The Saskatchewan Oil & Gas Show brought dignitaries from all levels of government to Weyburn this past week, including Premier of Saskatchewan Scott Moe, and the leader of the Saskatchewan NDP, Carla Beck. We took the opportunity to sit down with both to talk to them, ahead of the upcoming provincial election this fall, for their thoughts on the oil and gas sector, some of the challenges facing southeast Saskatchewan, and more.  

We asked both questions on everything ranging from the possibility of a Heritage Fund being established in Saskatchewan, to how to attract investment in the industry without relying on government subsidies and incentives, to how to help the agricultural sector, which is so intrinsically linked to oil and gas. 

What are the thoughts on a Heritage Fund funded by royalties from oil and gas? 

Scott Moe:  

Yeah, we did that study a number of years ago. My predecessor, Brad Wall, had commissioned some folks to have a look at what that might look like here in the province. And so the plan is there. 

And I would say what we have been looking at prior to getting into actually acting on putting dollars into a heritage fund or something of that nature is ensuring that we are paying down any of the high-interest debt that we might have as a province. And I think that makes perfect sense as to before you start saving too much money that you are paying attention to the interest levels on various infrastructure debt that you might have. We have still some inherited debt from the previous administration. 

We acquired some debt through the pandemic. We were able to actually pay that off the very next year with some of the resource strength that we saw in the oil and gas industry, in the potash industry, in the uranium industry. So as we look ahead and the expansion of what is really creating wealth in Saskatchewan, it is that resource-based industry. 

It's adding value to our agricultural products. I think the future looks very bright. And so I think the conversation around a heritage fund or continuing to pay off some of the historical debt that we have had as a province, both of those are fair conversations to have. 

And I think on balance, when we do have years of the surplus, and I think we will into the years into the future, that's a good conversation for us to have alongside the investments that we need to continue to be making in addressing the services that need to be offered to a growing population. We're here today looking at a new hospital in Weyburn. We were here a couple of years ago looking at a new school here in Weyburn as well, both larger and offering more services than what was previously there. 

And so the infrastructure and service challenges, those need to be invested in as well. 

Carla Beck: 

Yeah, well, that's you know, that's not something that we have discussed in the lead-up to our platform development at this point. I do know that the last time the Saskatchewan NDP was in power in the province, there was two billion dollars in a rainy day fund, something that we saw quickly depleted. Look, I think right now in the province, the number one issues and the things that we've been focused on have been the cost of living, making sure that the economy is firing on all cylinders, reinvesting and fixing education and health care. 

I think when we're in a position when the province is doing well, you know, putting a little away for a rainy day is important. But right now we have so many holes in the education system and health care and ensuring that people are able to meet their bills today. You know, I think that's a consideration for into the future, but not something we've spent a lot of time talking about in the last two years, for sure. 

Salaries in the oil and gas sector can often times dictate prices such as rent and real estate in areas where the industry is prevalent. The draw back is that these jobs form a minority of the overall workforce in the region, with those employed outside of the oil industry often making less than half the average salary in oil and gas. Is this a concern when it comes to affordability within the region? 

Carla Beck: 

Yeah, you know, this is really important. I remember in the last boom in oil, and there were communities, certainly Weyburn, Estevan, but also smaller communities like Carnduff, where the cost of housing shot up. The ability for folks who needed people to work in the service industry, for example, they had a really hard time finding people because of the cost of living, because of our lowest in the country minimum wage. 

And I think this is where you know, we've seen regional economic development bodies or people get together and think about what are some things that we can do to ensure, whether that's building apartments for people to be able to rent out, to have access to housing when there isn't any. You know, other places we saw the community come together and provide a child care center so that folks who you know, maybe would be working in lower wage jobs would have access to help or to to affordable child care. So that takes one of those those costs off their plate. 

I think this speaks largely to the need to plan. We know that resource industries are cyclical and you know, making sure that you've got enough housing. It's not just the wages, but it's the demand on housing when you've got a lot of need all at once that, you know, we saw rooms in Estaban going for $700, $900 during the last boom. 

