Letter to Justin Trudeau and Catherine McKenna

from concerned citizens of Saskatchewan, convened by Climate Justice Saskatoon
c/o 615 Main St, Saskatoon, SK, S7H 0J8


Rt Hon Justin Trudeau and Hon Catherine McKenna
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0A6

Dear Mr Trudeau and Ms McKenna

We write as citizens of Saskatchewan, concerned that government needs: to take decisive action consistent with the latest science to mitigate the global climate crisis; to facilitate job creation in the new clean green economy; and to recognize with genuine respect the original custodians of this land and their rights. To that end we call upon you to:

(1) Improve our national emissions targets. We owe it to the world to increase the ambition of our emissions reduction targets – the so-called Intended Nationally Determined Contribution referred to in the Paris agreement. The current Canadian targets, set by the Harper government, are amongst the least ambitious in the industrialised world. Canada’s target amounts to a mere 15% reduction compared to 1990. Because of Canada’s arbitrary choice of a 2005 baseline, the pro rata target for Saskatchewan would actually amount to an 8% increase from 1990. By contrast, the European Union’s INDC is a 40% reduction by 2030 from its 1990 emissions – itself probably an inadequate target given the urgency of the crisis. Taken as a whole, current INDCs take the world’s 2030 emissions to about 33% higher than is needed to keep us below 2°C of warming.(ref 1)  Canada has a particular responsibility as a historic laggard to raise its game. Your failure to do so is deeply regrettable, and totally inconsistent with your support for the Paris 1.5°C goal.

However, targets are meaningless without a programme to achieve them. Hence:

(2) End fossil subsidies and introduce fair, transparent, comprehensive and serious carbon pricing. A useful starting point for a credible emissions reduction programme would be the rapid elimination of all the subsidies given by the federal government to the fossil fuel industry. The latest figures for those total more than USD1.5 billion a year.(ref 2)  But eliminating that piece of corporate welfare is not enough. It does not account for the hidden subsidies in the form of increased medical expenses, increased infrastructure expenses, increased climate impact expenses and so on. When those are included, the figure comes to USD46 billion a year.(ref 3)  That is the first reason why we need carbon pricing. The second reason is that it is a very effective tool for shifting the economy from waste to efficiency and from carbon polluters to clean energy. But it must be open and transparent, it must involve minimal extra bureaucracy, it must be comprehensive, it must be able to weather sudden changes in the economy, and it should be constructed so as put more burdens on those able to pay and give more opportunities to those who cannot currently afford them. It is difficult to see how a cap and trade system could meet most of those criteria. But there are at least two options which can. Fee and dividend involves charging a fee at the point where fossil fuels enter the economy, and giving it back to the people in equal cash payments. Or a more complex system could return a fraction of the funds to people on low income and use the rest to fund green initiatives.

(3) Say no to new pipelines. But fiscal measures alone won’t deal with the crisis, for a couple of reasons. Some of the shifts we need cannot be achieved by market manipulation. New infrastructure is also needed to enable people to choose efficient and clean. At the same time, some old infrastructure needs to be retired or rejected. A recent, meticulously researched report found, using industry data, that, in order to satisfy the Paris agreement’s temperature commitments, no new fossil fuel extraction or transportation infrastructure should be build, and some of the existing infrastructure needs to be closed down.(ref 4)  That is why you must say no to all existing or new bitumen pipeline proposals – NO to Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline, and NO to Energy East. But it is also unanswerable grounds for saying NO to the Lelu Island liquefied natural gas plant, NO to the pipeline to transport the gas, NO to the expansion of fracking in northeast BC to supply the gas, and NO to the site C hydro dam which would power the fracking operation. Your recent approval of two of these elements is deeply regrettable – and indeed puts at risk Canada’s ability even to meet the inadequate Harper emission targets.(ref 5)

(4) Exit from coal. It also means an exit from coal before 2030. The Alberta government has already made that commitment. Detailed calculations for Green Energy Project Saskatchewan lead us to believe that, with the political will, Saskatchewan could easily replace all of its coal-fired power stations with clean renewable energy facilities by 2025.(ref 6)

(5) Cut methane leaks, venting and flaring. And it means a dramatic reduction in what are called “fugitive emissions” – the leakage of methane especially from fracking operations, and the unnecessary venting and flaring of methane at a variety of oil and gas installations. Sometimes this practice is necessary for safety reasons, but most of the time it isn’t – it merely exemplifies a culture of waste.

