Supporter Spotlight: Bronwyn Eyre - May 2022

Supporter Spotlight: Bronwyn Eyre - May 2022

"Supporter Spotlight" features Canadians with a passion for Canada's Natural Resource sector. Our spotlight this month is Minister Bronwyn Eyre. As the Minister of Energy and Resources MLA for Saskatoon Stonebridge-Dakota, Minister Eyre is a Canadian energy and resources advocate and she talks to us about the importance of Canadian energy and resources for our communities, economy and environment.

Supporter Spotlight Bronwyn Eyre Saskatchewan Minister of Energy JPG

#1 - Canada Action: Minister Eyre, thank you so much for taking the time today. You were elected MLA for Saskatoon Stonebridge-Dakota in the 2016 provincial election. You previously served as Minister of Advanced Education and Minister of Education, as well as Minister responsible for SaskWater and SaskEnergy. How did you get into politics?

Minister Eyre: I grew up in a very political family. We were always talking about politics and were always watching the news. To this day the news is my constant background whether I'm in a hotel room or come home at night. I think that's just been something that I've come to live for for my entire life.

Then journalism intersected in my life a lot. I edited the student paper in University and did legal journalism after law school for a number of years overseas. Then I came back and I taught German at the University and I then started to write a column for the paper here in Saskatchewan (the National Post chain), and then went into broadcasting. I think that it's fair to say that when you're always posing the questions and the issues, it becomes appealing to be part of the solution.

And I think that's what a lot of people say when they go into politics. From my perspective it was to go from that journalist perspective and I found myself raising certain beams that then became natural interests in the political realm and areas of focus.

One was education. I was a school board trustee and was very interested in curriculum and having then served as advanced education Minister, I saw it from the "other side". So I was part of a brand new constituency, a Brad Walls government in 2015, that was doing amazing things for the province and amazing things for the economy. I was drawn to him and the party and decided I would run. And as many will tell you, the nomination process is quite the experience!

I'm amazed so many years have gone by since I was elected in 2016. I still feel like a newbie! (She laughs). But that's a fair representation of why I ran; the journalism background and all the passion around the news and politics when I was young and growing up.

#2 - Canada Action: Saskatchewan has a wide variety of mineral resources, including oil, potash, and uranium. Potash is the name given to a group of minerals containing potassium and 90-95% of potash is used in agriculture as a fertilizer. Saskatchewan has the largest and richest potash resources on the globe, and could supply the needs of farmers worldwide for several hundred years. How important are the economic contributions directly tied to the export of potash, for Saskatchewan and its communities?

Minister Eyre: Potash is a critical mineral in every sense and plays a fundamental role in producing quality food for the growing global population. The Saskatchewan potash sector exports about 95% of its product to customers outside the country and obviously is one of the key pillars of our provincial economy.

Our export destinations right now include about 40 countries and that was in 2021. In 2020, the sector accounted for 11% of Saskatchewan's GDP, directly employed about 6000 people and contributed to the livelihood of thousands more. So it Is very important to us and is a major contributor to provincial revenues.

It is projected to generate about 1.5 billion dollars in royalties and other taxes in this year's budget, so it is a key economic driver for us and obviously a huge importance for our export economy in Saskatchewan.

#3 - Canada Action: Three main potash producing companies operate 11 mines in the province. As of 2019, Saskatchewan is the number one potash producer in the world, accounting for 30% of world production, exporting roughly 12 million tonnes of Canadian potash to more than 40 countries annually. Other top potash producers include Russia, Belarus and China. In light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Eastern Europe now faces uncertainty when it comes to its potash supply and the conflict also has a direct impact on global food security. A lot of Canadians aren't aware of the importance of potash in the food chain and how it impacts our food on a daily basis. How does the Russian-Ukrainian conflict impact Saskatchewan and what does it mean for Canada in the foreseeable future?

Minister Eyre: Well obviously the situation in Ukraine has been a tragic wake up call on so many levels but also when it comes to resource stability, security and Independence.

We're seeing that across the board and I I hear it everywhere I go. Everyone is looking to Saskatchewan for strong, stable, sustainable, supply and I was just talking to a colleague about an hour ago about what we are hearing on the international side and and there are countries which are in some degree of alarm about their supply of not only potash, but certainly including potash.

As you mentioned, the global potash supply comes from three major sources. Saskwatchewan accounts for roughly one-third, Russia and Belarus account for another 3rd and other world producers such as Israel, China, Germany and others make up the remainder of that.