This is really a need, especially on things like housing, for all levels of government to be at the table to be planning planning for that housing so you don't have this boom and bust cycle where you know, rents and housing shoots up in boom times and then in a lull you have people not able to get what they paid for their house. I think, you know, all of this speaks to the need for cooperation, economic development planning and cooperation from all levels of government. 

Scott Moe: 

Right, and certainly that is a challenge, and that is one of the challenges of growth that we speak of often. We're thankful for the oil and gas industry so that we do have those salaries there. But yes, it does create a growth-related challenge, whether it be on housing, whether it be on some of the services that we look to access in our communities, and it needs to be affordable for everyone. 

And so most certainly that's part of the conversation that we have as a government in virtually every meeting that we have. It's a conversation that, in fairness, came up in the legislature in question period and from the media. And we talk about the efforts that not just this government has made, but our Crown Utilities, the broader efforts and initiatives that have been made in Saskatchewan, making Saskatchewan one of the most affordable places to live in Canada. 

The cost of living is not strictly a Saskatchewan challenge, or Weyburn or Estevan challenge. It is a cross-Canada challenge, and we are faring quite well when we compare to our respective neighbours. However, when you come into an area like Weyburn and Estevan, where you have a vibrant oil and gas sector, and I would predict are going to be more vibrant in the years ahead as we see some maybe regulatory changes at the federal level with quite likely a change of the federal administration at some point in the next year or year and a half, I think that's going to bode well for our communities. 

But your point is taken. We need to work together at the municipal level, the provincial level, the federal level as communities to ensure that our communities are affordable for everyone. That means, you know, available housing, it means available services, it means we need, you know, good thing we're constructing the hospital when we are, I think, as a province and as a community, because it's going to be needed by all of us in the future. 

Abandoned wells are a concern, particularly for those in the agricultural industry as this can impact their lands. What can be done to hold companies accountable for walking away from these wells without cleaning them up, and leaving it to the taxpayers to foot the bill? 

Scott Moe: 

Yeah, and moving forward, the industry is responsible for the for the wells. And we do have a fund that is set up for that. And a portion of that fund does go to abandoned wells as well. 

And I think there's a couple of things that in addition to that, that's in place. But in addition to that, I think there's always the broader conversation around, you know, innovation and technology as we move along as well. We're seeing wells at times that at one point in time with the available technology and innovation, were not economically viable, that may become economically viable in the future. 

We're seeing the lithium industry starting to come into this space as well. And so I, you know, I'm confident in the programs that we have in place for companies that are operating here today. Yes, we do have, you know, a legacy conversation that the government is part of and, and have made agreements and worked with the federal government in fairness in this space as well. 

But we should never discount the opportunities that become available tomorrow, that maybe not appear to be available today, when it comes to, you know, some of the technology and research and innovation, and no better place to see that than at the Weyburn Oil Show. 

Carla Beck: 

Well, we saw the most recent auditors report point out some concerns about abandoned wells, you know, ensuring that companies take responsibility for the wells abandoned and dealing with orphaned wells. You know, the fact that, you know, it's important that companies have the ability to you know, make money and contribute to the to the economy, but also there's, for all industries, not just oil and gas, there's also a responsibility, you know, to clean up those abandoned wells, making sure that that cost doesn't get pushed on to municipalities or landowners. So, you know, I think the first thing that we would do is look at the recommendations that were contained in the auditors report and make sure that there's accountability and you know, making new rules when the current rules aren't being enforced. 

I think we start with enforcing the rules that you've got, making sure you've got the right accountability mechanisms there, because as I said, I think people are happy to have industry drive, but also expect them to take up their responsibilities in this case in cleaning up those abandoned wells. 

What are ways the provincial government can attract further investment into the oil and gas sector without having to rely on subsidies or incentives? 

Carla Beck: 

I think when you have conditions for an industry to thrive, I mean, industry is not looking for handouts either, right? Do you have the labour force? Labour force is huge and I know the last time we were here two years ago, one of the limiting factors for a lot of the folks who wanted to be out, wanted to be drilling new wells, was the fact that they couldn't find labour. 

