On Tuesday, four women from rural Saskatchewan delivered letters to Premier Brad Wall's office on behalf of concerned residents in their community, calling for an independent inquiry into the involvement of former economy minister Bill Boyd with the Yancoal potash project.
"We're all the farm wives that are here. The rest, our husbands are all on the combine and busy," Thera Nordal, a spokesperson for the community group, said.
In August of 2016, the government of Saskatchewan gave conditional approval to an environmental assessment for the proposed Yancoal potash mine near Southey, Sask.
Yancoal, which is owned by the government of China, wants to build a solution mine, which would use millions of cubic metres of water each year to dissolve the potash.
Some business owners in the area have expressed support for the project, while some residents from the area have been vocally opposed to the potash project.
The group Nordal represents is speaking out about it again, now that former Minister of Economy Bill Boyd's actions are under scrutiny. Boyd retired from politics effective Sept. 1.
Saskatchewan's conflict of interest commissioner found Boyd to be in a conflict through his involvement in an immigration-irrigation scheme.
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That project is unrelated to the Yancoal potash project, but Nordal said the fact that Boyd was found to be in a conflict of interest has left the group of concerned residents wanting to know if there was a conflict regarding the Yancoal project.
"In light of his recent poor judgement with his business dealings and his connections with business in China, it just calls into question: was there conflict in interest here?" Nordal said.
"Our community needs to know and deserves to have that looked into, to know that we can trust this process."
Nordal is also calling for all activities around the project to be halted, should an inquiry go ahead.
'Too many important questions': NDP
The government's approval of the Yancoal environmental assessment last year meant the project could move forward to the next stage of approvals before beginning construction.
Conditions include, but aren't limited to:
- Yancoal must submit a development agreement with the Rural Municipality of Longlaketon prior to the commencement of construction activities to ensure that the RM is involved in the planning and development of the project.
- Yancoal must submit a community involvement plan that commits to establishing a community advisory committee, community monitoring program, and further collaboration with community members.
- Yancoal must submit an environmental protection plan that includes monitoring of agriculture land, Loon Creek, and water quality.
A spokesperson for the provincial government said the government relies on experts in each ministry to assess all projects.
"There is a rigorous and thorough approval process for any potash project in Saskatchewan — most of them through the Ministry of Environment. No one individual is responsible for the approval process," the spokesperson said.
In an emailed statement, the NDP's environment critic, Cathy Sproule, responded to the group's calls for a public inquiry.
"In light of all that we have learned and continue to learn about the Sask. Party's — and specifically the minister responsible's — questionable dealings with China there are too many important questions now to not have another look at a process that handed our biggest potash customer — China — access to our natural resources.
Sproule said the government ignored the concerns of residents in regards to protection of area land and water.
Yancoal had said it would need a maximum of between 11 and 12 million cubic metres of water each year.