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Province coming off strong year, challenges to come in 2024: MLA Duncan

Saskatchewan’s economy is “running on all cylinders” right now as 2023 came to a close, said Weyburn-Big Muddy MLA Dustin Duncan in a year-end interview.
MLA Dustin Duncan provided wide range of views on how the past year went, and what 2024 will bring to the Weyburn-Big Muddy riding.

WEYBURN – Saskatchewan’s economy is “running on all cylinders” right now as 2023 came to a close, and indications are the new year will continue this strength and growth, said Weyburn-Big Muddy MLA Dustin Duncan in a year-end interview.

Along with big things for the province, he noted with pride that the new hospital for Weyburn is now under construction, and that has been a high priority for him since the Sask Party formed government.

Duncan hasn’t decided if he will be running for office again in the provincial elections set for October of 2024, but noted he will be deciding over the holidays if he will put his name forward once more.

Duncan was first elected as the MLA for the constituency of Weyburn-Big Muddy in a byelection in June 2006 at the age of 26. He was re-elected in the 2007, 2011, 2016 and 2020 provincial elections. He was first appointed to cabinet in 2009, and currently serves as the Minister responsible for all Crown corporations and the Crown Investments Corporation.

“We’re seeing lots of investments into the province. We’ve had the highest economic growth. BHP, the largest mining company in the world, just announced construction the largest mine in the world, with the second phase of the Jansen project,” he said.

Duncan also noted the province’s population is at 1.2 million, and the province is well on its way to reaching their goal of 1.4 million by 2030.

Locally, the construction of the new Weyburn General Hospital is underway, and Duncan this has been a big priority of his for several years.

He added that the hard work and generosity of everyone who has supported the Weyburn and District Hospital Foundation is now paying off.

“That certainly has been a highlight for me this year,” he said, adding another big highlight was the agreement between the Family Place and Holy Family school division for the development of the Early Years Family Resource Centre at the Family Place’s new location on McLelland Street.

“This will provide stability for that organization,” said Duncan. “I was happy to be part of facilitating things to see that agreement come forward.”

Work on twinning parts of Highway 39 has also been a top priority for the MLA, with work on the curve near Corinne and a section south of Regina.

“These are two of the last pieces of the 110 km between here and Regina. Addressing safety issues on Highway 39 was a priority for me,” said Duncan.

Asked what some of the challenges were for him and for the government, he noted the disagreements with the federal government were the biggest ones, particularly in the last couple of months.

As the carbon tax has continued to increase, the Liberals decided to make an exemption for those in Eastern Canada who use heating oil. Saskatchewan wanted equal treatment, and has decided to take the carbon tax off the cost of natural gas used to heat homes in this province.

This is to take effect as of Jan. 1, 2024, but one of the issues arising out of that decision has not been resolved as yet, as the government wants the responsibility for not remitting the tax taken off the officers of SaskEnergy and put on the government, specifically himself as the minister responsible for the Crown.

Duncan explained that this involves the rules set out by the Canada Revenue Agency, and under current laws, the federal act allows the federal government to be able to charge the board and officers of SaskEnergy with the crime of not remitting the carbon tax.

“It shows just how ridiculous the whole carbon tax discussion has gone in this country,” he said, noting under this law, the feds could actually imprison the board and officers of SaskEnergy, as they are the official distributors of the natural gas.

The province has requested that as the government and the people are the owners and shareholders of SaskEnergy, that Duncan is to be deemed as the registered distributor of the natural gas and will take on the responsibility of whether to remit the carbon tax or not. He noted the province is expecting a decision by Canada Revenue early in the new year on this request.

The other big challenge for his portfolio is dealing with the oncoming deadlines of the federal government regarding the production of electricity for the power grid in Saskatchewan, with coal-fired plants to be shut down by 2035. The province has responded by saying 2050 is a much more realistic goal, and Duncan noted even that may not be possible.

“Baseload power generation projects don’t happen overnight,” he said, noting the federal goals are not attainable.

“It’s not that we don’t agree – we have to reduce carbon emissions, we get that – but we have a problem with the federal deadline. For Saskatchewan, 2050 is more realistic, and even with that, there will be a lot of heavy lifting that will need to take place,” he said.

They are looking into small modular nuclear reactors as one possible avenue of generating electricity, and are following Ontario’s lead in this as they will be developing a small modular nuclear reactor first.

“These are big issues with a huge decision we have to make, like do we go nuclear, and how big do we go?” he said, noting this was the main topic of discussion when he recently attended the Global Nuclear Expo in Paris. He found out there that most of the world’s companies involved in nuclear power know all about Saskatchewan, as it’s the second largest source of uranium in the world.

The last highlight for Duncan as MLA was the presentation of Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee medals to many people in the Weyburn area in recognition of their contributions to the community.

“You don’t get to hand out medals like that every day, and it was special to do so in the name of Her Majesty, the late Queen Elizabeth II,” he said.