There was, you know, someone that I had known in high school who was joking that he was going to have to go out. Well, I'm almost 50, you know. These jobs, making sure that we've got people here that we can attract and we've got the labour force that is ready and able to take on those jobs. 

I think that's part of it. You know, there is opportunity. I've heard this today time and time again. 

There's a buzz in the room. There's a real sense of opportunity. There's a real sense that things are doing well, but if we're not addressing things like labour force, if we're not addressing things like housing, if we're not addressing the fact that we're losing people out of the province when they come to the province, how do we retain them so that they might work in industries like oil and gas or other industries here? 

I think government should be helping industry create the conditions and making sure that again, things like labour force are ready and available to take on those jobs and I think industry knows the industry well. They want to get out and do what they do best. 

Scott Moe: 

Common sense regulation to, you know, just have regulation where you can actually, you know, go from, you know, the exploration of a well or a field and feel confident that not only are you going to be able to drill and have an actively producing well, but going to be able to produce for a period of time to pay for all of the investments that you've made in that space. And to function, you know, for 5 and 10 and 15 years into the future, whereas opposed to regulations that, you know, really are creating uncertainty in the industry. And we're seeing that from another level of government in Ottawa. 

And I think we're going to see a change in that direction in the not too distant future. And I would say that that's going to bode very well for this part of the province and this part of Canada, not only in the oil and gas industry, as if we can provide alongside a new or reinvigorated or different federal government, provide certainty in the way of those regulations, where those investments can actually flow. But I think it'll also provide a lot of opportunity and certainty for some of the, you know, some of the associated industries that we see starting to invest here as well, for example, the lithium industry. 

The highways in southeast Saskatchewan see perhaps the heaviest traffic of all the highways in the province, not in terms of number of vehicles, but the actual average mass of the trucks on the highways, given the agricultural and oil & gas industries. Are there plans to invest more in the infrastructure for this region, given the shape of some of the roads? 

Scott Moe: 

Yeah, you know, here on balance is the conversation that we maybe had at the legislature over the course of the last number of months. You know, we invest the entirety of the gas tax here in the province, back into our roads, and then we add a few hundred million dollars to that, sometimes we actually double the amount that comes in through that fuel tax that we charge at the pumps. And so it's one of the most responsive, you know, nobody likes tax, including us as legislators, but it's one of the most responsive, I think, fees that is there. 

And it is being invested by large amounts and added to back into our highway infrastructure. There was a day in this province under a previous government, where the entirety of the gas tax was not even invested in the entirety of the highways budget. And so there needs to be, I would say in the future, there needs to be additional investment in our highways budgets, specifically to areas where there is increasing industrial traffic. 

And because we also we must remember, in addition to that industrial traffic that's heading down those roads, whether it be agricultural traffic, whether it be oilfield traffic, or now lithium or helium, or some of the potash industry expansions that we see happening, our families are traveling down those very same roads. And that's why you're seeing in addition to the really what has been virtually record funding on year after year in the highway space, you're seeing some of that targeted towards specific safety initiatives, I'd point to the intersection traffic safety initiative, we had provided $60 million there across the province as well, the passing lanes, the twinning that you see happening in certain areas, that's all focused on safety of our families and the industry that is sharing that road. But I think the the next opportunity that we have in the highways budget is to look and again, innovation is going to play a role in this, but some of our more secondary highways, and some of the larger industrial traffic that we see on those road surfaces. And again, I just our families are on the same road, so they need to be safe. 

Carla Beck: 

Yeah, I mean we came down from Regina today when we passed my hometown, the changes that are happening between the 6th and 39th, the twinning there and the passing lanes. I think that is all important investment and you know, wouldn't be looking at any changes there, the passing lanes. Also making sure, you know, not only that we're spending money on roads, but that we are and I don't know the answer to this if I'm being honest, but you know, are we building roads that are built to withstand the kind of weight that we're seeing? 

I know you know, when I was hauling grain to the elevator, it was in a one ton, right? Well, no one's hauling grain in a one ton anymore. The weight of those trucks, as well as the volume, another way that we ensure value for the people of the province is that we build and innovate to ensure that the roadbed, that the roads are not only built and but we build them to a standard that can withstand those weights. 

