Saskatchewan government is promising up to $10 million over the next few years to help coal workers move to new jobs because of Ottawa’s decision to phase out coal-fired electricity.
It’s one of the priorities highlighted in Wednesday’s throne speech delivered by Lt.-Gov. Russell Mirasty and marking the opening of the legislature’s seven-week fall sitting.
The speech lays out the Saskatchewan Party’s agenda for the new session, including legislation for vaping products and for better protection against invasive aquatic species.
Bringing in tougher penalties for distracted drivers and reducing surgical wait times are also on the to-do list, along with growing Saskatchewan’s population by 2030 to 1.4 million from the current 1.1 million and adding 100,000 more jobs by then.
One of Premier Scott Moe’s priorities remains fighting the federal government in court over its carbon tax – referred to in the throne speech as a “tax grab poorly disguised as environmental policy.”
The speech highlights what the government sees as its own action on reducing emissions. It says southern communities such as Coronach and Estevan, where residents work in the coal industry, can expect a $10-million fund to be set up to help them.
Moe wouldn’t provide specifics on what the money will pay for, except to say it will be doled out over a number of years and the amount is based on discussions with the communities.
The government expects about 1,300 workers will be affected by the shutdown of coal plants by 2030.
“If there’s more investment that’s required, we will have that conversation at that point in time,” Moe said Wednesday.
Opposition NDP Leader Ryan Meili raised questions about how the $10 million will be provided and what help, if any, will be available for coal workers in terms of new training.
“It is time for us to move away from producing electricity from coal,” said Meili.
Estevan’s mayor believes coal has a future in green energy in the form of carbon capture and storage, which takes emissions produced by burning fossil fuels and stores them primarily underground.
Roy Ludwig says $10 million is a good start and Estevan is looking at bringing in manufacturing and cannabis production to create jobs.
“We’re not looking at studying. We’re looking at getting things on the ground to get employment in place,” Ludwig said Wednesday.
Meili also said the government has yet to show how it’s exploring the ways Saskatchewan-made uranium can be used to generate emissions-free electricity in small modular reactors. He said the feasibility of doing so presents challenges and the technology is likely to be years away.
Overall, Meili criticized the government’s agenda as lacking ambition and called Moe a leader who points fingers and picks fights with Ottawa instead of dealing with classroom sizes and emergency room services in the province.
The NDP said it will focus on opportunities for workers – specifically those in the solar industry, K-12 education and health care, including long-term services and mental health.
“You don’t see the words ‘crystal meth’ or ‘opioids’ in this throne speech,” said Meili.
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