(6) Build the green economy. But we don’t just need to stop doing harm. We need to build a new energy economy and new green infrastructure. A shift to renewables for electric power could be achieved very quickly given the political will provincially, backed up by both sticks and carrots from Ottawa. We just need to look to Denmark, Scotland, Costa Rica, and Uruguay, just to name a few, to see how it can be done. SaskPower’s renewables target for 2030 is an improvement on past policy, but it is still far far too modest. We know that we can build buildings to vastly better standards of energy performance than is currently the norm – Saskatoon’s first house which complies with the tough international Passivhaus standard is nearing completion. The shift to clean electricity should go hand in hand with a shift to electric vehicles. Norway, the Netherlands and India are already constructing plans for an end to new petroleum-fuelled vehicles before 2030. We could join them, but to do so in our climate and with our long distances between population centres we need funding for a stronger network of electric fuelling stations and for accelerated research for better batteries.

(7) Implement a holistic transport strategy. Electric vehicles aren’t the only way to clean up our transport, though. Let’s have generous federal funding to expand our municipal public transit – and our intercity public transit – and make them attractive and convenient. Most developed countries have managed to do this. Is it really too difficult for Canada?

(8) Roll out an ambitious green jobs strategy. And this shift to a green economy involves creating jobs. If planned correctly, it can create them in very large numbers. According to one recent report, if government invested in green energy to the same extent as it has subsidised the oil industry, it would create between 6 and 9 times as many jobs.(ref 7) They will be clean jobs, many more of them will be
available within peoples’ own communities, and there can be real possibilities for local ownership of the businesses which a green transition would create.

(9) Equip workers to enter the new economy, and ensure they are properly supported in the transition. But it can take time for workers to transition from the old economy to the new. So your government must ensure adequate EI protection and retraining for all energy workers affected by a transition to renewables. And let’s start now. People are losing their jobs in the oil industry because of the drop in the international oil price. There is no reason to expect that price to rise much for several years to come. Let’s enable those workers to become the vanguard of the new clean economy.

(10) Give Indigenous people the respect they deserve – including a proper recognition of their inherent land rights. There would be no Canada were it not for First Peoples’ traditional knowledge in how to live in this land. There will be no Canada – at least not the country that we recognise – if we do not learn from that traditional wisdom to live in harmony with the land and with all the other species which it supports. When Indigenous people say NO to pipelines, or to mines, or to oil installations, it is not because they are perverse, nor is it because they are angling for more money. It is because they are protecting the land, because they understand what it means to be in right relationship with the land. And although it was the support and the proper care of First Peoples that made Canada possible, Canada has treated them with one injustice after another – it is not necessary to rehearse them here. The clean green economy which we want to create needs their participation, it needs their leadership, and it must be created in a way that does right by them. Every element of it needs their free, prior and informed consent. So, as a first step – and this is only a first step – towards building a just relationship, we are calling on both federal and provincial governments to adopt and implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, and to adopt a natural interpretation of Article 19, which calls for free, prior and informed consent.

At present we are all forced into an addiction to fossil fuels which threatens to destroy some of our basic life-support systems. Federal government has the power to change that. Just as you don’t help an alcoholic by giving him a drink, you don’t help fossil addicts by giving them an LNG terminal or a pipeline. And just as you don’t help an alcoholic by letting him persuade you that just a few more drinks won’t hurt, you don’t help a fossil addict by letting him block real climate action at first ministers’ meetings.

Mr Trudeau, you need to act to protect our climate, to protect the most vulnerable, to protect our children, indeed to protect your own children. You need to act comprehensively. And you need to act now.