Prior to the war in Ukraine many global producers were already operating at near full capacity and now of course major importers that were reliant on Belarus and Russia for their potash are under significant pressure to secure shipments of potash. Especially as more fertilizers are required going into spring and summer.

We've seen volatility in the potash sector certainly over the years and we were talking not very long ago about even what the impact of sanctions on Belarus would mean from a global market perspective. Now adding into this, this tragic new angle… It's really put the proverbial supply chain in a heightened focus and Saskatchewan producers are increasing production this year in response to these obvious challenges that we're seeing in the market.

One example is Nutrien announcing in March that it would be increasing production capacity to 15 million tons in 2022, and just generally speaking, lost supply from Belarus and Russia obviously can't be replaced on a dime. So this has resulted in potash prices rising to record highs in many markets and there was volatility previously, so it certainly is a new situation.

Currently the market interest is primarily on more access to existing production and producers increasing production. There are a number of major investments to new potash capacity under way in the province here. Mosaic is completing a mine expansion in August, last year BHP committed an additional 7.5 billion dollars towards completion of its new potash mine expected to begin production in 2027 and there are also other smaller companies that are in the proposal exploration phase. And as a result of the Belarus sanctions, Nutrien made the market decision to massively increase production.

So I think that there is certainly a heightened interest more than ever in potash and I think going forward we can expect more companies to apply for subsurface mineral dispositions.

#4 - Canada Action: Saskatchewan is the world's largest exporter of peas, lentils, and durum wheat amongst other things. It is also the second largest cattle-producing province in Canada. Canadian farmers are already seeing the effects of the war in Ukraine as the prices of commodities like fuel and fertilizer increase. Andrew Furey, the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, called for federal approval of a major oil extraction project off the Newfoundland coast, saying "we have the product the world needs now more than ever before". Environmentalists, rights advocates and other experts have denounced attempts to expand fossil fuel projects, saying the conflict should instead hasten a global energy transition to respond to the climate crisis. What are some of the challenges we face as we move towards a just transition all whilst navigating the current global climate?

Minister Eyre: That's an excellent question. Let's go back to potash for a second. We've been talking about the sustainability of our energy and resource sector - so mining and on the oil and gas side, for years.

We've always said that the key to affordability is energy security and energy Independence. And that's before what we're facing now. Part of that story is about promoting what we do around sustainability and we've been saying that. In fact we even changed our official "brand" if you like, for the province to: "Strong. Sustainable. Saskatchewan" primarily because of the record we have.

We have 50% fewer emissions from producing potash in Saskatchewan than in competing jurisdictions such as Belarus and Russia. We were saying that before any of the geopolitical upheaval that we've seen over the last few months got underway.

So I think in terms of navigating the just transition as it's called - and I often call it the unjust transition - I think it's very important to start from the premise of what we were already doing that is so sustainably produced. For example the Newfoundland oil project. I certainly understand why they want that project. It's very important for them and very important for jobs.

But one of the things we are navigating as provinces is the unpredictability of federal approvals for these types of projects. And this is very bad for competitiveness and for establishing any kind of base lines when it comes to what approval actually means. So that is one of the angles on that.

Another example is LNG. Everyone is talking about liquid natural gas. The Saguenay facility in Quebec, killed by Quebec but also through that Federal approval process and yet the Newfoundland project was approved. So it's very difficult to navigate what will and won't be and if it's purely through a geographical prism, that's a concern to us in terms of establishing consistency. So to the whole "how do we deal with this" I think we look at the record that we have.

In oil & gas, if every gas producing nation on the planet extracted and regulated the way we do in western Canada, global greenhouse gas emissions would instantly fall by a quarter. We've cut methane by 50% well ahead of schedule here in Saskatchewan and then they turn around and raise the methane production level threshold to 75%, so it's always a changing landscape and that's very difficult.

So how you navigate that just transition so often comes back to how you deal with approvals, with provinces, and establishing a consistent baseline. So the long way of answering how we navigate the current global climate is really how we end up navigating the Canadian climate and the approval climate. The federal government is imposing what it's imposing because it is answering to a global threshold. And I think that it is certainly challenging but it's also really about getting our story out there. About the strong Innovation and environmental record that we already have. 

#5 - Canada Action: Europe is currently undergoing an energy crisis. Just this year, they went into the winter season with low stocks of natural gas, which is used for heating homes and generating electricity. Europe relies on Russia for around 40 percent of its natural gas. Now that Russia has invaded Ukraine, this could impact flows through pipelines such as Yamal-Europe, Nord Stream 1 and TurkStream. With the global population soaring towards an estimated 9.7 billion by 2050 and energy demands increasing, how does this position Canada as a global player in the energy sector? What do you say to people who say that there is no future in oil & gas and we should shut it all down?

