The Saskatchewan Election:
A 2020 Perspective e-book
Climate Change and Energy
By Dr. MARGOT HURLBERT (PhD), Professor and Canada Research Chair in Climate Change, Energy, and Sustainability Policy, Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Regina; Co-ordinating Lead Author and Review Editor for the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change
@margot_hurlbert | firstname.lastname@example.org
These days many people talk about the climate “crisis.” There are even those who refer to climate change as an “existential threat” to our way of life. Judging by what happened, or rather didn’t happen in the Saskatchewan election campaign, one can only conclude that if there is a crisis, it’s not enough of one to warrant any significant attention of voters.
When it comes to climate change, two things set Saskatchewan apart. One is that the province has the highest per capita GHG emission rates in Canada. The other is that polls show Saskatchewan people are skeptical about the whole global warming thing. It is an opinion that stands in contrast to other provinces and territories, which, before the COVID-19 pandemic, ranked climate change as the top global threat. Not surprisingly, the absence of climate change as an issue in the 2020 Saskatchewan election and Sask Party election landslide corresponds with a North American trend wherein conservative provinces and states coincide with reduced acceptance of climate change and its impacts. Other than the Green Party, this provincial mood was reflected in other parties’ platforms that predominantly focused on technology to fix climate change while simultaneously supporting Saskatchewan’s economy.
Scott Moe, Saskatchewan Party leader and the incumbent Premier, started his 2020 campaign standing in front of a massive Chevy Tahoe. Capitalizing on the recent 2019 federal election, when not a single Saskatchewan Liberal candidate was elected to Parliament, Moe continued to oppose the federal Liberal carbon tax. To effectively ‘undo’ the carbon tax, Moe promised a one-year, 10 per cent rebate on SaskPower bills. It would funnel $215 per household to rate payers and, in economic terms, effectively support the current carbon-intense power production regime.
The Saskatchewan Party outlined no new environmental commitments during the campaign, with its climate change plan appearing on page 43 of its 50-page "Plan for a Strong Saskatchewan." The platform reaffirmed the "Prairie Resilience" plan as the "Made-in-Saskatchewan Climate Change Strategy," which heavily relies on technology to reduce GHG emissions. The plan points to the Memorandum of Understanding the Moe government signed with governments of Ontario, New Brunswick, and Alberta that commits the provinces to collaborate on the development of small modular reactors (SMRs). It is clearly a long-term commitment as SMRs are not expected to be available until 2030, the year that the Moe government has committed to reducing GHG emissions by 12 million tonnes. Recently, the Sask Party government formed a nuclear secretariat it tasked with securing funding and engaging with communities, Indigenous groups, industry and labour, and educational institutions.
Moe’s support for the oil and gas industry was evident in the campaign. At one point he assailed an NDP candidate for her two-and-a-half-year-old expletive-included statement opposing the oil sands and the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. Moe accused the provincial NDP leader Ryan Meili of not denouncing the comments, which for Moe, were akin to supporting "the elimination of a strong Saskatchewan economy." In response, Meili accused Moe of lacking imagination on what a strong Saskatchewan economy might look like.
The NDP platform referenced taking ambitious action on climate change under the nomenclature of ‘Renew Saskatchewan’, a position that, based on results, did not resonate with Saskatchewan voters.
This could be due to the fact that much of the vision was yet to be developed, as the NDP sought to strike the right balance between resource development and the need to fight climate change. Arguing that the Sask Party killed the solar industry, the NDP plan envisioned adapting new technology to address climate change, while maintaining its support for the oil industry.
The NDP’s five priorities were 50 per cent renewable and non-emitting electricity by 2030, legislating a target of 100 per cent by 2050. It would be achieved by investing in ambitious energy efficiencies, protecting wetlands and grasslands, empowering distributed energy grids, and working with SaskPower to make Saskatchewan a leader in geothermal power production (also identified as a bridge for oil sector workers in relation to drilling and pipelines). The NDP argued that its plan would create jobs in renewables and support a minimum wage of $15. Meili wouldn’t give a number for geothermal, and he didn’t rule out nuclear options, which he didn’t feel would be economical for 15 to 20 years.
On the climate change and energy front, the Buffalo Party, Saskatchewan Liberals, and Green Party only received a smattering of support. The Saskatchewan Liberal Party’s mandate strongly reflected the federal Liberal platform. The Green Party platform, which arguably was the most pro-environmental and aggressive in relation to climate change, was equally unsupported by voters.
Green Party leader Naomi Hunter’s agenda was 100 per cent clean electricity generation in four years, paid for through a wealth tax. She also called for the immediate reduction of reliance on coal and the end of all exploration of oil and gas. Conversely, the Buffalo Party promised to maintain three coal-fired power plants and become a global leader in carbon capture and storage. The new Liberal leader Robert Rudachyk’s green agenda relied on distributed energy production, infrastructure for electric cars, and carbon pricing similar to British Columbia’s.
Ultimately, the NDP's and Sask Party's position on climate change were not significantly different. Both parties expressed support for the oil and gas industry and did not identify any needed changes in the industry given the climate change crises.
The NDP commitment to 50 per cent renewables by 2050 is already part of the Sask Party’s "Prairie Resilience" plan, and the remainder of the NDP’s commitments was not significantly new, different, or groundbreaking in relation to the Saskatchewan Party’s position.
Voters in Saskatchewan largely reflected the interests of Saskatchewan’s energy base of oil, gas, and high greenhouse gas emitting industry, which was reflected in the weak support for the Saskatchewan Liberals and Green Party—both of which had aggressive climate change strategies. Reflecting pre-election public opinion research that indicated climate change policy was a lower priority, Saskatchewan voters opted to stay the course, opposing the federal government’s carbon pricing plan and supporting the Saskatchewan oil and gas economy.
This mood was reflected in the winning Sask Party’s platform on climate change, which contained no new policies or commitments, and endorsed the government’s "Prairie Resilience" plan. Meanwhile, the NDP failed to develop a credible plan that differentiated it from the Sask Party.
 Lachapelle, E., C. P. Borick and B. Rabe, 2012: Public Attitudes toward Climate Science and Climate Policy in Federal Systems: Canada and the United States Compared 1. Review of Policy Research, 29 (3), 334-357.
 Poushter, J. and C. Huang, 2019: Climate Change Still Seen as the Top Global Threat, but Cyberattacks a Rising Concern. Pew Research Center.
 Drummond, C. and B. Fischhoff, 2017: Individuals with greater science literacy and education have more polarized beliefs on controversial science topics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114 (36), 9587-9592.