Federal environment minister calls on Sask. to take climate change seriously

On Wednesday, federal Minister of Environment Jonathan Wilkinson chastised Saskatchewan's government for not taking climate change seriously.

Minister spoke to reporters in Saskatoon on Wednesday

Federal environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson speaks in Saskatoon on Wednesday. (SRC)

Federal environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson chastised Saskatchewan's government Wednesday for not taking climate change seriously. 

"There are certainly provinces in this country like British Columbia and Quebec and Nova Scotia and others that have strong targets and strong plans. Unfortunately, Saskatchewan is not one of those right now," he said, speaking in Saskatoon. 

"For those of us who have children or grandchildren, we should be very, very concerned about the future that we are creating for future generations."

Wilkinson pointed to consequences of climate change, like relentless forest fires, and said governments must act on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

Saskatchewan leads the country in per capita greenhouse gas emissions. Since 2005, Saskatchewan's emissions have risen about 10 per cent, making it one of five provinces that has not reduced GHGs in that time. 

Ongoing feud over carbon pricing

Saskatchewan has long feuded with Ottawa over emission reduction strategies.

The provincial government, alongside Alberta and Ontario, took the federal government to court over the federally imposed carbon tax. In March, the Supreme Court of Canada determined that the federal carbon tax (the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act) was constitutional. 

Saskatchewan's government then pitched its own carbon pricing plan for consumers to the federal government in May. 

It said the province would set a carbon price on fuels from 2022 to 2030 "at a rate that matches the federal pricing schedule," but the plan would also include a rebate at the pump. That plan didn't meet the federal benchmark stringency requirements and was rejected. 

Moe said the plan "would have protected families, jobs and industries," and called the federal rejection "arbitrary and political.

​Earlier this year, the federal environment minister ​said plans that hinge on rebates don't jive with the purpose of carbon pricing. He said they "defeat the price signal that exists, which is to incent[ivize] people to adopt more efficient behaviour."  ​

The federal government plans to update its carbon pollution pricing benchmarks by 2023 so that provincial governments won't be able to offset the price signal with rebates or other provincial tax reductions moving forward. 

On the topic of incentives, Wilkinson said Wednesday that transportation is a large cause of emissions in Saskatchewan and that the province's new tax against electric vehicle owners was unhelpful. 

Wilkinson said he is open to helping the Saskatchewan government in "coming up with a credible plan that can help Canada to achieve the targets it has set with its international partners."

"Climate change shouldn't be a partisan issue. It is a science issue," Wilkinson said. "You shouldn't be arguing against the science of climate change. You should be trying to figure out how you actually make progress in a way that's most relevant for your community."

Canada, provinces not on track for reduction goals

A recent climate report shows the federal, provincial and territorial governments have failed to plan emissions cuts sufficient to achieve Canada's net-zero targets. 

The report by the Pembina Institute, an energy and climate think-tank, concludes that Canada isn't going to achieve 2030 or 2050 net-zero goals. The most optimistic projections in the report show the country on track to reduce emissions by 36 per cent.

The federal pricing system has two parts: a fuel charge (on fuels like gasoline and natural gas) and a performance-based system for industries. The fuel charge applies to Saskatchewan, and the performance-based system partially applies in the province. (Government of Canada)

Canada had long maintained it would slash emissions by 30 per cent by 2030, but in April Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a new target of dropping Canadian emissions 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Saskatchewan Environment Minister Warren Kaeding said in April the new "ambitious" targets were concerning, adding industries would be caught off guard by the increased target. 

with files from Adam Hunter, David Thurton