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Wilkinson urges collaboration after Saskatchewan rejects federal energy table

REGINA — Federal natural resources minister Jonathan Wilkinson has asked Saskatchewan to work together on shared energy priorities after Ottawa and the province recently clashed over differing net-zero plans. 

In a letter addressed to Premier Scott Moe this week, Wilkinson said he remains open to discussing how both parties can collaborate to build the economy while also ensuring the environment is sustainable for future generations.

Wilkinson has been working with each province to create regional energy and resource tables, forums that would identify areas where both jurisdictions can move forward on shared priorities and accelerate economic activity. 

He said most provinces and territories have agreed to have their own table with Ottawa, but Saskatchewan has not. 

Saskatchewan Justice Minister Bronwyn Eyre wrote to Wilkinson on May 16 the province won’t participate because it is “directly connected to the federal ‘Just Transition’ plan.”

Wilkson responded he’s disappointed Saskatchewan won’t take part, adding he believes people expect governments of all stripes to come together and find solutions. 

“Given that the intention is to focus on areas of economic priority of the province for the advancement and betterment of the provincial economy, it is difficult to understand such a rejection and how this will be in the best interest of Saskatchewan’s citizens,” he said in the letter Wednesday.

Alberta, Nunavut and Quebec have not yet said if they will participate. 

Wilkinson’s letter comes after Moe said Saskatchewan would not meet Ottawa’s target for electricity emissions to be net-zero by 2035. 

Moe has said Saskatchewan can meet a 2050 target, but the 2035 target is not achievable, would harm the province’s economy and cause electricity to be unaffordable and unreliable. 

The 2035 target is part of Ottawa clean electricity standards, which are still under development. The standards would allow fossil fuels to be used if the emissions are abated. 

Wilkinson said the 2035 target is possible, affordable and desirable. 

He said countries and businesses are moving toward net-zero to seize economic opportunities and to avoid the effects of climate change, noting all G7 countries have committed to achieving a decarbonized electricity grid by 2035.

In her letter, Eyre indicated the province is still open to having discussions with Ottawa about projects and funding. 

However, she said Saskatchewan is “drawing a line” over various environmental policies she believes are harmful. 

She said Ottawa should stop these policies, which include proposed emissions caps, the carbon tax, clean electricity regulations, fuel standards and fertilizer emissions reductions. 

“When you do this, we can build a stronger Canada together,” she said in the letter. 

Wilkinson said Ottawa and Saskatchewan already agree in several areas, including hydrogen, biofuels, critical minerals, value-added agriculture, carbon capture and small modular nuclear reactors. 

He said the province could start dialogue over advancing key projects, including Foran Mining’s plans in northeast Saskatchewan and the Critical Minerals Processing Centre in Saskatoon. 

Wilkinson said both parties could also look at how they can advance regulatory processes around small modular nuclear reactors, which Saskatchewan is considering as part of its future electricity grid.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2023. 

Jeremy Simes, The Canadian Press

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