Home » Others Are Saying » Governance

Category: Governance

Renters of Saskatoon and Area (ROSA) on Provincial Renting Concerns

 

Renters of Saskatoon and Area (ROSA) is a grass-roots group of renters and allies, formed over 2 years ago. We have prioritized a few of our many renter concerns here.

Saskatchewan’s rental housing market has failed to meet the needs of low income and marginalized renters in both the boom and bust times. A generation of renters of all ages have indeed already paid through lost job and education opportunities, personal, health and financial loss, precarious and subsistence living, and homelessness. Austerity, and poverty, affects us unequally. Renters continue to fall through the holes in Saskatchewan’s housing safety net. Investments are needed especially in times of economic troubles, to prevent further unequal offloading onto disadvantaged renters.

We call on the Premier to:

  1. Support the development of rental literacy awareness and support systems, to help renters find and keep affordable, appropriate rental housing
  2. Invest in, and protect low-income renters now more than ever, through expanded rental housing supplements, supports and rent-geared-to-income housing developments
  3. and Ensure a fair, dignified, rights-based rental housing system for all.

The planning of just and equitable changes to our rental systems must include the voices of the vulnerable, lived experience renters, for good business management of our shared resources, and to fairly transform Saskatchewan for all.

Recommendations:

A). Rights and Responsibilities:  Presently, a shortage of basic rental literacy skills on the part of both landlords and renters costs too much for both parties, and for the overall community. A lack of timely access to appropriate supports and consumer protections are preventable barriers to housing security, and sustainable, low-income rental housing stock. Investing now, with community engagement, in inclusive, successful and transformative system changes and practices such as the Ready to RentBC model, can save money, prevent homelessness, and build stability and sustainability for landlords and tenants.

The renters have said that more supports are needed for awareness of the rights of marginalized renters, including increasing awareness among small rental businesses that lack  awareness of rights and responsibilities.  Measures to increase the accountability of some market landlords who systematically take advantage of disadvantaged renters, and better renter protections and transparency in the handling of security deposits, would make renters’ lives better.

B). Discrimination: Another renter concern is discrimination particularly when trying to get housing. We are all treaty people! Saskatchewan Human Rights Code prohibitions of discrimination in rental housing must be better ensured and enforced, for all citizens regardless of race, country of origin or other protected categories.

The Saskatchewan Human Rights definition of protections from discrimination for those on income programs as ‘in receipt of Social Assistance’, must be expanded to match Alberta’s definition ‘based on source of income’ to fairly protect clients of other low income programs too.  Increasing awareness online and through other measures, such as the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s range of awareness promotions, can create a more inclusive, safe and productive community.

Enforcement of these systematic marketplace discriminations is too great a burden to ask vulnerable renters to carry.  A new, timely and accessible enforcement system is needed, particularly when applying for housing.

C). Advocates:  Increased access is needed to qualified advocates and support services, and increased funding for training and sustainability of this relatively cost-effective community-based asset for marginalized renters.  Investing in more affordable conflict resolution alternatives, like mediation, could help reduce court time, and money for all.

D). Affordability:  “We simply can’t afford the costs of poverty” – Trevor Hancock, 2015.

Renters even in this high-vacancy market still have to worry about stability and affordability of housing options for themselves, their children and their elders. Protecting and strengthening the renter economy can be achieved by supplementing inadequate income programs and precarious wages in a more timely way to cover actual rent when it does increase, a common renter concern, whether increasing due to unmanaged gentrification,  wider market fluctuations, or other pressures. Targeted, direct investment is needed now to restore and expand the portable Rental Housing Supplement benefit and extra shelter funds to cover the actual rent of all previously eligible renters.

E). Rent-Geared to Income: Preserving existing affordable rental housing and expanding sustainable funding for maintenance and energy efficiency is needed for Saskatchewan Housing Corporation’s housing and renovation programs, part of our valuable social safety net for the growing and changing needs of Saskatchewan’s marginalized renters. Ongoing investment is needed now to develop complete social rental housing developments (rent-geared-to-income with services and features). It needs to be reserved for vulnerable renters in a range of household needs and sizes, in locations that meet the renters needs, like schools and affordable transportation (aligning with a rights-based system) to support the health, wellbeing, inclusion and education of our future generations.

F). Renter supports for safe housing: Finding and holding onto safe, healthy and pest-free housing is an overwhelming burden for disadvantaged renter households. This is the result of barriers like inadequate incomes to cover the sudden costs of housing emergencies, transportation, extra supplies, caregiving, and sometimes 24 hour relocation , or barriers maybe due to lacking health or abilities for the labour and organizing challenges of pest and mold preventions and treatments.  Subsidized, supportive community services are needed, along with increased investment in pest prevention and treatment research, and public health protection services, to preserve and protect our affordable rental housing stock.

G). Appropriate housing needs: Access must be improved to disability supports including transportation, to find, or develop disability-appropriate and barrier-free rental accommodations close to needed services and community supports. Increased funding for renovations for physical accessibility needs such as bathrooms, entrances or maintenance supports would provide dignity, health and safety, so renters can age in place. Rental housing is needed with more bedrooms and bathrooms for larger, culturally appropriate or multigenerational household options, along with affordable, age-appropriate 1 bedrooms for vulnerable single occupancy households under 65. Renters have also called for rental housing that is pet-friendly, along with pet-free and smoke-free housing for disability needs.

