Saskatchewan will use Sask First Act to challenge federal overreach in court, says justice minister

'This is about protecting the people of the province and the province's economy from policy [that causes harm],' says Justice Minister Bronwyn Eyre.

Saskatchewan will use Sask First Act to challenge federal overreach in court, says justice minister
The Canadian Press / Michael Bell
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On Wednesday, Saskatchewan’s justice minister accused Ottawa of significantly harming investor confidence more than pushback on pro-autonomy legislation from Indigenous and environmental groups.

Minister Bronwyn Eyre 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.

The Act passed a second reading in November 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.

However, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, representing 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, disagreed with the legislation. Over 35 chiefs called for the province to repeal the bill in December; otherwise, they would seek legal recourse.

Eyre claimed to have had a "cordial discussion" with some chiefs, including Chief Bobby Cameron with the federation, on how the bill would not affect Indigenous rights. She admitted her government did not consult Indigenous stakeholders before pursuing this legislation.

When asked whether the bill is necessary, the minister responded that investors had told her that Ottawa is sending mixed messages with its policies. However, Eyre reiterated that the legislation is "not about fed-bashing for fun."

"It’s about drawing the line," she said.

Tensions between the Trudeau Liberals and the governing Saskatchewan Party flared in January after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau failed to inform the Premier's Office he would be touring a rare-earth minerals processing plant in Saskatoon.

The Feds also pressed the province on its record for clean energy last month, to which Premier Scott Moe replied that he hopes to hear a commitment from Trudeau soon.

Eyre claims the federal government is "very hard" on the West. She even criticized Ottawa for not acting as an honourable partner in the federation. 

Eyre also claimed that they continue to "infringe" on provincial jurisdiction, pointing to the federal carbon tax, environmental impact legislation, and the expected "Just Transition" legislation — a plan to transition entire sectors of the economy to embrace net-zero ecological impacts.

According to a leaked federal memo, prospective "Just Transition" legislation could eliminate 2.7 million jobs or approximately 13.5% of the Canadian workforce across agriculture, energy, manufacturing, and transportation.

But according to the Saskatchewan First Act, its proposed tribunal would determine the economic harm of such policies, and it would help in scenarios such as Saskatchewan’s challenge to the carbon tax.

In March of 2021, the Supreme Court upheld the federal carbon tax in a 6-3 decision despite legal challenges from Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said her Alberta Sovereignty Act Within a United Canada has similar aims to challenge the constitutionality of federal legislation with perceived harm to her province without subverting Supreme Court rulings.

Smith said last fall that she would consider relitigating Canada's Supreme Court on their federal carbon tax ruling upon receiving new information, according to legal advice she received. 

"We have new information. We have a war in Ukraine. We have a global world increase in prices. We have global instability. We have an affordability crisis."

Eyre said the Act's tribunal would be independent, but the government would refer to the policy for cost analysis in cases where the province takes the federal government to court. 

She criticized the Feds for not valuing the development of Saskatchewan's resources while adding that investors worldwide and in the United States see its importance.

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