Provincial autonomy advocates rejoiced after Saskatchewan passed Bill 88, The Saskatchewan First Act, to reiterate areas of provincial jurisdiction, particularly resource development.
"This is a major step in defending our economic potential from federal overreach while we continue to build a strong and growing economy that benefits everyone in Saskatchewan," tweeted Premier Scott Moe.
"That's growth that works for everyone."
Saskatchewan's justice minister previously accused Ottawa of causing significant harm to investor confidence and reaffirmed the Act does not seek to override Canada's Constitution.
She criticized the feds for not valuing the development of Saskatchewan's resources. At the same time, investors worldwide and in the United States see its importance.
Now, the minister is reaffirming her stance on the fed's fertilizer targets, lauding Bill 88 as a tool to defend farmers.
The Act would reinforce provincial jurisdiction over things like "the regulation of fertilizer use in Saskatchewan, including application, production, quantities and emissions," said Justice Minister Bronwyn Eyre.
"This is about protecting the people of the province and the economy of the province from policy [that causes harm]."
The Act passed a second reading in November and asserts Saskatchewan has exclusive jurisdiction over its resources per section 92A. It also sets up an independent tribunal for future court cases on resource development matters.
Eyre explained how fertilizer regulations could be disastrous for an agriculture-rich province like Saskatchewan, reiterating the legislation is "not about fed-bashing for fun."
"It's about drawing the line," she said, adding Ottawa is not acting as an 'honourable partner' in the federation.
However, Agriculture Canada contends that farmers are on the front lines of climate change and are already taking action to improve resilience and enhance profitability while reducing emissions.
"Our government continues to support the agricultural sector's efforts to become more and more sustainable by investing in practices that are effective in reducing emissions and regenerating soil," said Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau.
Since 2021, the Government of Canada has announced more than $1.5 billion in climate-action initiatives for the agriculture sector, including strengthening support for the Agricultural Clean Technology Program and the On-Farm Climate Action Fund, which includes a focus on nutrient management.
"Fertilizers are an essential input for Canada's crops," said Agriculture spokesperson Simon Lafortune. "However, synthetic fertilizer creates a potent greenhouse gas about 300 times stronger than carbon dioxide."
"Emissions from fertilizer use are the only category of Canada's agricultural emissions projected to rise significantly through 2030 under business-as-usual conditions."
"Tackling this challenge is necessary to ensure that the agriculture sector continues to grow while contributing to Canada's climate change goals," reads a federal government release.
Eyre explained there is a cross-referencing between federal powers and provincial powers over agriculture.
"There always has been. It's a little bit unique, in that regard, in contrast to, for example, natural resources," said Eyre.
"This is important, though. The day-to-day business of farming and fertilizer use has always been within the provincial realm."
Eyre cited Agriculture Canada documents which reference the potential to "mandate or prohibit the use of a specific agricultural practice to efficiently and significantly scale up the adoption of practices or technologies that currently have low levels of adoption."
To date, Ottawa submits that a 30% fertilizer emission reduction target was "voluntary" for farmers.
However, an exclusive True North report revealed Ottawa flirted with heavy-handed approaches, including a carbon tax-like "regulatory backstop" on the agriculture industry.
"It suggested that certain practices could be prohibited," said Eyre.
"So, it does have potential Sask First implications. And so it's one of many things we're looking at, in terms of what would go through the Sask First tribunal hopper, as it were."
"There's a very good example of economic harm," said Eyre, who pointed to the fertilizer reduction targets as causing significant harm for farmers.
Stuart Smyth, associate professor in agricultural and resource economics, claimed Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) did not use factual information when setting a 30% fertilizer reduction target.
"If they're just looking at total pounds used … with the amount of land we're farming, the only way we'd achieve that is to farm less land or use less fertilizer," said Smyth. "There's more fertilizer used because we're farming more acres."
The Saskatchewan study includes baseline data by comparing information on fertilizer use from about 70 farmers across 1991/94 and 2016/19.
During those two periods, fertilizer use increased by 44% when farmers converted 7.2 million acres of summer fallow to crop production, with total crop production rising from 1.3 billion bushels to 2.1 billion bushels.
While farmers used more fertilizer, they applied it differently, using in-crop and with-seed applications at different rates.
They also sequestered carbon and reduced emissions by removing summer fallow.
The concerns from academics come months after Agriculture Canada announced its Sustainable Agriculture Strategy (SAS), which renewed its commitment to bolster agriculture's "environmental performance and sustainability."
The feds desire the industry to "remain competitive" in a net-zero environment by promoting climate resiliency.