SOURCES

http://www.readytorentbc.org/model/

http://vibrantcanada.ca/files/povertycostssaskatchewan_povertycosts_2014_s.pdf

http://saskatchewanhumanrights.ca/learn/the-human-rights-code

 

Mark Bigland-Pritchard’s Green Energy Vision

 

Green Energy and the SaskForward Vision

By Mark Bigland-Pritchard

The author is a Saskatoon-based independent energy consultant, with a background in applied physics and engineering. He is principal researcher for Green Energy Project Saskatchewan, and a core member of Climate Justice Saskatoon. Political views expressed here are his own.

It doesn’t have to be this way

In July, a pipeline broke, and diluted heavy oil leaked into the North Saskatchewan River, threatening the water supply of North Battleford, Prince Albert, James Smith First Nation and others, poisoning traditional First Nations medicine-collecting sites, and creating longterm ecological damage from the toxic constituents of sinking oil deposits. In the aftermath, we discovered that the pipeline in question had not needed to undergo an environmental assessment, that, on average, there have been over 18,000 reported leaks in the province since 1990, and that we have 27 inspectors to check on over 100 thousand kilometres of pipeline. And it’s set some of us wondering how Saskatoon would fare if the newly Trudeau-approved Line 3 (or, for that matter the old pipeline which it replaces) were to rupture close to where it crosses the South Saskatchewan river at the north end of Lake Diefenbaker.

Meanwhile, in the Athabasca basin in the north of the province, traditional Dene and Metis hunting and trapping lands are being segmented and disrupted by an unprecedented level of mineral exploration – mostly for uranium.

At Thunderchild First Nation in 2013, exploration for frackable gas included the desecration of the band’s sundance grounds. For resisting this offence, Marilyn Wapass ended up in prison.

It doesn’t have to be this way. But why is it?

What these events have in common is clear: the overbearing influence of extractive industry in our province, such that it can avoid accountability, threaten health and lives, and ride roughshod over the Treaty rights and the traditional practices and livelihoods of the First People of this territory.

But there is a still larger threat posed by this dominance. Per capita, Saskatchewan emits more greenhouse gases than any other Canadian province or territory (67 tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent per person per year), more than 48 out of 50 US states, and more than any nation state worldwide. In Paris just over a year ago, Canada committed to a document which set targeted limits to the extent of average global warming – no more than 2°C, with an ambition to keep it below 1.5°C. There is a global carbon budget attached to each of these limits, which we must not exceed if we are to stay within them.

Let’s pretend for a while that we lived in a fair world where every person was entitled to an equal share of carbon emissions. Saskatchewan’s share for a 2/3 chance of staying below 2°C warming would be about two-and-a-half times our current annual emissions – i.e. we would use up our for-all-time allowance in about two-and-a-half years. It’s even worse for the budget for a 50% chance of staying under 1.5°C warming – we would blow through that in just 14 months. After that, we are in effect stealing from other peoples’ budgets or else driving global temperatures past manageable limits.

And even a 2°C world is a disturbing prospect. According to a recent detailed study,

“The risks posed by extreme heat and potential crop yield reductions in tropical regions in Africa and South-East Asia under a 2° warming are particularly critical given the projected trends in population growth and urbanization in these regions.”

“In conjunction with other development challenges, the impacts of climate change represent a fundamental challenge for regional food security, and may trigger new poverty traps for several countries or populations within countries.”

Together with the predicted increase in drought in the middle east and north Africa, and the impact of rising oceans and storm surges on small island states and low-lying river delta areas, these trends threaten to lead to streams of refugees and more failed states.

Our economic overdependence on resource extraction isn’t just threatening the water and the lands that we should be caring for. It isn’t just threatening our own health. It isn’t just the latest phase of colonialism. It also contributes to a massive, indeed potentially unprecedented, threat to human society globally.

I don’t believe that represents who Saskatchewan people are, deep down. And it doesn’t have to be that way.

But it will be for as long as the corporations rule. For as long as they are allowed to dominate instead of just doing their job of supplying a service in return for fair recompense. For as long as profit is more important than people. For as long as narrow corporate-friendly economic dogma dominates government priorities. For as long as economic “growth” matters more than communities or human health or the earth itself.

My vision

But if we want things to be different we need a vision. Only with an inspiring and life-giving vision can we overcome the anxiety and denial which is gripping this province. More accurately, we need lots of peoples’ visions that we can piece together into one big vision.

As an energy consultant, applied physicist and policy researcher, here’s my piece of the jigsaw. This started as a vision for energy provision – but it rapidly became also a vision for good jobs, for an economy under our control, for a better concept of prosperity, and for a more harmonious way of living together:

I see a Saskatchewan in which energy is a servant not a master – where our energy systems are designed for us, instead of the current situation where we have to fit in with the edicts of private corporations and insufficiently accountable Crowns. I see people mostly working close to home, living in comfortable homes which cost next-to-nothing to heat, taking the opportunity to play an active part in managing their energy supply, and using a diverse range of efficient transport options. I see liveable cities, where for most of the things which we need to do we can travel by foot or by bike or by comfortable and efficient public transit.

I see a Saskatchewan where the power of big corporations is reduced because local small business offers many more employment options. I see the housing crisis addressed with state-of-the-art homes. And I see a culture which encourages innovation for the public good.

So how can we work this out? Here are my suggestions.

Electricity

Let’s start with electricity. Northern European jurisdictions would look with envy at our wind resource, our solar resource, our potential to plan biomass operations which threaten neither food production nor ecosystems.

