Fighting the carbon tax and developing Saskatchewan’s own climate program were some of the top issues for Dustin Duncan this past year in his portfolio as the province’s Environment minister, along with the issues facing the oil industry as the Weyburn-Big Muddy MLA.
This year was also the first full year under a new leader, Scott Moe, who won the leadership race to replace Brad Wall after he stepped down as premier.
“I think 2018 for me really has been a year of change,” said Duncan. “From my perspective as the minister of the Environment, dealing with the federal government has meant a busy year for me.”
The MLA noted a lot of people have asked him if the transition to a new leader and premier has gone smoothly, and said Wall was a “a pretty dynamic force in Saskatchewan and in Canadian politics”, particularly in standing up for this province on the national stage.
“I think Scott’s doing a great job. The cabinet is united, the caucus is united, and considering there are people in caucus who he defeated, he’s done a good job,” said Duncan, adding that Moe is starting to establish his own presence on the national stage.
He has been kept busy this year in his portfolio since announcing the climate change plan last year. The federal government has stated they aren’t accepting the plan as enough to cancel the carbon tax, and yet they do accept a part of the plan where the province will deal with heavy emitters.
Duncan said they were able to get legislation passed in the fall so they could say to the federal government they are acting to address environmental issues.
In regard to the carbon tax, the province is preparing for a hearing in the Court of Appeals in Regina on Feb. 13-14, and Duncan plans to be there for at least part of the time. This will be the first provincial challenge of the carbon tax, with court dates also set later for Ontario and New Brunswick.
“They’ve acknowledged the carbon tax will not reduce emissions. Even the federal lawyer agreed with Saskatchewan that it won’t reduce emissions,” said Duncan. “It’s frustrating they continue to not only acknowledge the argument we’ve been making, it’s also frustrating when they say if you don’t agree, then you’re not serious about addressing climate change.”
He noted when Moe used to be the Environment minister, the government had always said on the whole carbon tax issue that they would develop their own plan to address climate change issues.
In addition to the proposed tax not helping the environment, he noted that with the oil industry struggling right now, it would not be helpful to put a carbon tax on top of that.
“As MLA, the ongoing challenges in the oil industry and how that affects the area is a major concern. The downturn has been more prolonged than people were hoping for. Even when prices were starting to climb, it’s taken a lot longer for activity to return. There’s a lot of reasons for that,” said Duncan, noting that ongoing issues include the need for pipelines and the impending carbon tax.
“I hear a lot about this situation. I don’t think a day goes by where somebody doesn’t ask me when we’re going to get more pipelines built,” the MLA added.
A good piece of news for Weyburn was seeing a project manager hired by the Saskatchewan Health Authority for the new hospital still being planned for the city, as Colliers was named as the project manager.
“That’s good news. I think we’ll see more, like what we’re looking to build and how big it will be,” he said, noting that passing lanes on Highway 39 have been progressing, and there should be more built closer to Weyburn in the coming year.
He also noted with the demolition of the former junior high school, Weyburn will see construction this year for the new elementary school and the community fieldhouse facility.
Work has begun on the budget for 2019, with the ministries submitting their plans to the Treasury Board.
“The priority is to have a balanced budget. We had a three-year plan to control our spending,” said Duncan, noting the budget will likely be brought down in March.
“I’m cautiously optimistic about Saskatchewan in 2019,” he said, noting it will be an interesting year with elections in Alberta and federally before Saskatchewan has their next election two years from now.
“I’m positive we’ve seen the worst of a lot of the bad news we’ve seen lately, especially on the commodities front,” added Duncan.