And again, you know, this would be something that you don't want me doing the engineering on that, but you'd be working with road builders, you'd be working with industry and making sure we're getting that value so that we're not having to continually put maintenance into the roads unnecessarily. 

Agriculture is the true, first industry of southeast Saskatchewan – it's the backbone of the region. What cane be done to help ensure that it continues to thrive, especially small farms? 

Carla Beck: 

Well, I mean, the reality is, again, as I noted, when I drove the grain truck to the elevator, it was in a one ton and you didn't have a lot of bins at home, right? The reality is the input costs for both seed and your fertilizer, but also, you know, having bins on site and the cost of machinery, that drives, I think, a lot of what we see within the industry. There aren't a lot of small farms, just plainly put. 

Right now, you know, making sure that the industry is doing well is important, for sure, but in terms of turning back the tide and reducing the size of farms, I simply don't see that being the future of the industry. Now, you've got smaller niche operations, you've got people who maybe have some goats or who have bison or, you know, a smaller, even there, a smaller cattle operation. I think we have to look at where we are now and not be looking to roll back the clock. 

What do we do to ensure that not only the farmers, but other folks who live in rural Saskatchewan and maybe have a, you know, an infinite business or provide services to those farms and those rural communities. What do we need to make sure that they are thriving as well? Not sure if I've answered the question, but, you know, I guess, simply put, there aren't a lot of small family farms that exist anymore in rural Saskatchewan, but there still are thriving communities that we need to make sure that we're doing everything we can to see all people in rural Saskatchewan, certainly the ag industry, but all of those who are living in rural Saskatchewan have access to the services that they need, make sure that their kids have some place close by that they can go to school. And, you know, I think that is the future in rural Saskatchewan. 

Scott Moe: 

Yeah, agriculture is, you know, just another place to, you know, point off, you know, what's happened or make a point about what's happening with the Weyburn Oil Show here is that innovation and technology is on full display. Nowhere in this province, nowhere in this world has technology and innovation and how it can improve a food supply chain and make a food supply chain more sustainable, more economical, more high quality. Nowhere has that been more evident than in Saskatchewan. 

And that's part of the story that we tell when we go abroad to our customers that are buying our agri food products around the world is not only are we producing the highest quality food that you can find, it's competitively priced, it's sustainably produced, and it's ethically produced. And that is true through the innovation and technology that has came with zero till farming, with precision farming, with, you know, we're seeing the placement of seed and fertilizer not only in the right place, but at the right time. I mean, it's just incredible. 

When you look at what has the steps and strides that agriculture has taken in the last century, or even in the last decade or two, here in Saskatchewan, it's world leading. And so what we do to support that industry is one, work with the federal government to ensure that we have business risk programs that are in place. Two, we work abroad with our export markets, our export marketing countries. 

We produce in this province about $50 billion worth of export related goods. We export that product to over 160 countries each and every year. And so we've prioritized the top 10 or 12 countries and we have people that are in those markets, ensuring that when we have market access to that we're actually talking to the right people and have the relationship should additional market share open up or premium market space open up for our products. 

And so we're doing all that we can as a provincial government in representing our ag industry and all of our exporting industry, some of its ag equipment as well, by the way, some of the innovation that we're using here in Saskatchewan is now being sold in other areas of the world, allowing them to become more sustainable as well. But we primarily work on building those relationships so that those supply chain, those markets are, we have market access in each and every one of them and opportunities to climb the value chain and opportunities to ensure that if there is a hiccup with a tariff or non-tariff thing that may be brought forward that we know who to call to work on that to ensure that our ag producers aren't experiencing a dip in price due to a market access issue halfway around the world. That's important to have those relationships on behalf of this industry because you're right, it's not only the spinal cord and historically the starting point for the industry and how our communities were built in southeastern Saskatchewan but right across the province. 

Community-owned sports teams are the heart and soul of many communities in rural Saskatchewan. Here in Weyburn, you have the Red Wings and Beavers. The whole province shares the Roughriders. Yet these teams, which provide a number of benefits for the communities, from being role models for younger athletes to volunteer hours they put in, face constant financial challenges to stay afloat. What can be done to help keep these teams in our communities? 