Yours respectfully,

[signed by 60 Saskatchewan-resident citizens]



(1) Sir Robert Watson, Dr Carlo Carraro, Dr Pablo Canziani, Prof Dr Nebojsa Nakicenovic, Dr James M McCarthy, Dr Jose Goldemberg, Liliana Hisas (2016), The Truth about Climate Change, FEU-US.
See also: Joeri Rogelj, Michel den Elzen, Niklas Höhne, Taryn Fransen, Hanna Fekete, Harald Winkler, Roberto Schaeffer, Fu Sha, Keywan Riahi & Malte Meinshausen (2016:Jun:30), Paris Agreement climate proposals need a boost to keep warming well below 2°C, Nature, vol 534 pp 631-639

(2) Yanick Touchette (2015:Nov), G20 subsidies to oil, gas and coal production: Canada, Overseas Development Institute / Oil Change International / International Institute for Sustainable Development

(3) David Coady, Ian Parry, Louis Sears & Baoping Shang (2015:May), How large are global energy subsidies?, IMF working paper, Fiscal Affairs Department, International Monetary Fund

(4) Greg Muttitt (2016:Sep), The Sky’s Limit: why the Paris climate goals require a managed decline of fossil fuel production, Oil Change International

(5) J David Hughes (2016:Jun), Can Canada expand oil and gas production, build pipelines and keep its climate change commitments?, CCPA / Parkland Institute / Corporate Mapping Project.

(6) Mark Bigland-Pritchard (2015:Mar), Can Saskatchewan make the shift to a renewables-only electricity grid by mid-century?: a technical modelling exercise (interim report), Saskatchewan Eco-Network / Green Energy Project Saskatchewan. Available from the author on request.

(7) Blue Green Canada (2012), More Bang for our Buck

Tune in: From the Ground Up on CFCR90.5FM Weds 6:30pm

CJS is now responsible for a weekly slot on Saskatoon’s community radio station, CFCR (90.5 FM).  From the Ground Up is broadcast on Wednesdays at 6:30pm, and a number of us will take turns to host the programme.

After broadcast, we are posting the audio file on SoundCloud.

In the second episode, broadcast on September 28, Mark Bigland-Pritchard interviewed Julee Sanderson from the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and experienced environmental and labour activist Cat Gendron on how climate and environmental justice can go hand in hand with labour rights and job creation.

Here it is at SoundCloud

A previous posting on this blog, which referenced our first weekly slot on CFCR, has mysteriously disappeared.  In that episode, Julia Gonzalez and Mark Bigland-Pritchard launched the programme with an interview with Peter Prebble of the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, about the Husky leak.

And here is that first episode at SoundCloud

The Husky leak should be seen as a warning


As I write, a relatively small spill of oil (250000 litres) is threatening the water supply of thousands along the North Saskatchewan river, causing damage of as yet unknown scope to the aquatic and riparian ecosystems, and most likely contaminating traditional First Nations medicines.  We do not know the detailed composition of the oil, but there is now confirmation that it contained dense fractions (API<10) which have sunk to the bottom of the river and will create dead zones and ongoing ecological damage.  (Because of these denser-than-water components, certain heavy oils and bitumen carry extra risk – it is virtually impossible to clean up, as was discovered at the much larger Enbridge leak at Kalamazoo Michigan six years ago).  As for the floating portion of the oil, neither Husky nor the provincial government was capable of containing the slick, and others have had to bear the consequences.

Clearly Husky should take full financial responsibility for restitution of all that its oil has damaged.  But successive provincial governments bear moral responsibility, on account of weak regulations and inadequate enforcement.  The present government’s shift towards letting industry report its own emissions can only make the situation worse.

This smacks of inverted priorities.  If we need to (and within the next few decades we will need to), we can find a way to live without fossil oil.  We cannot live without water.

Meanwhile, premier Brad Wall is reported in the media as concerned that this leak should not increase opposition to proposed new diluted bitumen pipelines such as Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain expansion or TransCanada’s Energy East.  Any concern he may have for the victims of the spill is apparently secondary.

This leak was an accident, but Saskatchewan people should read it as a warning.  Devastating forest fires and virtually-unprecedented floods of cities and agricultural land warn us that the climate is changing, and we must move away rapidly from dependence on greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels.  The sudden drop in the international oil price, together with the weak potash market, warns us of the volatility and instability of an economy based on extractive industries – as shown in the rising provincial deficit figures.  And now this accident warns us that economic dependence on oil can threaten the very basics of life even at a local level – a lesson which First Nations in northern Alberta have been telling the world, out of their own painful personal experience, for decades.

Unfortunately, premier Wall’s ideologically-driven commitment to Big Oil – reinforced by substantial infusions of Calgary petrocash to his party – ensures that he is incapable of reading such signs of the times.  There are none so blind as those who will not see.

