HIghlights and observations: Saskatchewan’s Growth Plan

The Saskatchewan Legislature. -- Herald file photo.

On Thursday the provincial government released its growth plan for 2020-2030. Here’s a look at some of the other initiatives promised in the plan. Some of these initiatives will be explored more in-depth in future Daily Herald, rural roots and Northern Advocate stories.

Education

While the province has vowed to keep education at the forefront as it grows, it has also promised to “keep education property taxes as low as possible.” The document touted that the cumulative education property tax burden has been reduced by about $2.5 billion. This highlight comes at a time when the opposition NDP is putting increasing pressure on the governing Saskatchewan Party to address what they have termed a “crisis” in the classroom. The Sask. Party has rejected that a crisis exists in Saskatchewan classrooms.

Recently, an education town hall held in Prince Albert saw teachers, administrators and officials complaining of declining resources even as classrooms become more integrated and complex. That same concern has been echoed by the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, which is calling for measures considering class size and composition to be addressed at the bargaining table. The Ministry of Education has rejected those calls, vowing instead to form a committee to look into the issue. This week, the STF declared bargaining at an impasse.

Other education promises including ensuring that curriculum provides students with a strong foundation in science, technology engineering and mathematics, and expand partnerships between industry and education so students can “build the knowledge, skills and competencies needed to succeed in the world of work while continuing elective programs for career-work education in high schools.”

The province has also promised the ensure financial literacy int eh curriculum, prioritizing career planning and embedding more career information in the curriculum and offer dual credit options so high school students can have some credits towards an apprenticeship or other post-secondary programs.

The province touted its increase in operating funding since 2007 and the over $1.7 billion spent on new or replacement schools.

“Earlier this year the Government of Saskatchewan initiated a province-wide dialogue to identify priorities for the K-12 system,” the document said.

“ The report from those consultations will inform the province’s plan for K-12 education moving forward.

The province also vowed to keep investing in new schools and repairing existing schools.

Market access

The growth plan included several measures designed at increasing market access for Saskatchewan-produced resources.

Many of those include working to move goods north-south as opposed to east-west. The plan said the government’s priorities include increasing capacity to move goods to and through the US including stronger tail connections and pipeline expansion, supporting efforts to export oil through tanker through the Port of Churchill and examining options to enhance the north-south rail network to provide “competitive alternatives and broader access to the US rail network, ports and American markets.”

While the plan also included a commitment to advocate for a new national infrastructure corridor and completion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion and future east-west pipelines, Premier Scott Moe acknowledged that that’s been a difficulty when speaking to reporters Thursday.

“We continue to have trouble moving oil east and west across the nation, which is to the detriment to the nation,” he said.

He added that how to get oil to Churchill is a “decision for the industry to make, and for government to work with industry o make sure it can happen in the most streamlined fashion.”

Increasing oil production to 600,000 barrels per day

The ten-year economic plan calls for an increase in oil production by 120,000 barrels per day using “enhanced oil recovery” technologies.

According to the document, those methods can reduce environmental impacts while increasing the amount of recoverable oil. That includes thermal projects, where steam is used to liquefy underground deposits, making them easy to pump out in multi-directional wells. Other technologies include water-flood and carbon-flood projects where solutions are pumped into wells and then either use pressure or sit-and-soak methods to make the oil easier to pump out.

The provincial government’s plan includes introducing “new strategies and policies” to promote recovery methods including steam-assisted gravity drainage and water and carbon dioxide flood projects.

They also vowed to encourage “indigenous equity participation” in the development of new pipelines, export infrastructure, energy and natural resource development.

Increasing mining exploration and export value

Increasing the dollar value the province receives for its natural resources was a centrepiece of much of the plan, with also called for increasing the annual value of uranium and potash sales, as well as new mineral exploration.

One of the promised measures relates to diamonds, as the province vowed to “ensure the regulatory and policy regime for diamonds is competitive and consistent with the goal of establishing a producing diamond mine in Saskatchewan.”

Friday, just one day after the growth plan was unveiled, Rio Tinto announced it would buy a majority stake in a proposed diamond mine east of Prince Albert for $75 million.

