Saskatchewan

Sask., federal environment ministers positive after 1st in-person meeting

Saskatchewan Environment Minister Dustin Duncan and his federal counterpart, Jonathan Wilkinson, both expressed a sense of mutual admiration and hope for a positive relationship after a 45-minute meeting in Regina on Thursday.

Dustin Duncan and Jonathan Wilkinson say they're looking to forge fresh relationship between Sask. and Ottawa

Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, left, and his Saskatchewan counterpart, Dustin Duncan, right, met for the first time on Thursday in Regina. (CBC)

Saskatchewan Environment Minister Dustin Duncan and his federal counterpart, Jonathan Wilkinson, did not let a looming Supreme Court appeal that will pit the province against the feds prevent them from sharing their mutual hope for a positive relationship.

On Thursday, the two had their first face-to-face meeting since Wilkinson's appointment to his new post in November.

"I certainly got a pretty positive feeling out of him," Duncan said.

"We'll see where it goes, obviously. It's his words, and we want to see hopefully some action that will back that up. This is probably the most jovial I have felt after meeting with the minister of environment for some time."

Duncan said he felt Wilkinson was aware of Saskatchewan's concerns and the direction the province wants to go in addressing climate change.

Duncan said he spoke with Premier Scott Moe about his relationship with Wilkinson.

"I think he [Moe] and Deputy Prime Minister [Chrystia] Freeland are developing a very good working relationship, and certainly his advice to me is try to do the same with Minister Wilkinson."

The feeling of positivity was echoed by Wilkinson.

"I enjoyed meeting him. He's a very thoughtful fellow and I think we have a lot of common interests.… My hope is to build a strong relationship," Wilkinson said after the meeting with Duncan, adding he also met with Deputy Premier Gordon Wyant.

"The one thing that folks should be clear on is there's a whole range of issues on which we actually agree, and we're doing lots of collaborative work," Wilkinson said.

The environment minister, who was elected as the member of Parliament for North Vancouver in October, mentioned his familiarity with the province. He was born and raised in Saskatoon, and he also worked under former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow.

He said Duncan asked about the federal government's plan on pricing pollution beyond 2022, when the federal carbon tax imposed on provinces that don't have their own is set to rise to $50 per tonne. 

Wilkinson said Ottawa will be reviewing the pricing and would not speculate on the price beyond 2022.

In June, former environment minister Catherine McKenna said the federal government had "no plan to increase the price post-2022."

Wilkinson said he did not raise New Brunswick's recent decision to develop a consumer carbon tax, after initially opposing the idea. New Brunswick, like Saskatchewan, was one of the provinces initially subject to the federal carbon tax.

He said he expects the status quo until after the Supreme Court issues a decision on Saskatchewan's appeal of the federal carbon tax.

"I'm a lot more interested in talking about things where we can actually make progress and agree rather than just focusing on the one specific issue where we don't," Wilkinson said.

Clean technology a focus of meeting

Wilkinson said the two spent time discussing clean technology and innovation, including carbon capture.

"My background is clean tech," said Wilkinson. 

"I'm very interested in conversations around how we can look at utilization of the energy resource without the pollution. Certainly carbon capture and sequestration or carbon capture and direct use [are] part of that conversation."

Duncan mentioned the province's interest in pursuing funding for "clean tech," which could include a potential carbon capture retrofit on the Shand Power Station. Federal regulations would shutter the coal-fired plant by 2030, 12 years before its retirement date.

"I wasn't expecting a commitment other than the minister did say that as a part of the federal platform there are [earmarked] dollars for helping jurisdictions and pursuing cleaner technology, and certainly the electricity sector would be one of those," Duncan said.

On a carbon tax exemption for grain drying, which farmers in Western Canada have asked for, Wilkinson said agriculture programming is "the most appropriate area" to address the issues that arose from a "very wet harvest."

Lower carbon tax rebate

Earlier this week, Duncan said he was "disappointed" the federal government's carbon tax rebate for people in the province will be lower than initially projected.

A family of four in Saskatchewan will qualify for rebates totalling $809 in 2020, down from the $903 that was projected last year.

"Merry Christmas from the federal government," Duncan said jokingly on Tuesday.

Wilkinson said the rebate projection was based on 2018 estimates, and when the actual numbers came in the rebate was smaller.

"The amount of greenhouse gas emissions was lower than what the initial estimate had been, which means that the price that people are paying on pollution is lower."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Hunter

Journalist

Adam Hunter is the provincial affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. He has been with CBC for more than 14 years. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca

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