But it is some of those European countries – especially Denmark and Germany – which have shown us how to make the transition in a way that can benefit everyone. Government in both countries has enabled community ownership of green electricity generation. Often this is through establishment of a local cooperative; more recently Germany has seen the emergence of municipally owned utilities committed to 100% renewables generation. And even when wind and solar were expensive, a system was in place to give those new power generators a virtually- guaranteed financial return. Much has been written in North American media about the supposedly horrendous cost of electricity in Germany – but the reality is that this is not a cause for protest in Germany, and many are enthusiastic about their ability to sell power as well as buying it. (In any case, German householders pay no more for their electricity than we do, even though the retail unit cost is higher – a result of a whole-society endorsement of principles of conservation and efficiency.)

Community ownership means that power becomes democratized – no longer the subject of decision-making by a distant unaccountable body, whether privately or publicly owned. It means that people gain control over another piece of their life. It brings communities together to work on a local project for the common good. It also means good local jobs.

A 2012 study by Blue-Green Canada found that, for the same amount of investment, green energy could create between six and nine times as many jobs as the oil industry. A more recent study from the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts arrives at a more modest figure: two-and-a-half times as many. Already, solar power employs more people in the USA than coal, oil and gas put together. The potential for job creation is phenomenal – provided that we can move fast enough. While most of those jobs will be in installation, consultancy or maintenance, we should be developing manufacturing capacity. South Dakota can attract wind turbine manufacturers, so why not Saskatchewan?

In the period from January 2015 to March 2016, Saskatchewan generated 46% of its power from coal, and another 34% from gas. Over the next two to three decades, both of these fuels need to be phased out – first the coal and then the gas – if we are at all serious about climate change. Looking at the current example of Scotland, and based on my own preliminary modelling, I believe we can achieve that by 2040 – but it will require a determined and consistent programme. The essential technical elements in that programme are deep efficiency measures, rapid renewable power rollout, stronger interconnection with Manitoba, smart-grid development and, towards the end of that period, storage capacity development.

To enable that, we need a series of policy changes:

  •   A commitment that all new generating capacity ordered by SaskPower will be from renewables.
  •   Financial mechanisms to decouple SaskPower profits from the number of units of electricity sold – thus strengthening the incentive for demand-side management (SaskPower or government efficiency initiatives).
  •   Amendment to the Saskatchewan Power Corporation Act, specifying that, in ensuring that power supply adequately meets power demand, new investment should be limited to the following in reducing order of priority: (i) energy efficiency, (ii) community-owned renewables and individual home photovoltaics, (iii) other renewables, (iv) energy from waste and industrial cogeneration. This should be supplemented with investment in whatever mix of other technological approaches (smart grid, power trading, storage) is necessary to ensure and improve grid stability.
  •   Amendment to the Saskatchewan Power Corporation Act, limiting the SaskPower monopoly by enabling local cooperatively- and municipally-owned generation for public sale. In addition, First Nations reserves, which come under federal rather than provincial law and so should already be able to generate and sell within reserve, should also be permitted to sell off-reserve within Saskatchewan.
  •   A feed-in tariff scheme, guaranteeing renewables generators (i) priority on the grid, and (ii) stability of price (with a reasonable but not excessive rate of return), with preferential options for First Nations, community-run schemes, cooperatives and municipal projects.
  •   Agreement with Manitoba Hydro to expand the interprovincial interconnection to 2MW in both directions, so that we can export when wind and solar facilities provide an excess and import hydro power when we have a shortfall from our own generation.
  •   A decisive shift in the structure of the economy, with active encouragement not only for green energy but also for IT, for high-efficiency manufacturing, for essential services. This should include green power manufacturing facilities in the province. And,at the same time, an end to the expansion of extractive industries, an end to new fossil infrastructure, and a planned quarter-century-long phase-out of fossil fuel production.The last point is perhaps the most important. The rapid growth in demand from energy-intensive mining operations has demanded substantial investment in infrastructure – new power stations and new transmission lines. Because it costs more to generate from a new power station – of whatever sort – than from an old one, this has contributed to the rise in electricity rates. Shifting to renewables will also result in a small short-term price rise – not because renewables are inherently more expensive (they no longer are), but because some fossil plant will be “stranded assets,” closed before the end of its financial life. It is important that we minimize the costs to the consumer of the transition, and this can only realistically be done if new infrastructure costs can be limited.Heating buildings

    Energy to heat homes and offices is responsible for only about 3% of our provincial emissions. But this is still an important area to address, for four reasons (besides the climate imperative):

  1. (i)  People on low income need affordable homes. This doesn’t just mean that the rent should be affordable: with electricity prices already rising, and gas prices subject to a volatile market, fuel poverty is a very real future risk if we don’t build to tough energy standards.
  2. (ii)  It enables people to see, in their own lives, what is possible at reasonable cost.
  3. (iii)  The opportunities for job creation in this sector are massive.
  4. (iv)  High-performance buildings don’t just emit less and cost less to run – they are also more comfortable to live in and more pleasant to work in (and corporate Canada is increasingly recognizing that good working conditions lead to higher productivity)

Modern high-performance building need not be expensive – especially if we consider lifetime rather than initial costs.

It’s easiest to act on new-build. It’s a lot cheaper to build in efficiency from the outset. Nearly all wealthy industrialized jurisdictions in the world have energy building codes for new-build. Saskatchewan needs to join them.

Performance-based codes make the most sense – what matters is how much energy a building will use, and how much carbon dioxide it will emit, not whether it is built to some prescribed method. We could start with a requirement for all new buildings to satisfy LEED for Homes or (for office buildings) LEED gold, and gradually ramp up the demands over a decade so that anything being built in the late 2020s meets Passivhaus standard (requiring about 1/10 of the energy of current good-practice construction), provides heating and electricity from renewables, and conforms to the non-energy sections of the LEED standard.