It still had years to determine whether ti would invest in the project. While the provincial government has given the proposed mine environmental approval, the project has been met with resistance from James Smith Cree Nation, which has vowed to oppose the project (For more on that story, please see page 15).

The province is also promising to increase exploration for emerging minerals in underexplored regions and to support the development of the helium industry in the province.

The plan included an entire section dedicated to exploring “innovation in mining.”

That, the province, said, could include areas such as in-situ mining for potash and uranium and the introduction of sensor-based sorting, which could improve ore concentrations, reduce energy consumption and increase the sustainability of mining.

Other opportunities include developing cost-effective extraction technologies for lithium and rare earth elements, which are extracted as part of oil and uranium production and have markets of their own. The plan includes the production of high-value rare earth elements concentrate within the next two years, as well as creating the first North American rare earth element processing plant.

Nuclear power

While the province has toyed with the idea of embracing nuclear power before, the growth plan is the first concrete sign the province is looking at a switch to nuclear power as more than just a back-of-the-napkin idea.

‘Saskatchewan has an opportunity to play a key role in the development of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) across Canada and internationally,” the document says.

“SMRs will play an increasingly pivotal role globally to reduce (greenhouse gas) emissions.”

The plan calls for the province to support early-stage evaluation, planning and commercialization to further develop small modular reactor technology. The document estimates that incorporating SMRs into the province’s energy mix could provide the ability to generate up to 80 per cent of Saskatchewan’s electricity through zero-emission sources when combined with renewable power sources.

The document argues that SMRs are smaller and better suited to meeting power needs when compared to larger older reactors.

“SMRs could replace ageing baseload power generation in the province and provide a new GHG emission-free source of power fueled by Saskatchewan uranium,” the document says.

“The province’s first SMR could be operational in the province by the early to mid-2030s.”

Doubling the size of the forestry sector

The province is also planning a number of initiatives aimed at doubling the size of its forest sector.

That includes exploring the use of biomass as a source of electricity generation, improve the economics of an expanded pulp and oriented strand board (OSB – similar to particle board) industry and commercialize forestry by-products.

Other initiatives include research of advanced genetics in seed varieties to increase forest sustainability and pest resistance, address barriers to the growth f forestry, adopt building code amendments to allow for tall wood building construction using mass timber and expand the ability to add value to waste wood for use as pulp and in the manufacturing of OSB. The document also vows to plant 85 million trees over the next decade.

Supporting Indigenous workers and communities

The provincial government’s plan includes measures to improve outcomes for Indigenous peoples and newcomers to the province. They promised to encourage Indigenous investments in natural resource and market access projects, as well as to work with industry partners to increase Indigenous employment in the natural resource sector, and work with the Saskatchewan Indian Training and Assessment Group and the Gabriel Dumont Institute to address the fragmented system of federal investment in Indigenous workers.

The plan also vowed to “engage with industry, training institutions, Indigenous organizations, economic development organizations and provincial, federal and municipal levels of government through the Northern Labour Market Committee to address economic and labour market issues in northern Saskatchewan.”

Infrastructure

The province has pledged to build and upgrade 10,000 km of highways in the next ten years. That includes a previously-announced plan to spend $65 million over five years to improve safety at intersections province-wide. Those measures include new turning lanes, lighting, clearing of sightlines and the installation of rumble strips. The province has also promised to expand the number of passing lanes, rebuild 200 bridges, replace 2,000 culverts and upgrade over 2,000 km of thin membrane surface roads.

Two sought-after projects, including a second bridge for Prince Albert and an all-season road to Wollaston Lake, were not specifically included in the infrastructure outline. The province has vowed to continue to establish agreements and provide cost-shared funding for improvements ranging from reconstruction to paving, to transitioning to a primary weight super grid highway. They also committed to continuing planning for “a new Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert” as well as a study looking into a plan for the Saskatoon Freeway, a four-lane, 55-km stretch of divided highway beginning at Hwy. 11 south of Saskatoon and connecting with Hwy. 7 west of the city. A study is set to be completed in 2021. There is no timetable for a final decision regarding construction.

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