Saskatchewan Minister of Energy and Resources Bronwyn Eyre spoke to a Senate committee about Bills C-48 and C-69 almost exactly three years ago.

 

REGINA – After striking out several times in court on the carbon tax, Alberta, with Saskatchewan at its side as an intervenor, hit it out of the park on May 10 with a ruling by the Alberta Court of Appeals. That ruling declared the Impact Assessment Act, formerly known as Bill C-69, unconstitutional.

It was a welcome relief for Saskatchewan Minister of Energy and Resources Bronwyn Eyre, who, like many of the act’s opponents, has frequently referred to it as the “No More Pipelines Bill.”

She, personally, testified before a Senate committee in Regina in 2019, providing Saskatchewan’s stance against the bill, and the tanker ban, Bill C-48. It was one of the motivating factors for the rise of activism against the federal government’s energy policies, along with the northern BC coast tanker ban. It takes a lot to get oilpatch workers riled up enough to protest, and ones of those protests in Estevan ended up with a truck convoy 14 kilometres long. That soon led to Premier Scott Moe holding a rally in Moosomin with New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, expressing their in opposition to the two bills.

Eyre spoke to Pipeline Online about the decision by phone on May 10 from Regina.

Saskatchewan was a participant in the proceedings. She said, “We had intervenor status, and it’s a very positive, hopeful, good result; four to one.

“When one considers some of the things that they said, it raises an issue of fundamental fairness. Chief Justice Fraser said, ‘Through this legislative scheme, Parliament has taken a wrecking ball to the constitutional right of the citizens of Alberta and Saskatchewan and other provinces to have their (Section) 92a natural resources developed for their benefit. It has also taken a wrecking ball to something else and that’s the likelihood of capital investment in projects vital to the economy of individual provinces.’

“And he said the division of powers exists for a reason. I should say so.

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Eyre said, “So I think on the on the jurisdictional issue, it’s very, very significant. It’s very strongly worded. And, obviously, we hope for the best now, as it’s appealed forward.

She noted, “We’ve been saying this for years. I’ve been saying this for years, have fought this a long time I addressed senators, back a few years ago, trying to raise the alarm about Bill C-69. I refused to sign the final release that came out of the ministers conference up in Nunavut.”

Eyre, in pink, speaking to a committee of senators in Regina in 2019.

At the time, then-federal Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi asked why she wasn’t signing off, as both Ontario and Saskatchewan refused. Alberta, under an NDP government at the time, did sign. “I said because of the anti competitiveness, because this changes everything. And so, we just can’t, in good conscience, sign off on this as Saskatchewan, because of the impact that it’s going to have.”

Trial balloon project popped

Last year a massive liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Quebec called Energie Saguenay was killed off, and the Impacts Assessment Act was a factor. It would have allowed export of Western Canadian gas into the Atlantic basin, which, with the war in Ukraine, is desperate for LNG.

Of that project, Eyre said, “It was a combination of this act and Quebec’s own decision, but absolutely, yes. It was a big trial balloon for this act.”

She pointed out Warren Buffett-led Berkshire Hathaway, which had committed $9 billion, had backed out of the project. Eyre used that as an example of how international global investment in Canada was down about 50 per cent, and growing, since the current Liberal government was elected to Ottawa.

“This kind of thing matters, and Bill C-69, the environmental Impact Assessment Act. These things have huge, huge effects when it comes to investor confidence, when it comes to investment.”

“Wouldn’t we all like to see a Saguenay facility being built right now? Absolutely. We’d be able to help our European partner friends.”

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To that end, the majority in the decision said, “Capital investment does not just happen, especially where the capital investment is measured in the billions, not millions of dollars. And it particularly does not happen where, as under this legislative scheme, the investing rules are uncertain, unpredictable, unquantifiable and unreliable.

“To deprive Alberta and Saskatchewan, which together have the vast majority of oil and gas reserves in this country, of their constitutional right to exploit these natural resources – especially while the federal government continues to permit the import of hundreds of millions of barrels of oil into Canada from other countries – is to reintroduce the very discrimination both provinces understood had ended, if not in 1930, then certainly by 1982. To put the extent of those imports in perspective, in 2020, a year in which consumption was reduced because of the pandemic, Canada imported more than 200,000,000 barrels of oil that year alone, representing 24.3% of total consumption of oil in this country,” the justices wrote.

Some are more equal than others

Another point of frustration has been what Eyre calls “such unequal application.”

“We saw that with Bay du Nord,” she said, a major offshore oil project approved in recent weeks by federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault. In approving it, he warned that oil projects in the future would be even harder to approve. “It would be very difficult for a new project to pass the bar,” he said, as reported by CBC on April 20.

Eyre said, “I completely support their having it. The problem is that where you start having an act, a federal act such as this one, applied there, but not on something else, and not to other important projects. You exacerbate, if that’s even possible, the investment non-confidence, that we already have a major existential crisis within this country. That’s the greatest injustice of all.”

Never good enough, it seems

She noted, “Some of the changes that they then applied; the ever-greater stringency of the Impact Assessment Act, include, for example, that projects have to be best in class or highest performing in the world. Well, we’re already best in class. We’re already best in class in Western Canada, the way produce, the way we innovate, the way we regulate, the way we extract. And so to that, everything we have to offer, really, should pass the test. But where you have a geographical inconsistency, that recent development was really shocking for us.”

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No Saskatchewan projects have been directly affected by the Impact Assessment Act yet, according to Eyre. There are 44 projects on the list “The majority of our projects, including new SAGD projects, are below the thresholds in the IAA.

“Indirectly, there are many projects,” she said, including Keystone XL or any new version of Energy East.

“There’s a huge indirect, but really direct impact on Saskatchewan, because Bill C-69 is in place,” she said.

Energy East strikes a nerve, moreso now, with the war going on and Europe desperate to get off its reliance of Russian oil and gas. It was originally planned to be in service by December 2018. “Look at where we’d be, if that had been approved. And what have we been saying all these years about how energy independence and security are important. They’re important, and would be more than ever, when it comes to energy affordability in this country.”

Going to the Supreme Court of Canada

When asked in question period by Conservative Leader of the Opposition Candice Bergen if the federal government would be getting rid of the act now, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said they would be appealing it. That appeal would be to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Asked if Saskatchewan is ready for another round at the Supreme Court, Eyre said she couldn’t speak for the justice minister on this, but noted, “We’ll be consistent, certainly, in the way we approached this. We were an intervenor in Alberta’s case, certainly, on this, on the position they took, and that’s not going to change.”

“Bill C-69 has been top of mind for all these years, for all the reasons that we’ve talked about so many times. But really, it comes down to our jurisdictional integrity,” Eyre said, pointing out the constitutional divisions on natural resources, for which provinces have control, not the federal government.

After striking out so many times on the carbon tax in court, does it feel good to get a hit now, on C-69?

“Absolutely, it does,” Eyre said. “And you know what it leaves one with? It is the importance of fight. It’s important to not get the moralized but to continue to fight the good fight.

“This country has a constitutional structure, that constitutional structure either means something or it doesn’t.

“And the whole way this is played out; the ministerial discretion that continues, for example, to create huge uncertainty when it comes to this act, the geographical inconsistency. That’s just bad news for us, as a country. That’s bad news for us, for investment. It’s demoralizing for the West, and obviously very demoralizing for us when you see that seeing that play out.

She concluded, “We just have to keep fighting.”

 

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Trudeau says feds will appeals court decision throwing out the Impact Assessments Act

Alberta Appeal Court says federal environmental impact law not OK