While it could take a decade to fully make the transition in new-build design, the knowledge and methods exist already to build to these high standards. One Passivhaus-compliant project is close to completion in Saskatoon, with others not far behind. With real government support, affordable housing units constructed to this standard could rapidly become the norm, for example in municipal Housing First initiatives.

Existing buildings offer more of a challenge. The incentive programmes offered by previous governments resulted in some improvements, but they were limited in scope and difficult for those on the lowest incomes to take advantage of. A better option – and one which could avoid the need for government funding – would be for longterm financing to be enabled, such that energy savings pay for the monthly payment on the investment. Such a scheme needs to be tied to the property, not the owner, because ownership can change. Toronto is already experimenting with this option, using Local Improvement Charges, following some enabling changes to provincial legislation. Could we do the same here? Or could we achieve the same result through a network of non-profits, or through SaskEnergy?

Such legislation would demand the availability of a skilled workforce. Indeed, tightening codes and retrofit incentives (see reference to carbon pricing below) should offer a degree of employment stability in a traditionally volatile industry. So, as with green power, there will be a need for specialized training for all trades – carpenters, plumbers, electricians and so on. Contractors, architects and engineers will also need new training. But none of this is difficult, and some of it is already being done on a volunteer basis, through mid-career courses and through work experience on energy-efficient new-builds and retrofits.

Transport

Transport policy is complex. We travel to local shops, to workplaces, to schools, to appointments, to city centre events, to other communities – and the most pleasant and quickest way to travel may vary according to distance, location and time of day. A good planning strategy will consider this. It will also consider the impact of our travel on others around us. It will ensure that most of us have mainly short distances to travel – and that we can do so safely on foot or by bicycle for much of the time. It will gear public transit to peoples’ needs, making it comfortable, efficient and rapid and giving it road priority over personal vehicles. It will challenge the dominance of the big box stores and the malls.

We also need a shift in the types of vehicles we drive – in the short term towards more efficient models, and in the short to medium term increasingly to electric vehicles. This transformation can be driven by a mixture of positive incentives, federal regulations, SGI differential insurance rates and carbon pricing. It will also require a comprehensive network of electric charging stations.

Industry

I’ve said a lot about industry already. While I see the biggest opportunities in diversification, most of the present facilities and infrastructure will stay in place at least for the next couple of decades. Their contribution to our carbon footprint is very substantial – roughly half of the total if their electric demand, transport requirement and fugitive emissions are included. So in addressing climate change we cannot avoid making strong demands on these corporations. A mixture of carbon pricing and low-interest loans should enable substantial energy efficiency improvements, and a mine or factory which decides to shift to renewable power should be rewarded. As with buildings and electricity, investment in energy efficiency provides an opportunity for job creation and for skills development.

Fugitive emissions

Nearly one-fifth of Saskatchewan’s current greenhouse emissions are from venting, flaring and leaks in the oil and gas industry. Other jurisdictions (Norway, Alberta, even North Dakota) have found ways to limit this. Instead of venting and flaring methane, producers should be required to either use it to generate power for their rig or else pipe it into the provincial gas system. And pipelines wouldn’t leak so much if they were subject to environmental assessment at the planning stage and regular inspection once installed.

Carbon pricing

I have identified a number of measures which can overcome barriers and enable the transition. But there is another that we cannot easily avoid if we are to move fast enough. That is carbon pricing. This must be transparent, publicly accountable and socially just in its financial impacts, which limits us to a couple of carbon tax models, both of which preferably involve charging a fee at each point where fossil fuels enter the economy. Then either return all the proceeds in equal cheques to every citizen and permanent resident aged 16 or over (Fee and Dividend), or else return about half the proceeds in that way, but only to people on lower incomes, and use the other half to fund green infrastructure, business start-ups, etc. In Saskatchewan, some provision needs to be made to protect export-focussed agriculture, but in my estimation that is the only necessary complication.

Kicking the economic addiction

And, finally, we have to recognize that it is necessary to plan for a transition away from economic dependency on oil and gas production. The message from climate science is clear. To exceed the aspirational lower Paris temperature limit or 1.5°C means death or dislocation for millions worldwide; to exceed the higher limit of 2°C means a slow-motion global train wreck. But to stay below even that higher limit requires an end to fossil fuel use, worldwide, by some time around mid-century. (The precise timing depends on a number of things, one of the most important of which is how quickly we in the industrialised world can cut our emissions in the short term.)

Usually when an industry needs to come to an end the workers are left high and dry. That must not happen this time – we have time to plan and to build the industries which can provide good well- paid jobs in green energy and green construction. The initiatives in this direction which have been taken by former Alberta oilpatch workers in establishing Iron and Earth, securing diverse funding and support, and creating multiple retraining and demonstration projects, are impressive. But they are only the beginning, they need to spread across the provincial border to Saskatchewan, and they need active encouragement. Most importantly, both government and civil society need to take up the cause and build the green economy from the ground up. And those workers need time to retrain, and proper recompense through EI while they do so.

Freedom!

If that happens, we can start to build a society based on local autonomy, not the dictates of corporate headquarters. A society where work and community are linked together. A society which practices community cohesion instead of relying on distant commuting. A society where human values matter – health, happiness, community, connectedness with the natural world, and not just profits and “growth.” And a society which is doing its part to avoid climate catastrophe.

