Saskatchewan to spend $765,000 on pavilion at climate conference in Dubai

REGINA — The Saskatchewan government is to spend up to $765,000 on an event space at a global climate conference in Dubai.

An order made public this week includes the price tag for the pavilion at the COP28 conference later this month in the United Arab Emirates.

The cost, which doesn't include travel, appears to be the Saskatchewan Party government's largest trip expense ever. The province has said the total cost has yet to be finalized.

Trade and Export Development Minister Jeremy Harrison said Tuesday he doesn't know if it will be the most expensive trip, but the government needs to be there.

"We need to tell our stories," Harrison said in an interview.

"If we are not there doing it, the government of Canada won't be doing it for us."

Saskatchewan's Opposition NDP grilled the government during question period Wednesday about the expenditure, saying the province could instead spend the money on helping people with affordability relief.

Aleana Young, the NDP trade critic, said the province already spends millions of dollars annually to run trade offices.

She expects the trip to reach $1 million once all the costs are accounted for.

"I think participating in the world stage, whether it's COP, whether it's another international conference, is reasonable. But is $1 million (reasonable) for a single trip?" she said.

Harrison said representatives from 40 companies are to also travel to Dubai and use the government's pavilion. The companies' representatives, who do business in the province, are to take part in panel discussions at the pavilion, he added.

Harrison said the province is not paying for the companies' travel.

He said the province will pay for Premier Scott Moe to go, as well as for two of his staff and two trade ministry employees.

Harrison said the province plans to share how it produces food, fertilizer and fuel more sustainably than other countries, adding he hopes it leads to companies buying more from Saskatchewan.

"The reality is if everyone in the world produced oil the way that we do, the emissions would be 25 per cent less," Harrison said.

"If everywhere in the world sourced potash from here, rather than from Russia or Belarus, emissions from potash production would be 50 per cent less. For countries and for companies that are interested in that sort of narrative, that sort of outcome, we are the best place in the world to source these products from."

Saskatchewan politicians have been increasing their international travel.

The provincial government spent $351,197 on 14 international trips in 2022, a 33 per cent increase from the $263,290 it spent in 2018. The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 meant fewer trips, as most travel was grounded around the world.

Moe has said delegations attract investment and boost provincial wealth.

The total value of Saskatchewan global exports reached a record $52.6 billion in 2022.

Young said she wants to see proof the Dubai trip will result in more exports.

"We're certainly not going to talk down those wins for the people of the province, but again, $1 million. Like, it's a million flippin' dollars on a single trip. It's a lot of money," she said.

Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault is scheduled to also go to COP28 to help facilitate political discussions between federal ministers from around the world. His office said the cost for his trip has yet to be finalized.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is also to attend alongside Alberta Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz.

A spokesperson for Smith said she will share the province's perspective on the future of energy transition, which includes using new technologies to lower emissions. Costs for her travel were not provided by the premier's office.

Harrison said he did not know if Moe would be meeting with Guilbeault or Smith.

He took aim at the federal minister, saying he expects Guilbeault won't promote Saskatchewan the way he should.

"I highly doubt he's there because he wants to talk about energy production," he said. "I've never actually heard him talk about that in a positive way before in my life."

A spokesperson for Guilbeault said Wednesday that he is not there to talk down Canada's resource industries and will promote technologies, like carbon capture, that reduce emissions.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 8, 2023.

Jeremy Simes, The Canadian Press