How could COP26 affect Saskatchewan?

Former president Barack Obama issued a global challenge at COP26.

“Most nations have failed to be as ambitious as they need to be,” he said on Monday, part of a call to arms for the entire planet to take aggressive action against climate change.

Attendees have made a swathe of promises. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau swore Canada, among other things, will cap and reduce pollution from the oil and gas sector to net zero by 2050.

Read more: Majority support Trudeau’s climate policy pitches made at COP26, poll suggests

A University of Saskatchewan public policy expert warns federal promises may clash with provincial priorities.

“If the country as a whole is willing to sacrifice the oil and gas industry without recognizing how much damage that’s going to do to their prosperity, then there’s not much you can do about that in Western Canada,” Ken Coates said.

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Speaking broadly on the tension between the western provinces and Ottawa, Coates told Global News massive, rapid changes to the oil and gas sectors could threaten the economy and alienate people even more.

“I think it’s quite clear that the frustrations in Canada are really starting to build,” he said.

“There’s a nastiness to the current trend that I think is kind of worrisome.”

Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe and Alberta premier Jason Kenney have both claimed the federal government treats their provinces unfairly because of their provinces’ natural resources.

And both have said they’ll fight to end equalization — where Ottawa moves federal money from wealthy provinces to poorer ones.

According to Coates, that’s just not realistic.

Read more: Saskatchewan Environmental Society calls on province to improve its climate ambition

“Provinces across the country depend on (equalization). It’s built into their financial model,” he said.

The Maritimes especially rely on the funding, Coates added, pointing to the fact Nova Scotia has some of the highest tuition fees in the country as an example.

“(Equalization) can be described as helping your neighbour,” Coates offered.

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“And nobody in Canada wants to see the Maritimes plunged into economic disarray.”

He also said it’s like having rich parents who will bail you out if your house burns down.

The promise to end the program, from Moe in particular, also ignores Saskatchewan’s history.

The land of the living skies, as the licence plates proclaim, has often relied on the payments in the past.

Federal data show Saskatchewan has not received any funding since the 2008-09 fiscal year but did receive payments for decades prior, with the exception of 2003-04.

Read more: Moe promises more independent Saskatchewan in throne speech

And there are also a few years in the early 1980s where Saskatchewan was not entitled to any money, but otherwise, with another exception in 1975-76, the province received funding back to 1957, when equalization began.

Saskatchewan’s status as either a have or have-not province, Coates said, depends on how the province’s natural resources and exports are faring. High prices for uranium, potash, oil and gas explain whether the province will give or take equalization payments.

And regardless of whether a province receives equalization payments, the federal government gives money to all of them every year.

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The system does take more from provinces with oil and gas, Coates said.

But, still, the arguments against it bely something other than economic frustration, he added.

“The City of Montreal has more seats in cabinet than Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba combined,” he said.

To Coates’ eyes, Canada doesn’t have the same sense of unity, and institutions to foster that joint identity. (And he counts the NHL among those institutions.)

So, as Canadian leaders talk potential climate change solutions, Coates says discussions about a sustainable future need to include the idea of a unified Canada.

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COP26: Poorer nations demand more climate action from richer countries

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