CEO of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce Steve McLellan addressed the most sensitive of topics for the Energy City at the Estevan Chamber of Commerce annual general meeting. His speech, as he put it, was aimed at helping to understand a little more than what headlines tell about the energy sector and how critical it is to the sustainability of the community, the province and the country.
He started off recalling the Saskatchewan chamber’s main advocating projects, which included research and moves related to Saskatchewan business’ competitiveness with the rest of the country, the U.S. and the rest of the world. He also addressed topics of pipelines, carbon and the carbon tax, and Indigenous engagement.
The carbon tax, being imposed as of the beginning of next week, was one of the main focuses for the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce. McLellan was straightforward on their position on the issue, which turned out to have two sides to it.
“The conversation that we are trying to make is that while we do not support the carbon tax, let’s be 100 per cent clear on that, we do also fully support reduced greenhouse gas emissions. And as businesses, we’ve surveyed our members, they are 100 per cent clear – reduce emissions,” McLellan said.
McLellan pointed out they are working to make sure the money taken from the communities through the carbon tax should be circulated back to Saskatchewan enterprises to help improving energy efficiency, which in the end will reduce business operating costs.
McLellan outlined that the changes that Estevan is facing may take a long time, but are inevitable, and also encouraged members of the Estevan chamber to take opportunities.
“We will transition as an economy, as a people, as a country from somewhat of our traditional oil and gas, the legacy industry into renewables and how we do it. Is it going to be complete (transition)? Absolutely not. In your lifetime you will always need petroleum products. But will that transition happen? I’ll guarantee it will," McLellan said.
"We are going to move this way. Why? Because technologies are improving, because the opportunity is there and you... are the Sunshine … Capital of this province, I would argue of the country and perhaps the world. So you have this raw natural resource. Why don’t we think about solar more? And if it’s economically feasible to do, let’s explore options to do it sustainably for homes and businesses, public buildings and so on,” he added.
McLellan noted that the Energy City wasn’t named an oil, coal or gas city, and on top of the traditional energy sources had a palette of renewable ones such as solar power or geothermal, which might be used along with others.
Besides carbon-related issues McLellan also talked about pipelines. The chamber members have been to Ottawa twice to talk about Bill C-69, which in their eyes is not the right solution for the province, the West or the country.
“I talked about Bill C-69, I talked about market access and it doesn’t matter whether or not it’s oil or grain, both are struggling as it relates to rail. We believe pipelines, if built appropriately – and we believe that we have the companies that can do it well – … will l take the pressure off. Oil goes underground, grain goes on top, your manufacturer products go on the rails. That’s what we need to transition to and we are working to get there,” McLellan said.
The Indigenous Engagement Charter that the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce is working on now was another topic. It is based on the research, which was aiming to find the biggest opportunity for Saskatchewan and the biggest challenge. The answer to both questions was the same – aboriginal engagement.
“We knew we had as an opportunity thousands of people in this province under-engaged educationally and career-wise, knew that we had a huge population that was underemployed,” McLellan said.
So they’ve done some research on how to engage and retain Indigenous people into businesses. The charter will be soft launching May and fully launched in September. It will give businesses the resources on how to engage with Indigenous companies to help them grow stronger, how to hire Indigenous people and how to educate their staff about contextual hard questions.
“We in Saskatchewan have an opportunity, unlike most other jurisdictions in the country, to take our neighbours, friends and often relatives and help them raise their level of education, of employment, and their standard of living. And if we don’t do that, we have the opposite where we have to pay for the social costs. Let’s not do that, let’s take the opportunity and address it together,” McLellan said.
Finishing up his speech he suggested, “You are going through a transition. That can be both challenging and exciting. If you choose, it’s the most exciting time in the future of Estevan, embrace it, celebrate it, and most importantly – be part of the force that made it great.”