A Publishers’ Weekly review of Faultlines, by our own Emily Eaton and Valerie Zink, says this: “Zink and Eaton portray a precarious population with little control over an existence driven by unseen and unaccountable global forces.” It is time we worked to wrest control away from those unaccountable forces and put it back into the hands of the people. We have the technology to do so. We can find the financial resources – not least by making those unaccountable forces pay their fair share. What is needed is the political will.

Jim Harding for Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Society on the Yancoal Southey Project

 

YANCOAL SOUTHEY PROJECT: A HUGE STEP AWAY FROM SUSTAINABILITY

1. UNDERMINING PUBLIC INVOLVEMENT:

Yancoal’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was only released on April 23, 2016, yet Yancoal tells us in its April 17th letter that “the public comments deadline will be May 24th”. Meanwhile it took the Saskatchewan Environmental Assessment Review Board two years to do its technical assessment.

The freeze on the process until after the April 4, 2016 provincial election contributed to the suppressing of these vital issues from public scrutiny. The extension of 15 days to June 6th remains a slap in the face of Saskatchewan’s democracy, especially for area farmers during high seeding time.

We know that “politics” and “economics” enter environmental assessment, mostly through narrow terms of reference and errors of omission. The big picture and the future typically don’t get sufficient attention. It is unacceptable for the broader public to only be given 45 days to consider the wider and long-term public interest.

QVEA POSITION # 1: Yancoal’s Southey Project should immediately be taken off the fast-track to allow public due diligence to prevail.

2. PROVINCE-WIDE REPERCUSSIONS FOR ENVIRONMENT AND WATER:

CARBON FOOTPRINT: The Yancoal mine could create as much as 1.09 million tonnes of C02 equivalents per year.[i] This would increase, not decrease Saskatchewan’s already high carbon footprint.[ii] Yet Yancoal has not looked at the potential of using any renewable energy and it even rejected co-generation (power from waste heat). This business-as-usual approach will not help Saskatchewan reorient its economy towards sustainability. The Yancoal project will not help Saskatchewan assist the country to cut its emissions by 30% below the 2005 level by 2030.

EXTERNALIZING COSTS: Yancoal wants to use gargantuan amounts of surface water to bring the potash above ground for processing; this solution mining will reduce Yancoal’s costs while externalizing huge costs to the environment and watershed.[iii] Yancoal admits that the benefits of solution mining include “lower up-front capital costs and no underground workforce.” This shows how, while costs are being externalized, benefits such as jobs are being greatly reduced.

Yancoal expressed an interest in a pipeline to Quill Lakes, perhaps to be supplemented by water from Last Mountain Lake. The Water Security Agency (WSA) and Sask Water prefer a costly pipeline from Buffalo Pound, possibly because they can better control the supply coming from Lake Diefenbaker.

Either way this is a totally unacceptable use and waste of fresh water. Yancoal’s figures suggest it will use 13 million cubic metres a year, 50% of the water used by Regina[iv]; it could be larger. Year in and year out for up to 100 years all this water would be permanently lost from the natural cycle. We must start to truly value and protect water; with the coming water crisis we can’t be removing fresh water from the hydrological cycle.

CLIMATE CHANGE: Furthermore, Buffalo Pound and Last Mountain Lake are both fed by Lake Diefenbaker, which provides domestic water to more than half of Saskatchewan’s residents. The amount of water in the South Saskatchewan River which, since the mid-60s, flows into Lake Diefenbaker has been markedly decreasing for a century and this decrease will accelerate with climate change. Recent summer flow levels have measured 86% below those recorded in 1910.[v] Both water quantity and quality will be at even greater risk.[vi] When surface water becomes scarcer, as it surely will, Yancoal and other companies could end up using water from and risking contaminating the Hatfield Aquifer on which many communities already depend.

A 2012 report already projected a 200% increase in water taken from the Qu’Appelle watershed by 2060.[vii] And this calculation was made before the Yancoal project or some other solution mines were even proposed.[viii] We see no credible provincial strategy behind the steady, incremental industrialization of water that will ensure that future water sources are protected and secure. [ix] The Water Security Authority (WSA) modeling and forecasting doesn’t even take climate change into account. There hasn’t been a study of the cumulative impact of Yancoal using the massive projected volume of water over 100 years[x]. Would the amount of water being extracted violate inter-provincial water-sharing agreements? There is simply too much uncertainty about future water supply or the impacts on other water users for this project to be approved.

NOT SUSTAINABILITY: Sustainability is about inter-generational justice; not undermining the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The incremental approach of the Sask Party government puts future generations at risk. It would therefore be foolish to approve the prolonged use and waste of such valuable water for the Yancoal mine.

QVEA POSITION # 2: Until a credible sustainable water strategy which takes climate change into account is developed there should be a moratorium on all mega-water industrial projects.

3. SEVERE IMPACTS ON LAND AND HABITAT:

VIABLE AGRICULTURAL DISTRICT: The area to be immediately affected by the Yancoal mine is a viable agricultural district: there are 126 homes and 325 residents within a 5-mile radius of the proposed mine site.[xi] The way Yancoal has been treating land owners is of great concern. Yancoal has resorted to corporate “divide and rule” tactics which pit those who are more removed from immediate impacts and see short-term benefits, against those that face the brunt and lasting effects of this mega-project.

