Activists challenge Brad Wall on energy, environment

Posted Sat, 04/27/2013 – 16:27

Prince Albert Herald, April 12, 2013, Matt Gardner,

Unimpressed by Premier Brad Wall’s defense of his recent controversial comments about Cameco, area activists directly challenged the premier on Friday to improve his record on a range of social, economic and environmental issues.

“We’re not here to say that Premier Brad Wall is a bad person,” Idle No More co-founder Sylvia McAdam said at a press conference in the John M. Cuelenaere Public Library.

“We’re here to tell him that the tar sands are not working. They’re hurting people. The water is being devastated. We’re here to tell our leaderships, all leadership, to start looking towards the energy that is clean, that doesn’t harm humanity or the earth.”

Speaking on behalf of the same groups that recently called for Wall’s resignation, Fish Lake Métis Local 108 president Bryan Lee read out a list of 10 questions addressed to the premier.

“As a result of Premier Brad Wall’s comments in a letter to the editor of the P.A. Herald, it is clear that he has no intention of resigning, nor of retracting his earlier public comment, ‘Do you know what the best program for First Nations and Métis people in Saskatchewan is? No program at all, it’s Cameco,’” Lee read.

“We grassroots First Nations and Métis now bring forward several questions for you, Premier Wall.”

The first question asked Wall to cease what native activists consider his “campaign of targeting our people as to what you determine is best for us.”

The second and third, respectively, asked the premier to “stop humanizing Cameco” as a citizen and to instead humanize water, given its necessity for life.

Pointing to moratoriums on uranium production in Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Quebec, the statement called on Wall to bring forward a similar policy.

The issue of nuclear waste storage in northern Saskatchewan was another hot-button issue. The fifth question asked the government to stop supporting the mandate of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization to locate a waste repository within the province, and to implement legislation similar to Manitoba’s that would ban nuclear waste storage.

The sixth question noted that medical isotopes can be produced using a cyclotron and asked Wall to end a campaign to develop small nuclear reactors.

The seventh question brought up the government’s duty to consult with indigenous peoples and accused the premier of “interference in fundamental justice” by failing to consult before securing an agreement with Cameco and Areva to expand uranium mining in the province.

“Your public support of Cameco, and the relationship you have publicly declared should happen between Cameco and Saskatchewan First Nations and Métis people, is a clear gross interference with the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling on duty to consult and accommodate,” Lee charged.

The last three questions asked Wall to remove all water allocation intended for the recovery of oil and gas, to support compensation for those adversely affected by radioactive contamination, and to promote the development of renewable energy by SaskPower through tax incentives and subsidies to private renewable energy companies in partnership with the province’s indigenous peoples.

While that list of questions was the main focus of Friday’s press conference, speakers also went into detail about why dependence on Cameco, in the words of Saskatoon renewable energy consultant Mark Bigland-Pritchard, would be “bad health policy, bad social policy, bad economic policy, bad foreign policy, bad environmental policy, bad energy policy and is unconstitutional.”

In response to government claims that development by Cameco would create jobs, English River First Nation resident Candyce Paul — one of the founding members of the Committee for Future Generations — offered a long list of social ills affecting communities living near mining operations.

“For the most part, northerners live in substandard housing,” Paul said. “The money that is being made by employees in Cameco is not being used to improve their home situations, their houses and upgrade their homes.

“Aboriginal workers note they don’t receive proper training, even in the apprenticeship programs, and they come into the employment at entry level and low-paying jobs.

Paul pointed to the problem of underfunded schools and the paucity of adult education programs.

She also criticized the influence of Cameco in changing school curriculums to gear students towards employment in the mining industry.

One example was the appointment of Cameco vice-president for corporate social responsibility Gary Merasty as head of a task force on improving First Nations and Métis education.

Mining developments, Paul argued, had caused or exacerbated a variety of other social problems.

“Alcohol and drug addiction problems are on the increase,” she said. “Prior to the mines opening, there was no such thing as drugs in our communities. It wasn’t there until the mining culture introduced it.

“There’s a lack of self and community development program for First Nations and Métis. We suffer a lot of family dysfunctions, which take parents away from their children for weeks at a time, and when they come home it’s party time …

“Because we’re starting on our second generation of workers in the mines … (children) are starting to see their grandparents dying of cancers, and they’re begging their parents not to go work in the mines.”

Another point touched on during the press conference was the shipping of uranium to other countries for the development of nuclear warheads.

Following this lengthy criticism of government policies, Bigland-Pritchard — current director of Low Energy Design Ltd. and a former Green Party of Saskatchewan candidate — tackled the issue of how the province might transition to more sustainable forms of energy.

Describing four sources for clean energy — the sun, wind, plant material and water — Bigland-Pritchard argued that Saskatchewan was particularly well-suited to the latter two.

The abundance of trees in the province, he suggested, could be harvested sustainably under local ownership to generate energy.

Hydroelectric power was the other option, though here Bigland-Pritchard again emphasized smaller-scale operations that would not affect the local environment and could be controlled locally.

“Those are the two options for the north,” he said. “Those would supplement wind power, for which there is some potential in the north, and solar power, for which there is growing potential throughout the province.

“The price is already coming down. They’re not down quite low enough yet, but they will be very soon.”

Bigland-Pritchard cited other countries and regions that have been pushing hard for increased use of wind power, including numerous parts of the United States.

Germany, he noted, has a land area half the size of Saskatchewan and 80 times the population, yet has set itself the goal of 80 per cent renewable energy dependence by 2050.

Bigland-Pritchard argued that the transition to greener forms of energy would create plenty of jobs for northern communities.

“The mining industry provides relatively few jobs,” he said. “They can be quite well-paid, but it’s relatively few jobs. There’s no way that the mining industry is going to be able to provide jobs for the whole of northern Saskatchewan.”

“Now, it may be that nobody’s going to make enormous piles of money,” he added. “But there will be enough for everyone, and … the point of economic development is that there should be enough for everyone, not that a few people get rich and everybody else starves.”

Finally, Bigland-Pritchard noted that any economic benefits the mines might provide to local communities would be relatively short-term.

“The mines will run out of ore within 30 or 40 years, and then what do you do?” he asked.

“There’ll be some jobs in cleanup, and some of those will be dirty jobs and some of those will be highly technical jobs. But is that the way that you want to create economic development — cleaning up radioactive mess?

“So let’s go the clean way. Let’s actually respect the world that we live in. Let’s respect each other, and let’s respect our future generations.”

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