Front and centre for the prime minister’s visit

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wasn’t in Estevan on Jan. 10 and 11, but you could forgive people for thinking he was here.

After all, the Estevan area was a focal point for the prime minister’s visit to Regina. There seemed to be as much discussion of the Estevan area as anywhere else in the province.  

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It started during the town hall session on Jan. 10 at the University of Regina. One of about a dozen people to ask a question to Trudeau was Estevan area farmer and auctioneer Jason LeBlanc, who has been a vocal critic of our prime minister in the past.

LeBlanc asked Trudeau about the federal Liberals’ reasoning to ramrod a carbon tax on the people of Saskatchewan and other areas of the country. LeBlanc pointed out the innovations that have occurred in agriculture and transport industries, and how those have curtailed carbon emissions.

Of course, when Trudeau responded, he didn’t answer LeBlanc’s question, and called it a price on pollution, rather than what it is, a tax. And Trudeau rattled off a typical politician’s answers on his so-called price on pollution.

Still it was good to see LeBlanc and other local residents in the front row. If LeBlanc wasn’t so close to the PM, he likely wouldn’t have been able to ask his question.

There was also the Evraz employee wearing an I Love Canadian Pipelines shirt, who asked the prime minister about why they needed to purchase a pipeline that is going to be twinned. He also questioned why the feds could legalize marijuana, but couldn’t build a pipeline.

He might not be a resident of the Estevan area, but the lack of pipelines is definitely an issue for the Estevan area.

Of course, the sooner the Trans Mountain Pipeline gets built, and the sooner other pipelines get built, the better off we’ll all be, not just in Estevan, but the country as a whole. 

(On a related note: does anyone know where I could get one of those pipeline t-shirts? I’ll want one for me, and one for my friend who is the mayor of Whistler).

The following day, Trudeau participated in meetings and answered questions from the media. And he had a couple of announcements that will have a direct impact on the southeast.

The first was $25.6 million in funding for the geothermal project underway in southeast Saskatchewan, initiated by Deep Earth Energy Production (DEEP) Corp., which is led by former Estevan resident Kirsten Marcia. DEEP has been drilling in the Torquay area since November, and they want to have the first geothermal project in Canada.

DEEP deserves a lot of credit for trying to bring geothermal power to Canada. It’s been a very long haul for about a decade, trying to secure the financing to make the project happen. There were times in which people were skeptical whether it would happen.

But now it’s proceeding, and it’s going to create jobs for a region in need of jobs. And it’s great for the Torquay area to have this project. A lot of people will be paying close attention to Torquay, when they didn’t know where Torquay was just a few months ago.

While I’ve been critical of Trudeau, his government and in particularly his selfie-loving minister of environment and climate change (Catherine McKenna), they deserve credit for getting this one right, and for waiting until the right time to announce their support.

Geothermal has been proven to be a reliable baseload power source that is also renewable. You can’t say the same about wind and solar power.

Trudeau also announced that the federal government has reached an equivalency agreement with its provincial counterparts. People have been describing this as an agreement on winding down coal power.

But for the Estevan area, it’s an agreement that will allow Units 4 and 5 to be open for a while longer. It’s not going to keep those two units open until conventional coal power is discontinued in 2030, but a retirement date of 2021 for Unit 4 and 2024 for Unit 5 sure beats a retirement date of Dec. 31, 2019.

That is, assuming the equivalency agreement actually goes ahead. We expect it will, but it’s not a guarantee.

It’s not very often that the prime minister comes out with two separate, blockbuster announcements for a region of Saskatchewan in the same day. In fact, I’m not sure when that has happened. Even when Stephen Harper was here in 2008 to announce support for carbon capture and storage at Boundary Dam, he didn’t have any other funding announcements for the region.

It was a pretty memorable two days for the southeast.

There was one gaffe, though, for the prime minister: he didn’t pronounce Estevan’s name right. And even though he heard LeBlanc pronounce it properly moments earlier, he still talked about Estevon, rather than Estevan.

Maybe he should have asked Regina-Wascana MP Ralph Goodale, who has run in Estevan both provincially and federally, how to properly pronounce the city’s name.

But we’re getting used to mistakes, both big and small, from this prime minister.  


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