UNDERGROUND IMPACT: This is not the way to approach the risks to the land, habitats and communities. Many vital questions remain. We know from other locations that fracking carries its own risks.[xii] Yancoal estimates that during operations it will be injecting underground about 20,000 cubic metres (m3) of brine a day from its reclamation ponds.[xiii] This amount of water will be permanently lost to the hydrologic system every day for the 100-year life span of the mine. And have the risks from the continual injection of such massive amounts of wastewater from solution mining underneath the Hatfield aquifer been fully considered?[xiv] It is admitted that subsidence or downward displacement of surface material would occur over the next 250 years but what would be the extent of land slumping? Are there other risks of underground movement, including earthquakes, such as have occurred from wastewater injection in the oil and gas industries across the border?[xv]

We prefer the Precautionary Principle. Some may want to argue that the geology is different here and that there has been some solution mine wastewater injection without noticeable underground impacts. The cumulative impacts, with Yancoal’s 100-year timeline and so many other solution mines being considered within this already vulnerable watershed should, however, now be very carefully considered.

ENDANGERED PRAIRIE ECOREGION: Underground contamination can come from pipeline leaks, rock fracturing and brine seepage into aquifers. Further, Yancoal plans to leave the salt tailings exposed. Just because this un-ecological practice has been allowed at potash mines does not mean it should continue. According to Parks Canada the Moist Mixed Grassland Ecoregion in the Prairies Ecozone where Yancoal wants to mine is already one of the most endangered areas in the world. And what are the risks of contamination of fragile fish habitat in the West and East Loon Creeks?

What are the risks of farm lands being greatly devalued? And why is Yancoal being allowed to side-step the foreign ownership guidelines? Yancoal has already purchased 4,200 acres but has an exception that allows them to buy up to 60,000 acres; does it really need this for a potash mine?

YANCOAL’S ENVIRONMENTAL RECORD: The foundational knowledge for all the technical assessments should be fully released and carefully scrutinized. Yancoal’s dismal environmental record abroad[xvi] should also be fully assessed.

QVEA POSITION # 3: At a minimum a panel of fully independent hydrologists should be formed to report on all the pertinent research about deep underground waste water injection before any further consideration is given to approving this project.

4. IMPLICATIONS FOR POTASH INDUSTRY AND PROVINCIAL REVENUE:

CONTROL OF POTASH: Yancoal is a Chinese state corporation which operates on a different time span than other resource companies. Their goal is as much about securing long-term global supply of non-renewables as it is about profitable production and marketing. It has a guaranteed interlocked purchaser, China.

With nearly half of known potash reserves, Saskatchewan is a prime target. And with its own domestic overuse and contamination of watersheds and aquifers, China is also interested in accessing cheap water abroad for its resource extraction. This greatly externalizes its costs onto the Saskatchewan environment.

ROYALTY IMPLICATIONS: Yancoal could be here for 100 years. This is its first such mine, which likely makes us their guinea pigs. And as it plans this huge project, other companies are laying off workers due to the slump in the global potash market. Is anything in place to ensure that Yancoal will not come to control Saskatchewan potash production and undermine the competition and the marketing system (Canpotex) that ensures that the province benefits somewhat from potash royalties? Will Yancoal’s involvement lead to lower prices as well as a shrinking commercial market? If BHP Billiton was kept from purchasing Potash Corp because it was considered a threat to this “strategic resource”, then shouldn’t Yancoal be held to the same standard?

QVEA POSITION # 4: Before this project is allowed to proceed any further there must be full public disclosure of all agreements and obligations made by the Saskatchewan government and those regarding the Chinese-Canada FIPA trade agreement which have any bearing on Saskatchewan’s long-term public interest in resource royalties and revenues.

5. SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES FOR QU’APPELLE VALLEY:

PROTECTING THE QU’APPELLE WATERSHED: The Lower Qu’Appelle is already considered to be facing “high intensity” stress regarding surface water allocation and ground water use. Roads, aquatic fragmentation, impact of landfills, livestock and fertilizer inputs, pesticides and contaminated sites all contribute to such stress in the watershed.[xvii] The diversion of millions of cubic metres of precious water for Yancoal’s mine will inevitably further undercut the aquatic health and recreational vitality of the Lower Qu’Appelle, which flows through the Qu’Appelle Valley. Furthermore, over the very long time span of the Yancoal solution mine, upstream saline and other contamination will almost inevitably make its way through the natural drainage system into the Loon Creek which goes into the already vulnerable Qu’Appelle Valley watershed.[xviii]

Yancoal’s solution mine has direct implications for both water quantity and quality throughout the Qu’Appelle Valley Basin. The environmental review process should therefore not be skewed to exclude those who will ultimately be impacted downstream. Downstream indigenous as well as settler communities have a lot at stake here, yet in both cases the broad public has not been directly involved in the review process. This is unacceptable.

QVEA POSITION # 5: Before this project goes any further there must be a full, informed public discussion of the implications of the Yancoal project for the quantity and quality of water passing through the Q

[i] Yancoal Southey Project, Saskatchewan Environmental Society, June 2, 2016.

[ii] In 2011 Saskatchewan surpassed Alberta as having Canada’s highest per capita carbon footprint. The Canadian average was 20 metric tonnes per person per year, while Saskatchewan was 68 metric tonnes per person per year. This is among the highest level anywhere in the world.

[iii] Other Potash companies also admit this transfer of costs: e.g. Encanto Potash Corp writes that at Muskowekwan First Nations it plans “a solution mine for a number of reasons including longer mine life, lower CAPEX (capital expenditure), higher rate of return and shorter time of production…” See encantopotask.com/muskowekwan project.

[iv] On its website Yancoal says it will use 1,450 cubic metres (m3) an hour, which would amount to 13 million cubic metres (Mm3) a year. Regina’s water consumption was 23 Mm3 in 2013.

[v] Glaciers feeding the headwaters of the two Saskatchewan Rivers have shrunk by 25-30% since the 1950s. The maximum depth of snow and number of days with snow on the ground have both declined significantly. See W.F. Donahue, Freshwater Issues and Challenges in Alberta, Canadian Forest Service, Science Seminar Series, March 13, 2008.

