Saskatchewan has made a national headline with comments from its premier, Scott Moe, who told a conference that “we are all Canadians.”
There are two parts to this statement. The first is that Saskatchewan is not “real” Canada. Saskatchewan isn’t part of Canada, specifically, which means it is not a part of Canada’s attempts to be inextricably associated with the idea of Canadianness.
This is weird. In what sense does it make sense for Saskatchewan to make this declaration? Because a portion of Saskatchewan is part of Canada? Because this specific part of Saskatchewan has some similarities to western Canada, to the north of Saskatchewan? Because if someone is a true Canadian and a certain piece of the Canadian Confederation seems too far away, or too incestuous, is it possible that they choose to stick around within a particular province?
The whole thing seems about as logical as saying, “We all suck.”
Saskatchewan, a remote province of 1.5 million people, is rich in fossil fuels. It can’t really be said to make this call out of total altruism. This isn’t an attempt to take back Saskatchewan’s oil reserves, but rather to preserve them for later generations.
As Fossil Free explained in 2012, the oil reserves of the majority of Saskatchewan (about 100,000 square kilometers, or 37.9 million acres) are exploitable today, though “in the near future new extraction technologies may reduce the need for ongoing fossil fuel operations.”
Still, “natural resources industries” in Saskatchewan get $4.8 billion (that’s U.S.) per year from federal subsidies and support for environmental projects that are difficult to justify. Alberta, Saskatchewan’s neighbor and a province with most of the reserves the premier referred to, also has a federal subsidy for natural resource companies worth $1.8 billion per year, according to the International Association of Petroleum Producers.
The most salient example of this is that in 2016, Regina (Saskatchewan’s capital), had the longest average power line length of any Canadian city.
This doesn’t really seem like a win-win situation for anyone. Oil companies that need a weak spot in the pipeline to transport their product make piles of money, which means that Saskatchewan has to incentivize them.
Worse, the money that Saskatchewan gives to natural resource companies is available in the form of tourism dollars to the places where mining operations happen, meaning that Saskatchewan drives companies away from towns that might otherwise be better suited to be boom towns.
This state of affairs, though, does not make some sense. Fossil fuels are also incredibly damaging to the climate. Environmentalist-approved fracking is generating pollution in a state that desperately needs environmental improvements, and will continually have to deal with pressure from other governments, whether it be Washington, D.C., or Denmark.
The main reason for this is because fossil fuels are used in order to provide value in the economy. We use them because they’re expensive and they do what they’re supposed to do, which is supply value to an economy.
Sure, they can be mined, they can be transported through pipelines, and they can be heated in power plants. But they still have to be used in some way, in order to ensure we have enough value in the economy.
So renewable energy and natural resource exploration will serve as a transition to some future consumption-focused economy, but this doesn’t really fix the bigger issue.
Saskatchewan does have other vehicles to avoid this transition, like locating cleaner, northern drilling sites that aren’t in an environmentally sensitive region.
While they probably won’t do anything worse than a nice few days’ vacation in the Arctic Circle, it doesn’t exactly seem like much of a choice to be cheap and resourceful in the present.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s the most sustainable choice. Fossil fuels will provide value for industries and organizations that can economically afford to continue and consume them as a rule for the foreseeable future.
Is that really good enough? Perhaps it’s even better for all of Saskatchewan if companies are pushed out of the province because of these values.