Edited 2016:Jul:26 to take account of the fact that it is now known that some of the heavy oil has sunk

Brad Wall risking being left behind

This week Premier Brad Wall has embarked on a tour out east to promote the Energy East pipeline, a project which demonstrates his dangerously poor understanding of climate change and of 21st century economics. A new report this month from the CCPA definitively shows that Canada cannot meet its emissions reductions obligations if it builds new pipelines, and also highlights the erosion of the economic argument for new pipelines – low prices are unlikely to recover soon, and bitumen will always be the costliest product in an inundated oil market. This latest report adds to a wealth of evidence warning against the project, joining a mountain of opposition that continues to grow. This week the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador announced their opposition to Energy East, adding to already strong Indigenous resistance to new pipelines. All this comes on the heels of the Premier warning oil executives that the industry is facing an “existential threat” and losing the “PR battle” to activists across the country; it is surely no coincidence that the fossil fuel industry is losing the scientific and moral battles in the fight to address climate change. The facts are clear – there is no economic and surely no environmental basis for the Energy East project, making it one the country would surely come to regret if it’s not ultimately rejected.

Wall also got himself into hot water this week as he attempted to mock the Leap Manifesto on Twitter. Wall posted a video of himself scoffing at the more than $1.5 trillion in capital costs required for a transition to 100% renewable energy but, as it turns out, badly misrepresented research in the process. Naomi Klein called him out, and Mark Jacobson, Stanford professor and author of a widely-cited study offering a map for Canada to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050, highlighted the error of Wall’s ways. Jacobson pointed out that the projected savings in health and climate-related costs of more than $10 trillion clearly dwarf the upfront capital costs, and explained that those capital costs are meant to be spread out over more than 3 decades anyway. Further, Jacobson has estimated that such a transition will be a net creator of 130,000 jobs in Canada, so delaying in the name of employment makes little sense. The exchange can be seen here.

Jacobson’s work isn’t Saskatchewan specific and many of the specifics still require more work. But, Brad Wall’s oversimplifications and misrepresentations are holding this province back from having the necessary and nuanced discussion it deserves. Saskatchewan needs more research to gain a better understanding of specifics in the provincial context so that we can plan with clarity and intention. Because one thing is certain: climate change and 21st century economics dictate that we must transition away from our dependence on fossil fuels. Fortunately, Saskatchewan has a lot to gain in such a transition, including in the jobs department. Although a new report shows that Saskatchewan is lagging behind the rest of the country in renewable energy investment, that certainly leaves a lot of potential to tap into.

Speaking of jobs and the transition, Iron & Earth will be in Saskatoon on Sunday to discuss the Workers’ Climate Plan, a new initiative they launched this month in an effort to offer industry workers a platform to advocate for strong climate action that protects Canadian workers. Come and find out more at 7pm at The Stand Community Organizing Centre!

The Stand is hosting two other great events next week – Delivering Community Power on Monday at 7pm, and the Climate Solutions Books Club, breaking down Gordon Laxer’s After the Sands, Wednesday at 7pm.

Please help us challenge Brad Wall’s climate denial

If you live in Saskatchewan, please sign on to our letter to premier Brad Wall (below)

(But also if you live in the Saskatoon area, please come to the climate Town Hall on Wednesday)

When the Saskatchewan legislature opened for business again on May 17th, Brad Wall’s Speech from the Throne included the following paragraphs:

But it is troubling that today, there are some in this country who, given the opportunity, would shut down major parts of Saskatchewan’s economy and put thousands of hard-working Saskatchewan people out of work, all in the name of some misguided dogma that has no basis in reality.
There are those who are not comfortable with and even oppose much of what we produce in Saskatchewan and how we produce it – oil and gas, coal and uranium, livestock and grains.
They would prefer that those sectors did not exist and that the thousands of jobs in those sectors did not exist.
They look at those jobs like they are somehow harming the country and the world.

Quite apart from the general tone of paranoia, this looked very much like denial of the science of climate change. In response to a national petition and some national media coverage, Wall’s spokespeople said that no, it was only criticising the Leap Manifesto.

Given that the Leap Manifesto is itself based on scientifically understood climate reality – and Brad Wall’s policies aren’t – we think this makes no difference. So we need to keep up the pressure – and push Brad Wall to tell us what he really believes about the climate crisis, and stop blocking real climate action. To do that we are asking people to sign on to the following letter.

If you are happy to sign, please email us your name and town of residence.