[vi] See “Climate Change and our Watershed”, In We Are All Waterkeepers, Fort Qu’Appelle Kairos, Sept. 2014, pp. 20-23.

[vii] One proposal is to build an Upland Canal from Lake Diefenbaker to Buffalo Pound Lake to try to increase the flow to handle a projected 219% increase in demand for agriculture and a 172% increase in demand for industry and mining by 2060. See Clifton Associates, Upper Qu’Appelle Water Supply Project, 2012. Also see “Upland Canal Project”, Kairos 2014, pp. 14-16.

[viii] The Mosaic solution mine at Belle Plain already draws water from Buffalo Pound. The K & S Legacy solution mine near Bethune which the company admits will be “water-and-energy intensive” has now been told that it will also be provided water from Buffalo Pound. Vale was promoting a solution mine at Kronau which initially was to draw water directly from Katepwa Lake; it is now on hold. Western Potash is proposing a solution mine at Milestone, Karnalyte Resources is proposing another, the Carnallite project, at Wynyard and Encanto is proposing a solution mine on Muskowekwan First Nations. How many such water-gorging solution mines can the Qu’Appelle Watershed bear? Potash Corp also has a solution mine at Patience Lake near Saskatoon.

[ix]With climate change come earlier springs and algae buildup in the 5.5 metre deep Buffalo Pound Lake. Regina’s supply has already been restricted by 50% in May of 2015 due to this convergence. And the ability to increase the flow into Buffalo Pound from Lake Diefenbaker is highly limited, especially in winter months, without a very expensive canal mega-project, to which the WSA and Sask Party government has not committed. And even then there would, over time, be a reduced flow from Alberta.

[x] One billion, 300 million cubic metres of valuable surface water would be taken out of the natural system. This is not sustainable.

[xi] Havelock Special Projects Committee.

[xii] See Bob Weber, “Fracking, Not Water Disposal, Caused Canadian Earthquakes”, Canadian Press, March 29, 2016. David Eaton at the University of Calgary studied 12,000 fracked and disposal wells drilled in Western Canada by the oil and gas industry between 1985-2015 and found that earthquakes were twice as likely to be associated with fracking as with wastewater disposal.

[xiii] If Yancoal uses 34,800 cubic metres of water a day (1,450 m3 an hour), this figure of 20,000 m3/day suggests there will be some recycling of water before it is disposed.

[xiv] “The amount of pressure on the injected water should be disclosed and the risk of earthquake generation should be investigated.” Saskatchewan Environmental Society (SES) submission, June 2, 2016.

[xv] “Earthquakes and Hydraulic Fracking”, Earthwork Fact Sheet, n.d., states that earthquakes have been “linked to fracking wastewater injection in at least five states.” Also see “Earthquakes triggered by fracking wastewater in Oklahoma”, Associated Press, July 3, 2014. This reports that the salty “wastewater is leftover from unconventional wells that drill for oil and gas with the help of high pressure fracking and from the removal of water from diluted oil. These new methods mean much more wastewater has to be discarded.”

Also see Terry Reith and Briar Stewart, “Do fracking activities cause earthquakes? Seismologists and the state of Oklahoma say yes”, CBC News, April 28, 2016. This reports that a number of earthquakes in Oklahoma have been “blamed on the injection of wastewater from oil production into wells”.

The 700 people from 20 countries who attended the Seismology Society of American meeting in Reno Nevada heard about studies showing that there definitely is a relationship between “deep disposal and earthquake activity” that has been increasing since 2011.

Could a similar thing occur from potash solution mining when the massive amount of toxic brine wastewater is injected into deep wells?

[xvi] Yancoal is a subsidiary of Yanzhou Coal and Yankuang Group, one of China’s largest fossil fuel conglomerates. Yancoal controls 10 coal mines in Australia and plays a big role in China’s huge C02 emissions. Coal mining and coal-generated electricity also contribute to widespread toxic contamination of both land and water in China. See Jim Harding, Are We ready to Sell Our Future to China? R-Town News, May, 31, 2014 and also available at: www.crowsnestecology.wordpress.com

[xvii] State of the Watershed Report, Water Security Authority, 2010, p. 32-36.

[xviii] The first lake, Pasqua Lake is already suffering from a massive nutrient load which comes in part from decades of Regina’s untreated sewage.

Shawn O’Dell on transforming provincial-Indigenous relations

I would like to see a provincial government that doesn’t avoid improving the quality of life of Indigenous People and working towards reconciliation in Saskatchewan because of jurisdiction issues with the Federal Government.

We’re all treaty people, and we need a province that acts like it.

Saskatchewan can be a partner by following the lead of Indigenous People in getting beyond the Indian Act, and be an active participant in pursuing strong, vibrant, united, self governing indigenous communities. With the resources and intergovernmental support that the Saskatchewan government can provide, the voices of Indigenous People in Saskatchewan could become amplified in Ottawa. Additionally, the Saskatchewan government could commit to actively filling the many gaps left by the federal government in the lives of Indigenous People in Saskatchewan, and sort out the jurisdictional issues with Canada later.

Saskatchewan can be bold in providing support and resources wherever they are needed, and regardless of whether it is Ottawa’s problem, to create solutions by Indigenous people and within Indigenous communities. Why does this province need to wait for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada to get their act together before improving the life of people who live here? Why does Saskatchewan have to wait for the Supreme Court to decide who falls under the Indian Act and into which category, and not just step up to the plate and overcome this provincial complacency?

