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Saskatchewan and federal environment ministers meeting points to improving relations

Liberal MP Jonathan Wilkinson arrives for the cabinet swearing-in ceremony in Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. The federal government is giving the Alberta government a passing grade for its industrial carbon tax. Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says today his department agrees Alberta's planned $30 a tonne carbon price on emissions from big industry meets federal requirements. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld. Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

It may be the holiday cheer in the air, but Saskatchewan and federal environment ministers both say they had a very positive meeting on Thursday.

The two ministries have locked horns in recent years over a coal power equivalency agreement, new natural gas regulations and, of course, the carbon tax.

One of the main items of common ground the two environment ministers found was a mutual desire to expand technological innovation to reduce emissions.

“My impression is we’ll see some further collaboration, not just with Saskatchewan, but with other interested parties and interested stakeholders,” Saskatchewan Environment Minister Dustin Duncan said following a meeting with his federal counterpart, Jonathan Wilkinson.

READ MORE: Wilkinson ‘wrestling’ with how Frontier oilsands mine would fit into climate commitments

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This includes carbon capture and storage (CCS). Saskatchewan currently has one CCS facility at Boundary Dam Three (BD3) near Estevan. The province is considering another CCS facility to extend the life of the Shand Power Station beyond 2030 when conventional coal power ends.

This is one of the main things the environment ministers discussed.

“Certainly carbon and sequestration is part of that conversation, so we’re very interested in working with Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia on a range of those kind of technology issues,” Wilkinson said.

It cost about $1.5 billion to add CCS to BD3. SaskPower has said a decision on whether or not there is a financial case to add the technology to Shand will likely come in the middle of the next decade.

However, the carbon tax continues to be an elephant in the room. It’s a pollution price that may increase beyond $50 a tonne. Wilkinson said all options remain on the table when it is reviewed in 2022.

“I’m not going to pine on what may happen in 2022, but we’re certainly looking at all of the available options to try and figure out what’s going to be most effective and most efficient,” Wilkinson said.

READ MORE: Alberta Court of Appeal reserves ruling in federal carbon tax challenge

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Duncan said this differs from what he heard from the previous minister, Catherine McKenna, who said the price would not pass $50 per tonne.

Outside the carbon tax issues, both ministers plan to keep in regular contact about ongoing environmental issues. This includes Wilkinson being open to Saskatchewan’s suggestion on how the new environmental assessment act, Bill C-69, will be implemented.

“My view is we should try to find pathways to work together. Canada works best when the provinces and federal government find pathways to work together,” Wilkinson said.

This includes the environment and agriculture ministries looking at potential short-term solutions to high carbon tax bills associated with grain drying in a wet harvest.

Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan environment minister attends latest climate change rally' Saskatchewan environment minister attends latest climate change rally
Saskatchewan environment minister attends latest climate change rally – Nov 30, 2019

Duncan also said Wilkinson signalled he is open to trying to find a way to get Saskatchewan back in the low-carbon economy fund. The province lost out on a guaranteed $60 million in federal funding due to not signing onto the Pan-Canadian Framework on Climate Change over the carbon tax dispute.

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“I certainly got a pretty positive feeling out of him,” Duncan said.

“We’ll see where it goes, obviously at this point it’s words and we want to see hopefully some action that will back that up, but you know, I would concur this is probably the most jovial I have felt after meeting with a minister of environment for some time.”

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