Scott Moe: 

I'd say the positive impacts are huge for our youth, you know, the next generation and you're absolutely right. And these are, many of them, if not virtually all of them, are community-owned teams, whether they be in the WHL, SJHL and the hockey side, some of the baseball that's around, of which the current MLA is a large fan. We'll see if Mike is potentially, with the support of people, as large a baseball fan as the outgoing fella. 

But, you know, the province has moved into this space a little bit, I would say, and I, you know, it's a fair discussion on where we go in the future because of the importance of these organizations. But I would, you know, I would point to the rink grant or the recreation infrastructure grant that goes out to each and every rink, ice surface that is going, whether it be a curling rink, a hockey rink, whatever the use is. And I can't remember the number, but I think it's a couple thousand across the province of rink, of different ice surfaces that receive that grant. 

Probably more impactful in the smaller communities, maybe many of our surrounding villages and whatnot. But important, I think, too, to keep those ice surfaces functioning for our kids because next year's Weyburn Red Wings player may be playing in a community just outside here on a natural ice surface. The second is working with the federal government and this may be coming to an end as this particular administration prioritizes housing and some of the larger urban desires in their next round of infrastructure funding. 

But the last round had dedicated recreation grants in it where we could work with communities to actually fed provincially and municipally share the investment into, you know, larger projects like an arena. I don't know if Estevan qualified for the Building Canada fund a number of years ago. I know Moose Jaw did, Melville did, Assiniboia did in this latest round. 

And so there are, you know, funds that have flowed into that space, mostly on the facility side as opposed to the operational side. But I think as we look forward, you know, whether it be baseball, whether it be we see some soccer teams, but hockey is, you know, a large part of what we do in this province, in particular in the long, cooler winters that we have. It's a fair conversation to have because of the importance of, we don't ever want a team to not be a community-owned team because that's the strength of the team. 

But it's a fine conversation to have as to, you know, does the government play a role, whether it be municipal, provincial, or even looking to leverage the federal government at times in ensuring that, you know, these teams and their leagues are strong. And I can't emphasize enough, we need a strong league as well and we have that in this province. We just saw our Moose Jaw Warriors go right to the Memorial Cup. 

Well, you know, what a season when you look at all of the teams that were competing there in the SJHL. I was up watching, you know, I was watching Flin Flon and Melford duke it out in the north there, but it isn't that long ago it was in Estevan here as well. And, you know, the SJHL, I think, is one of the strongest junior hockey leagues that we have and it's right here for all of us. 

And we need to ensure that we're always open to the discussion to make sure that the league is strong and that the teams, the locally owned teams, are strong too.   

Carla Beck: 

It's an interesting idea. I mean, I've recently been up to Saskatoon to watch the new franchise, the Berries, for example. Ensuring the community support is also a huge part of that. 

I mean, people are busy. I understand that. But really making it fun is part of it, but also ensuring that people have an understanding of how important, you know, we were talking about retaining the labour force. 

You know, people don't just want a job. And they certainly want a job. They want to pay their bills, but they want a community. 

They want something to go out and, you know, find excitement and find entertainment in their communities. And certainly community-owned teams are great for that. You know, helping with promotion is part of it. 

Once you get people out to a game, I, you know, like, I'm a baseball fan, but, you know, you get people out to the game, you ensure that there's something there, not just for the people who've had season tickets for 20 years, but newcomers, building your fan base, making sure that you've got young people coming out to the games. This is great entertainment. This is important to communities. 

Let's ensure we're getting people in the doors and ensuring the whole community understands not only the importance of cheering for the hometown team, but how that really adds to the vibrancy of the community, and the economic health of communities. You know, again, it's not something that we've looked at, but certainly ways that we can support those community teams. You know, this is really important to me. 

This is important to my family. And I think it's one of those quality-of-life pieces for Saskatchewan that we need to be ensuring that it's well supported, not only by governments or municipalities, but by citizens themselves, by people who live in these communities. Just making sure they understand, first of all, what great entertainment it is, but also how important it is to support those hometown teams.