It’s not enough to simply say “Saskatchewan’s government supports all people equally”.

We can become a leader by following the very strong voices of the Indigenous People of this land.

Dr. Darlene Juschka on transformational change in SK

There are several changes I might propose in order to improve the quality of life for Saskatchewan folks:

We need to move to green energy and green economy to ensure the health of the population in light of the high rates of cancer in the province; We need to deal with the racism and colonialism in the province and develop – in light of Truth and Reconciliation – respectful relations with Indigenous peoples; And finally, we need to bring together northern and southern SK and provide the same kind of services and opportunities available in the south to folks in the north.

Dan LeBlanc on transforming justice

Police officers are given discretion in how they do their jobs. When they use their discretion wisely, everyone benefits.

Officers are given discretion as to who to charge with offences, and when to do so. Many charges are dropped once entered into the system. There is some focus on “diverting” charges from going through the entire criminal process; this practice has financial and societal benefits.

The Government’s Justice Innovation Division has suggested the idea of “pre-charge diversion”: tasking officers with exercising their discretion wisely at the front end of the system. It is among the Division’s best ideas.

Officers are tasked as guardians of public safety, as well as the public purse. When they fail to appreciate the extent of their discretion, and uncritically lay charges, they do little to increase public safety, while significantly increasing costs.

Saskatchewan could save substantial money and increase people’s “access to justice” by focusing on “pre-charge diversion”. The idea is not complex, and could be implemented immediately.

Dr. Charles Smith on provincial electoral reform

The Saskatchewan Party government has stated that it is interested in transforming the provincial state. Recognizing that much of the “transformative change” rhetoric is coming at a time of fiscal stress, there will undoubtedly be calls by some to drastically scale back important areas of the social welfare state. This would be a mistake.

Yet, what if we did not see transformative change as simply a cost-cutting exercise but an opportunity? What if we imagined a radically transformation of the state that was prefaced on making government more democratic and more accountable? What would such a change look like and how could it assist the Saskatchewan people through these troubled economic times?

The answer is a complex one, but begins by rethinking the government’s relationship to citizens and voters. Too often, re-elected governments forget or are structurally distanced from the voters that elected them. Too often, governments are elected with false majorities or are given a larger proportion of seats in the legislature than the actual support received by voters. These problems lead to a structural disconnect between government and voters, leaving too many citizens outside of the decision-making process.

Under our current electoral system, political scientists have argued that political parties competing for power rush to a mythical policy “centre” that they believe will placate a large percentage of voters while hoping not to alienate the rest. Our current electoral system is called Single-Member-Plurality (SMP) or First-Past-the Post. Historically, elections in Saskatchewan over represent certain parties and the mandates they receive from voters. For instance, the NDP wins in the 1990s gave the party super legislative majorities far exceeding the actual number of votes received. Even more egregious, third parties such as the Liberal Party of Saskatchewan saw most of its votes count for little or nothing as their votes did not translate into equal amounts of seats. In essence, Saskatchewan voters who cast ballots for non-NDP candidates virtually had their voices silenced.

We are seeing a similar trend in the current decade. Few would doubt the popularity of the Saskatchewan Party from 2007-2016. Yet, even their large electoral majority is over-inflated in the legislative assembly. Throughout this period, the Saskatchewan Party has been rewarded with thirty percent more of the seats than their vote warranted. This leads to a weaker opposition to question government priorities.

Think also of the voices that are virtually silenced under our current system. Unless a certain demographic make up a large plurality in specific geographic ridings, their voices carry little weight. For instance, urban Indigenous voices have little weight in our current electoral system because they are dispersed throughout the urban centres rather than in larger rural ridings. Is there a way to empower these voices?

Were the provincial state to be transformed in a more democratic way, we could imagine a system of proportional representation that would seek to better balance percentages of votes to percentage of seats. In other words, voters would be given more authority to speak with their ballots. Recognizing that Saskatchewan citizens are committed to local empowerment and local representation, a move towards a Mixed Member Proportional System (MMP) would serve Saskatchewan well. Under MMP voters would cast two ballots: one for a local representative and one for a party. In each constituency, voters are freer to vote for a local representative regardless of party affiliation. Once the local representatives are elected, parties receive a top-up in the legislative assembly from party lists distributed before an election.

Once a more representative legislative assembly is constructive, governments are then forced to work more closely with the opposition, recognizing that elections will not always give parties false or extremely large majorities. Recognizing that voters will have more power to transform the provincial state through their ballots will force governments to take those voices more seriously, especially in between elections. Parties too will be forced to better reflect the voters they are courting, because every single vote will count. In short, we’ll have a radically more democratic state. Such transformation will give citizens far better ability to openly influence any future transformative change agenda from government. It is time to transform our democracy to reflect the wishes of voters and citizens.

Stacey Strykowski on transforming healthcare

The transformational change needed in Saskatchewan is in health care. Our health care system pays out millions upon millions to CEOs and VPs each year while cutting front line staff – the people who actually make a difference in this world. By cutting management positions and putting some of that money towards front line services, Saskatchewan would have a quality health care system we could be proud of and will actually work for the people. Health care facilities should have LOCAL VOLUNTEER (or per diem) boards that report to the ministry as no one cares about their facility more than local people. They will be able to balance budgets and put the health of their communities first, not their paychecks. Health care is the most vital service in our province and often receives the most cuts in the most important places. Primary care is only making money for the province, it does not focus on the needs of the people. Yes, preventative medicine is a wonderful theory, but other situations arise that cannot only be solved in a clinic environment.