Jeremy Harrison sees bright future for Sask.

February 16, 2021, 4:08 pm

Jeremy Harrison, the Saskatchewan Minister of Trade and Export Development and Minister Responsible for Innovation Saskatchewan

World-Spectator editor Kevin Weedmark spoke last week with Minister of Trade and Export Development and Minister responsible for Innovation Saskatchewan about recent stats showing that Moosomin has one of the highest growth rates in rural Saskatchewan. Following is the full interview.

When we look at the numbers, we see overall growth in the region within 100 km of Moosomin, and Moosomin itself has one of the highest growth rates in the province at 14 per cent over 10 years. What do you think it is that makes the difference in an area like this?

It is a very good news story and your observation is exactly right.

In the Southeast you guys have done really well. I can even point to my area up in the northwest around Meadow Lake where we’ve seen growth like we haven’t seen for a long time, and primarily it’s driven by economic opportunity.

That’s ultimately what it comes down to. People are going to move to a particular area if economic opportunity exists. In your area, without question, there has been economic opportunity in manufacturing, in potash, industries that have really seen significant growth, unprecedented growth, particularly if you look over a 10 or 15 year time frame, in ways that in Saskatchewan we haven’t seen economic growth in many, many decades. All of that has added up to population growth in particular areas.

On top of that, we’ve had programs like the immigrant nominee program where newcomers from around the world are able to move to the province in ways that they haven’t been able to for decades.

All of that adds up to really good news. Despite all of the very real challenges that have existed through this last year and the Covid-19 pandemic, our economy as a province has been remarkably resilient and I think it’s not even really a debatable statement at this point.

We have come through this in a stronger economic position than any other jurisdiction in Canada. We have by far the lowest unemployment rate in the country. We just had numbers last week, 7.2 per cent unemployment rate. The next lowest is 7.9 and that’s Prince Edward Island, the national rate being over two per cent higher than ours.

We’ve recovered nearly 96 per cent of the jobs that had been lost over the course of the pandemic and almost remarkably to see exports actually grow over the last year from the province by a significant amount.

Merchandise exports are up seven per cent from December of last year—just a really remarkable statistic—but showing that the world continues to need what we have.

We export 70 per cent of what we produce here, and the world needs those products.

It’s food, agricultural products, fuel, energy, and it’s fertilizer products—potash and other things. We have what the world needs, and that continues to be underlined through this pandemic.

In our local area it seems to be those industries that are producing for export that are driving the growth. What is the province doing and what can the province do to encourage more of that type of growth based on resources and export-oriented industries?

I think a part of the reason why we’ve come through as economically strong as we have is that we have been measured, we have been thoughtful, we have used data to drive our decisions on restrictions on

Covid-19 and there have been many out there, the opposition included, that have demanded complete economic shutdowns and lockdowns, and other provinces have done that.

The reality is that the only open economy between the Rocky Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean is Saskatchewan.

Over the course of the last many months, you’ve still been able to go to your local restaurant and safely enjoy a meal, that you still have been able to go down to the local retailer and buy your products locally.

That has not been the case in jurisdictions like Manitoba or Alberta or Ontario or Quebec, many of which are still on lockdown.

In conjunction with all of that we’ve managed, I think in a very responsible way, and we’ve had the data and our public health officials giving us advice based on that data and as government we’ve made decisions that have allowed for the economy to continue to function in a much more substantial way than a lot of our neighbors.

Of course our resource industries have kept rolling along through the pandemic. Do you think as the world economy recovers, that will help Saskatchewan have a leg up on the recovery?

Absolutely. I think we are the best positioned jurisdiction in Canada to come through this and recover in an incredibly strong way. Obviously, that would include potash manufacturers and others.

I’m really bullish on the energy sector as well, and there’s a lot of commentators our there and even opposition politicians and whatnot that would say ‘the energy sector is dead, why would you guys pay any attention to this?’

I am bullish on the future of the energy sector and we’ve seen a steady increase in price for the commodity itself over the course of the last number of weeks.

And the reality is too, with a new U.S. administration with a much more anti-energy position than the previous one, that will actually serve to make our industry more competitive with a very anti-energy national administration in Canada here as well.

I actually think that we’re going to be in an increasingly competitive position with regard to production from the United States and the energy sector.

We’re going to keep working hard on finding ways to get that product to tide water. I won’t get into the whole pipeline thing but we’re going to keep working hard on that.

I’m actually very optimistic about the increase in competitiveness of our energy sector here in the province.

Some communities that have seen significant growth say they are having trouble keeping up with the infrastructure demands as they’ve had to develop new areas. Does the province have a role in helping communities that are facing those kinds of challenges related to growth?

Absolutely, and I would encourage communities to have those applications put in through the infrastructure program we have in place right now. We committed $2 billion to infrastructure expenditure at the very start of the pandemic as a direct response from an economic perspective, but also clearly there’s a need in local communities.

We’re going to be announcing projects in a pretty steady way as we go forward, but I encourage municipal governments that have infrastructure challenges work with Sask builds, put your applications forward.

I know many, many have and I’m sure there’s many in your area that have put those applications together for consideration.

Overall how do you think Saskatchewan is positioned for economic growth over the next decade?

Well, I’m very optimistic. We obviously have had the most significant economic challenge that, hopefully, any of us will ever go through. And if through that incredibly significant economic challenge we have weathered that better than anywhere else, I am very optimistic about what our future looks like from an economic point of view. I think we have a bright future. We have a plan going forward and we’re going to be working with industry communities to make sure the future is very bright.

In this area we certainly see the impacts of the resource industries, the mines and the pipeline projects and the oil when the price is decent . . . Is there anything the province is considering in the next few years to build on those strengths?

We’ve put in place a number of incentives to encourage investment—large scale investment—into areas where we really do have very real comparative strengths.

We put in place the chemical fertilizer incentive, as an example, last year.

We have in place agricultural value added incentive as well which is a tax credit for a large scale investment.

We have the oil and gas processing investment incentive, manufacturing and processing tax incentive.

We tried to be targeted in how we do our incentives to make sure we’re in areas and incenting areas where we have comparative advantages over other jurisdictions but we’ve been very mindful of ways that we can work with businesses individually, but in a broad context too, on the tax front.

What do you think are going to be the main drivers of growth over the next few years?

I think the main drivers are going to continue to be what they have been, which is agriculture, energy and mineral production.

Those are going to be the big ones, although we have increasing strength and really untold stories in manufacturing as well. Manufacturing exports, particularly in the ag business and also in the tech sector which is a story that you’re hearing more about now, but we really do have a very promising tech sector in this province as well. So, I think we have a bright future in front of us.