Environmental group claims Sask First Act 'undermines' UN climate pledge

Justice Minister Bronwyn Eyre stressed Wednesday that the Saskatchewan First Act does not contest exclusive jurisdiction over GHG emissions but the development of the province's natural resources.

Environmental group claims Sask First Act 'undermines' UN climate pledge
Rebel News
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A Saskatchewan environmental group is joining a growing list of organizations and people objecting to the province's proposed Bill 88, also known as the Saskatchewan First Act

Premier Scott Moe's government introduced the bill last fall, calling it a legislative tool to reclaim its autonomy, specifically, exclusive provincial jurisdiction over its natural resources.

It passed its second reading in the fall sitting of the legislature but has yet to receive Royal Assent. The province will return for the Spring session on March 6.

Peter Prebble, a Saskatchewan Environmental Society (SES) board member, expressed concerns on behalf of the group over the bill. He claims the province could use it to block federal initiatives like reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

"The Saskatchewan government is essentially saying it wants the exclusive authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in each sector of the Saskatchewan economy," Prebble told the CBC

"That is a major change from the current tradition, which essentially is the Government of Canada and each provincial government sharing jurisdiction concerning setting environmental standards."

The SES is "very concerned" that the Saskatchewan Party will reduce regulatory oversight on GHG emissions compared to other provinces.

Prebble added that that could affect Canada's United Nations commitment to reduce nationwide GHG emissions by at least 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. 

The provincial government released Prairie Resilience, a "made-in-Saskatchewan" climate change strategy in 2017, with over 40 commitments to address climate change.

The Saskatchewan Party has targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in some specific sectors of the Saskatchewan economy but has yet to have a provincial goal for 2030.

However, a climate report by Pembina Institute claims that Saskatchewan (and Canada) must catch up to net-zero emissions targets as outlined by the Paris Climate Accord.

According to climate modelling for the 2021 federal budget, the fed's climate policy forecasts a national emissions reduction of 36% below 2005 levels by 2030. That falls short of their commitment to reducing emissions by 40% to 45% over the next decade.

The energy and climate think-tank concluded that no government will meet its 2030 or 2050 net-zero goals, as 95% of emissions generated in Canada are not covered by either a provincial or territorial 2030 target or climate plans.

"No jurisdiction has developed pathways to describe how net zero can be achieved," reads the All Hands on Deck report.

Provincial justice minister Bronwyn Eyre addressed the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce regarding Bill 88 at a luncheon Wednesday. She reaffirmed that the proposed Saskatchewan First Act does not seek to override Canada's constitution but to reiterate areas of provincial jurisdiction. 

"This is about protecting the people of the province and the economy of the province from policy [that causes harm]," said Eyre, who criticized the federal government for not valuing Saskatchewan's natural resources.

She also touted the province's plans to reduce GHG emissions during a separate media blitz after the Commerce luncheon.

"On the environmental side, we have a very proud record," said Eyre. "We are very sustainable in what we do, very innovative."

She referenced the province's methane action plan released in January 2019, which aspires to reduce methane emissions by 4.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent annually by 2025. 

According to the plan, total methane emission reductions between 2020-2030 will be at least 38.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.

However, the SES said the province needs to be more ambitious with its environmental regulations and emissions targets.

"In pursuing Bill 88, the Saskatchewan government is ignoring the warnings of the UN Secretary-General and the scientific community on the urgency of reducing GHG emissions," claimed Prebble. 

Eyre stressed Wednesday that the Saskatchewan First Act does not contest exclusive jurisdiction over GHG emissions but the development of the province's natural resources.

"It's exclusive jurisdiction over the production, the exploration, the management of natural resources, and power generation," she said.

Eyre noted the language of "exclusive jurisdiction" comes directly from Section 92A of the Constitutional Act of 1867 — which assigns Saskatchewan jurisdiction over its natural resources. 

"This isn't about carving out any new powers," she said. "This isn't a new language, exclusive jurisdiction. This is about protecting the province's people and economy from policies that lead to economic harm."

The Saskatchewan First Act is among several recent moves by the province to reclaim its autonomy, including a provincial police force and a tax agency.

In December, the Saskatchewan Party introduced the Saskatchewan Revenue Agency Act in the legislature to protect the economy, industries, and jobs for residents by setting the foundation for collecting taxes.

They also introduced the Saskatchewan Firearms Act to protect law-abiding firearms owners against creeping federal overreach into the province's jurisdiction via Bill C-21.

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  • By Ezra Levant

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