An open letter to premier Brad Wall from concerned citizens

Premier Brad Wall
226 Legislative Building
Regina, Saskatchewan
S4S 0B3


Re:  climate change

Dear Mr Wall

In your Speech from the Throne you referred to “some in this country who, given the opportunity, would shut down major parts of Saskatchewan’s economy and put thousands of hard-working Saskatchewan people out of work, all in the name of some misguided dogma that has no basis in reality”.

This is a serious accusation, and the people of Saskatchewan deserve a full and detailed explanation.  As a public servant, it is your duty to tell us: (i) who are the people about whom you are making this accusation, and (ii) the nature of the alleged “misguided dogma”.

We are not clear whether you are insulting and misinterpreting (a) climate scientists, (b) the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries, (c) informed citizens who are calling for an orderly decades-long transition to clean energy, or (d) Indigenous people protecting the land and water with which they have been in relationship since time immemorial.  Or, indeed, some combination of the above.  Whichever is the case, it seems an extraordinary step for a premier to take.

It would help us all if you were to answer a few questions as to your understanding of the climate crisis.  These are not merely rhetorical questions:  we want answers from you as our chief public servant:

  • Do you accept the scientific consensus that the earth is warming, that consequently the climate is changing in diverse and potentially devastating ways, and that this results primarily from human activity in the form of greenhouse gas emissions?
  • Do you acknowledge that our dependence on fossil fuels is responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions?
  • Do you agree or disagree with the well-established findings of climate science that global warming results in more frequent and more extreme weather events, including droughts, floods, heat waves, forest fires, etc, as well as sea level rise?
  • Do you accept the detailed research on these climate change impacts which resulted in the key commitment of the Paris Accord to “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change”?
  • Do you accept that Saskatchewan, like all jurisdictions worldwide, has a responsibility to take action commensurate with that ambitious but necessary goal?
  • Do you accept the finding of climate scientists that, in order to remain below either of these temperature limits, total future emissions must be limited to a strict global “carbon budget”? – and that the best scientific estimates for the size of this budget mean rapid reductions starting now, and an end to the fossil fuel economy worldwide around mid-century?
  • Are you aware that, if the budget for the (higher) 2 °C limit were shared out equally worldwide, Saskatchewan would blow through its share in about 4 years at its current rate of emissions?
  • Are you aware that Saskatchewan has the best solar resource and the best inland wind resource in Canada, and is one of the few places in the world where significant quantities of biomass energy could be produced in a sustainable way?
  • Are you aware of the enormous potential for job creation in clean renewable energy industries? – according to one recent report, between 6 and 9 times as many jobs per unit of investment than the oil industry. Canada already employed more people in greentech than in the Alberta bitumen sands even before the price volatility of oil precipitated mass lay-offs last year.
  • Do you recognize the right of Indigenous people to say no to development proposals which threaten their land and water?

We look forward to hearing your answers.

Yours sincerely


Town Hall meeting on climate change in Saskatoon, May 25th


In late April the Canadian government signed the Paris Agreement in New York and announced that it would be seeking consultation with Canadians in the creation of the national climate change strategy, encouraging MPs across the country to hold town hall meetings with constituents. Canada has committed to unveiling its national framework for addressing climate change this fall, and has four working groups actively engaged in soliciting feedback and making recommendations. The town hall process is meant to give Canadians a chance to have a say.

Climate Justice Saskatoon is organizing a town hall meeting for Saskatoon in conjunction with the office of Sheri Benson, MP for Saskatoon West, and with the support of SEIU-West. The meeting will take place on Wednesday, May 25th, from 7:30-9pm at St. George’s Seniors Club Hall (1235 20th St W), and all are encouraged to attend. The meeting is a tremendous opportunity for the people of Saskatoon to provide direct feedback on how Saskatchewan and Canada ought to be addressing this issue.

In addition, CJS will be hosting a primer discussion from 6:20-7:30pm at the same location. The discussion will focus on the People’s Climate Plan, a national citizens’ movement to use the consultation process to advocate for bold climate action that respects climate science, plans for a transition to a fully renewable economy by mid-century, and which enshrines justice principles, respecting the rights of Indigenous and frontline communities as well as workers. CJS will be supporting the People’s Climate Plan at the town hall meeting, and invites anyone that is interested to come and learn more.

Town Hall poster