Minister Eyre: Well to them I say: it's never going to happen. Because we produce it so responsibly, so innovatively, and so cleanly, it would be far better to use our oil and gas than importing from nations with, for example, questionable human rights records.

The problem now with this energy security issue that we see geopolitically is that we have very hampered here in western Canada around increasing how we get product anywhere. And we've all known that for a while now. If only we had pipelines! Now it really is coming home to people that we've actually stagnated growth. And suddenly LNG is being looked at because it could help Europe.

Now looking at the European arc and realizing that if you go all-in to one thing over another you can get into a pretty fix quickly. Like Germany getting rid of all of their nuclear for example. And the irony is lost for example on the workers here on the southeast who have federally mandated off coal, but then they see China is importing our coal here from Canada.

Germany had a uniquely windless year last year and then they're experiencing this situation with Russia and now they are looking at, among other things, ironically, ramping up coal. And so you have to be so cautious before you throw everything out for one thing and we are seeing that play out. And as I said, we brought in bill C-69 for example, Saguenay was killed, and if it could have been approved we could be a greater energy player.

In Saskatchewan we still believe and we aim to increase oil production to 600,000 barrels per day from around 450 by 2030, so we're going the opposite direction to a lot of jurisdictions. But I do think that what we're seeing is that geopolitically it's a real wake-up call in terms of what energy means.

When we talked about transition, how expensive many of the options are, how long they take to be put stably in place and the impact on jobs in the meantime. For example, well before some of this recent geopolitical upheaval, a TD report came out that said that the impact of a green transition in Canada, which would be too rapid, could cost 450,000 Canadian energy workers their jobs. A lot of people say "we will just transition to a green economy, we'll consult with you, it'll all work out", and then they never see them and no one comes to consult with them. And these are real communities.

So I think that yes - we need an energy mix but the current global climate has taught us lessons about what we shouldn't do going forward.

#6 - Canada Action: Why do you think all Canadians should care about Canadian natural resource development? Is there any kind of message that you want to tell Canadians reading this? 

Minister Eyre: Well let's just start with the brutal climate. It keeps people from actually freezing in the cold and freezing in the dark. It's also contributed to their amazing quality of life. And because it's the most ethically, responsibly produced oil in the world.

I think that honestly, every global climate conference should start with delegates having to experience -40 without access to a gas furnace, a warm car, or a warm hotel room and just going down the list of some of the amenities that they would be without. Then they would have to get a fire going and they can do their first planning session that way!

I really do think that there isn't enough of a realization about the survival aspect to our energy resources and I think that there seems to be a glibness and irresponsibility when we talk about transition. About how that will actually affect the economy and real people.

We so often talk about the importance to real people of policy, but do we really mean it and do we really consider that? I think we have to be much more cautious than we've been.

#7 - Canada Action: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Minister Eyre: I guess I'll just say that I think we have faced so many naysayers over the last few years and sometimes advocating for the energy sector, banging on the drum for its importance to jobs, the economy, the global economy and our quality of life… I've certainly done it with absolute pride and I know our government has too.

But it sometimes can seem a little bit lonely when you are faced from all directions with this call to quicker, faster, green transition. Like instantly transitioning to hydrogen despite the brutally high cost if we were to move to a low carbon intensity hydrogen export economy. I think we've always tried, and I've always tried to say diversification is important and new areas are important. They make economic sense when they're privately led, and government follow-up money should follow up-front private investments, it shouldn't lead.

But I think that people, government and companies certainly should remember that it's important to be sound and cautious. To be bold when it's warranted, but not when there's an enormous economic risk. And I think that what we're seeing, tragic as it is on the energy side, has been a wake-up call to the importance of sound economic principles and policy by governments. And we really feel to a certain extent born out by all that we've been calling for in the last few years around importing foreign oil and not exporting our own.

Stagnating growth where it could have led to more production and now more assistance to the world. So I think that there's a sad satisfaction in light of what we're seeing in what we've been trying to stay for a long time. I think we feel in Saskatchewan that we have to carry on as we have.

We recently were found number one for mining investment attractiveness in Canada and number two in the world. But we want to do it the way we've always done it, which is to foster the climate for exciting development and not drive it so that we become a command economy driver of areas which we haven't completely established the way to go so quickly.

#8 - Canada Action: Minister Eyre, it's been a pleasure. Thank you so much for your time today.

Minister Eyre: Thank you!

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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