Saskatchewan, Alberta lead charge against Supreme Court appeal of Bill C-69

In May, the Alberta Court of Appeal (ACA) found the Environmental Impact Assessment Act and its regulations threatened the ability of provinces to develop their natural resources by a court ruling of 4-1. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appealed the ACA decision to the Supreme Court of Canada soon after.

Saskatchewan, Alberta lead charge against Supreme Court appeal of Bill C-69
The Canadian Press / Nathan Denette
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Saskatchewan and Alberta are leading the charge in contesting Ottawa's "no more pipelines" bill in court this week. All other provinces and territories are also participating, excluding Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.

On Wednesday and Thursday, both provinces will plead their case in the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC), arguing the federal Environmental Impact Assessment Act (IAA) violates Section 92A of the Constitution Act and oversteps into provincial jurisdiction. 

The IAA, known as Bill C-69, authorized federal government regulators to examine the effects of any significant infrastructure project, such as highways, mines, and pipelines, for environmental impact and social issues.

In May, the Alberta Court of Appeal (ACA) found the IAA and its regulations threatened the ability of provinces to develop their natural resources by a court ruling of 4-1.

"Last May, Alberta's Court of Appeal ruled that the Impact Assessment Act was unconstitutional in a 4-1 decision. Seven other provinces are joining Alberta as interveners in this case and to defend provincial rights," said Alberta Justice Minister Tyler Shandro on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appealed the ACA decision to the SCC soon after.

"Alberta began the fight against this Act while it was still a bill before Parliament, and we will continue to use every tool available to stand up for Albertans' interests," continued Shandro. 

"Alberta is speaking up for a strong provincial and national economy and pushing back against federal intrusion on provincial jurisdiction."

"Last spring, the Alberta Court of Appeal held with the IAA, the federal government had taken a 'wrecking ball' to exclusive provincial jurisdiction under 92A," said Saskatchewan's Justice Minister Bronwyn Eyre on Monday.

Eyre previously accused Ottawa of causing significant harm to investor confidence and reaffirmed the Act does not seek to override Canada's Constitution.

"This is about protecting the people of the province and the province's economy from policy [that causes harm]," she said.

The Act became law on March 16 and asserts Saskatchewan has exclusive jurisdiction over its resources per section 92A. It also sets up a tribunal for future court cases on resource development matters.

"Most provinces agree that the IAA is a significant federal overreach that will stop future infrastructure and resource development in Canada," continued Eyre.

On March 22, Alberta will present its arguments to the SCC regarding the federal IAA as part of a two-day hearing, confirmed Shandro on Tuesday.

"This — no more pipelines — the Act threatens the long-term economic prosperity of our province, our energy industry and the entire country. We want to grow investment in Alberta, not have it driven away by unbalanced, unpredictable new rules for major projects."

Shandro concurred with Eyre, stating the Act not only harms the economy but also violates the exclusive constitutional jurisdiction of provinces and territories to control the development of their natural resources.

"This is the continued, unconstitutional federal infringement that led to our passing of the Saskatchewan First Act," according to the Saskatchewan government. 

"Saskatchewan's position is this federal legislation constitutes an unconstitutional infringement of exclusive provincial jurisdiction in resource development." 

Under the Constitution Act, provinces have exclusive jurisdiction over the development of natural resources, including their provincial environmental regulation.

In his address Tuesday, Shandro noted that Alberta contributed $400 billion more to federal coffers than it has received in federal spending over the past quarter-century.

"In 2021, Alberta was the only province that made a positive net fiscal contribution to the federation," he said.

"Albertans paid $394 million more in taxes to the federal government than they received in federal spending. Any damage to the Alberta economy caused by the 'No More Pipelines' act will be felt nationwide."

Before Christmas, Ottawa quietly increased equalization payments to 'have-not' Quebec, Manitoba, Ontario and the Maritime provinces next year. Taxpayers there can expect $23.96 billion in equalization payments — a $2 billion increase from 2022/23.

Equalization is a federal program that addresses fiscal disparities among provinces, transferring tax dollars collected by Ottawa from across the country to 'have-not' provinces which they can spend however they deem fit.

It is funded entirely by the federal government and aims to let poorer regions offer similar service levels at similar taxation levels as richer ones.

Trudeau's Finance Minister, Chrystia Freeland, said that Quebec would receive the most at $14.04 billion, while Manitoba would get $3.51 billion. Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island (PEI) will receive $2.8 billion, $2.63 billion, and $561 million, respectively, while Ontario gets $421 million.

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