there is more. To make the accumulating deficit and debt seem smaller, Wall has been selling off crownland at bargain basement prices. From 2008-16 the Sask Party government sold over $2 billion dollars of crownland. This is one-time money and these sales continue to erode the commons. And now there is Bill 40, which reneges on Wall’s promise to hold a referendum before any utilities are privatized. Selling up to 49% will also be one-time money, but the cost of privatized gas, power and communications would go up for us all. Again, we have to pay for the Sask Party’s pro-corporate legacy debt.  And the province will forever lose this source of future revenue from the utilities.

HERITAGE FUND

In 2012 Premier Wall commissioned a report on “a permanent Saskatchewan Future’s Fund…to become a lasting source of wealth while stabilizing government use of these volatile resources.” The Sask Party government could have started socking away resource revenue earlier, e.g. in 2008, when it hit a record $4.1 billion. A Heritage Fund could have even helped Saskatchewan transition towards renewable energy, to lower its extremely high carbon footprint. During Wall’s “boom years” Saskatchewan surpassed Alberta as having the highest per capita carbon footprint; 68 tonnes per year, which is over three times the Canadian average.

But, no, Wall stubbornly stuck with coal-generated electricity, opposed carbon pricing, embraced bitumen pipelines, and even flirted with costly and toxic nuclear power. He has sunk billions into questionable carbon capture. His government was hit with hundreds of millions in unbudgeted costs from extreme flooding and mega-forest fires, linked to changing climate, which Wall ignores. He started an exorbitant bypass and global transportation infrastructure on borrowed money. He kept corporate royalties and taxes low during the good times and spent like crazy. And now the rest of us have to pay. And now he’s leaving, some might say “bailing”, so he doesn’t have to face the electorate in 2020.

NEO-LIBERAL BUBBLE BURSTS

What happened to Wall’s reassurance that “The purpose of growth is to build a better quality of life for all Saskatchewan people”?

People outside Saskatchewan may be wondering whether we became a gullible people. Rather than keeping our healthy prairie skepticism, did we start to believe what we wanted to hear? And was the small NDP opposition a bit hoodwinked by all the talk of being a resource-rich have-province? Did most everyone get pulled along by the neo-liberal myth of trickle-down wealth?

Wall likes to contrast himself positively with former NDP governments. But a similar scenario occurred during the Blakeney NDP years of resource expansion (1971-82). That government also spent all the non-renewable revenues it had socked away in its short-lived Heritage Fund. It, too, spent resource revenue to build the infrastructure for more extraction of toxic non-renewables, including for the uranium industry. 

But one thing differed; the NDP did not leave the province with a huge debt. That came with Grant Devine’s Conservatives, which followed the Blakeney NDP, which the Romanow NDP had to address when it took power in 1991.

Wall worked with the Devine Conservatives, and even though he helped rebrand the Sask Party, the province has ended up in an even worse place. This time we not only have a fiscal debt but a huge energy and environmental one, which the next government will inherit. Wall’s cavalier politics has left our land, air and watersheds at greater risk. Anyone looking closely would have seen that the writing was on the Wall.     

Contact author at: djharding@sasktel.net

 

Posted in Government, Politics, Social justice, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment