Climate change a political topic in Sask., yet absent from campaign trail
Environment has not been the main focal point of the two major parties
Maureen Huot has been busy delivering lawn signs during this Saskatchewan election cycle. She's not a politician and doesn't work for a party. Instead, Huot is distributing black and white lawn signs that read "I vote for climate action."
The reusable signs are not a partisan initiative, she said. They're an invitation for politicians to talk earnestly about the future.
"They're hard conversations," said Huot, who is co-chair of Regina EnviroCollective. "But we also feel that if you're going to come knock on my door and tell me why I should vote for you, you need to understand the actual urgency."
Huot has become frustrated by what seems to be a lack of political will to transition to renewable energies. She's also disheartened by how the issue — one she said affects all people — has been politicized.
"The atmosphere doesn't respect borders and we are all in this together," she said. "I think it's sad that there seems to be a fear to talk about this elephant in the room — a fear of losing votes."
Brett Dolter, an economist specializing in climate and energy policy research, was surprised the topic didn't come up when Saskatchewan Party Leader Scott Moe and NDP Leader Ryan Meili went head-to-head at the Leaders' Debate.
"The urgency of the issue only increases with each year and to have it not be mentioned is unfortunate," Dolter said.
He agreed with Huot that progress has stalled on effective climate change policy because the issue has been politicized.
"We seem to have taken an issue that humanity is dealing with and somehow made it a partisan issue and made it a wedge politics issue."
He said recent large-scale action in Saskatchewan has been driven by federal policy or programs.
The Sask. Party and the NDP both touch on the environment in their party platforms.
The Sask. Party includes a focus on small modular reactors for nuclear power and its emissions reduction plan, titled Prairie Resilience. It also wants to increase oil production 25 per cent by 2030 and double the forestry sector.
The NDP says it wants to make ambitious investments in energy efficiency, but doesn't explain how. It highlights a focus on geothermal power production, and on conservation of wetlands and grasslands.
The NDP promised 50 per cent renewable and non-emitting electricity by 2030, with a legislated target of 100 per cent emissions-free electricity by 2050. SaskPower has a goal of 50 per cent of power from renewable by 2030.
Dolter said the focus on energy is positive, but the absence of a plan to tackle transportation emissions, like incentives for fuel-efficient cars, is concerning.
"There's two sectors we can reduce emissions in without any real competitiveness issues, we can reduce emissions in the electricity sector and we can reduce emissions in the transportation sector," he said.
Dolter said big questions remain.
"How do we get our building's heating systems or commercial buildings away from burning natural gas? How do we get industry away from the amount of natural gas they have to use?"
Saskatchewan Green Party Leader Naomi Hunter has said the party is focused on a green recovery from COVID-19 and the climate "catastrophe".
The Saskatchewan Green Party is vowing to reinstate SaskPower's net metering program for solar panels. The party also wants to restore bus service between rural and remote communities.
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They party says it would call on the federal government to increase funding for pedestrian, cycling and car-sharing infrastructure. It also pledges to ban the purchase of new internal combustion engine vehicles within 10 years and mandate energy retrofits for all buildings by 2030.
Parties lack comprehensive understanding
Dolter said both the Sask. Party and the NDP are offering rebate promises "detrimental to climate goals."
The Sask. Party promised to reward people on their Sask. Power bills and the NDP promised SGI rebates for drivers. He said promises like these show parties aren't taking a comprehensive look at how all policies impact climate targets.
"This plan to give a 10 per cent rebate to people on their power bills is basically the opposite of the effect of a carbon price."
He said evidence shows emissions can be reduced in two ways: industry regulation and carbon pricing. The Sask. Party has vowed to continue fighting the federally imposed carbon tax. The NDP has stated that the federal carbon tax doesn't work for the province, and that it would search for a "better deal."
Dolter said it's concerning that the parties haven't made it clear what they will do to reduce emissions if the carbon tax court challenge is successful and the tax isn't imposed.
The Green Party has outlined broad supports for people who would transition to a green economy.
Data from a Vote Compass survey indicates people in Saskatchewan want to see more action. Vote Compass is a tool developed by social and political scientists that tries to encourage civic engagement during election campaigns.
Of 513 respondents who participated in a survey from Sept. 28 to Oct. 15, 2020, 70 per cent said the province should invest more into renewable energy and 58 per cent said Saskatchewan should do more to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
Huot said the province's next government must take more action.
"I want to see some courage and I want to see some honesty. I want to see the Saskatchewan pioneering spirit tackling this problem instead of trying to ignore it and work around it and wish it away," Huot said. "Everything hinges on what we do or do not do in these next four years."
- This story has been updated to include information on the Saskatchewan Green Party platform.Oct 23, 2020 3:24 PM CT