Premier Scott Moe on May 16, 2023. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

REGINA – The government of Saskatchewan fought the federal government tooth and nail on the carbon tax, all the way to the Supreme Court. It lost, and the ever-increasing federal carbon tax is now a reality.

In its over-arching mission to reduce carbon emissions, the federal government is proposing a new “Clean Electricity Standard,” which, if enacted as currently envisioned, would mean Saskatchewan’s coal and natural gas power plants would all have to shut down, coal by 2030, and natural gas by 2035. There were several days this last winter when up to 84 per cent of Saskatchewan’s power was provided by natural gas (52 per cent) and coal (32 per cent).

To this end, the government of Saskatchewan has said it is impossible for this province to meet the Clean Electricity Standard and the federal initiative of “Net Zero by 2035.” On May 16, Moe released Saskatchewan’s strategy aiming for Net Zero by 2050.

In a related Canadian Press story, federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault noted, “Guilbeault said Wednesday that the coal regulations exist within the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and violating them would be illegal.

“’We’ve regulated the ban on coal through CEPA, which is a criminal tool that the federal government has,’ he said. ‘So not complying with this regulation would be a violation of Canada’s Criminal Code.’”

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This exchange was part of Moe’s press conference on May 16:

Pipeline Online: Premier, what happens if the federal government says no dice, you must shut down those power plants by 2035? And Supreme Court backs it? What do we do then?

Premier Scott Moe: Minister Eyre will speak to some of the legalities on it. But most certainly this, and I’m not going to answer hypotheticals with respect to this. But it’s our interpretation that these decisions on how you produce power, most certainly are in the realm of provincial jurisdiction. Now, if you compare that to the carbon taxation policy, of which there was a commitment made that that would not go above $50. So here we are today. $65, heading for $170, potentially now, ideas floated of $240-plus.

That Supreme Court decision, in that case, was very narrow, with respect to applying a backstop, where provinces, wouldn’t. We took that to the Supreme Court of Canada. Most certainly, when it comes to clean electricity regulations and how you generate power that is within the provincial jurisdiction and administrator might speak a little more to that.

Minister of Justice Bronwyn Eyre: Well, and again, I think also key to the letter and the message that we’re really putting forward. Now more than ever, you know, to the federal government, is that where there are those direct infringement on the province’s constitution, constitutional jurisdiction, it’s it really is time to make that clear, that over and over again, including most recently, with the Clean Electricity Regulations, we see an absolute infringement of provincial jurisdiction over power generation, over natural resources.

Keep in mind, too, you speak of the Supreme Court, Brian, and it is interesting in the carbon tax decision, the Chief Justice said that federalism recognizes that provinces have the autonomy to develop their economies as they see fit, and that the Constitution can’t upset the balance, and deprive provinces of the powers that are essential to their ability to control their cultural and economic destinies. That’s in the that’s in the carbon tax decision.

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And there’s nothing in the carbon tax decision that says that the federal government has carte blanche to continue to trump provincial jurisdiction, as we’re seeing with the Clean Electricity Regulations, the oil cap and on and on.

So I think it’s extremely important that, when we talk about, you know, any Supreme Court or legal context, the carbon tax decision was very clear. We have the right to forge our economic destiny. No one has told us otherwise. And so, this is an important step, today, to that end. And that’s what we’ve told the federal government and we’ll continue to tell the federal government. And if it comes to legal challenges, that will be Saskatchewan’s position. We have strong arguments around inter jurisdictional immunity, around 92A, around words that have been said about our own rights to defend ourselves economically and culturally. So, we’re pretty confident that one of these days, there has to be a recognition that federalism means something, and provinces have jurisdiction.

 

Scott Moe: I just add to that, Brian, the this is not exclusively a Saskatchewan challenge as well. We see Ontario, it was 93 – 94 per cent of the way to a net-zero grid today. But they have, as was mentioned, are bringing on 10, natural gas-fired electrical generator, generation facilities as we speak, or recently. And so, not even the province of Ontario, to my understanding, is going to be able to achieve the net-zero by 2035.

So your question is not a Saskatchewan-specific question. And I would say therein lies the opportunity for the federal government today, and as we move forward, to engage with the provinces on, you know, what is affordable, what is realistic, and what is ultimately reducing the emissions in our grid over a period of time for all Canadians, not just those in Saskatchewan. And so the opportunity, I would say, lies with the federal government. And we would hope that they take that this is not about a standoff in any way.

And I doubt whether, who knows if this would, you know, end up in a court of law. This is actually about, you know, this province, and I think others Ontario, there’s other coal fired power plants that are generating electricity in Canada today, that also have a runway to their end of life out to, you know, 2040, for example, and, and so this is an opportunity, I think, for us as Canadians to actually work together with our federal government on that affordable, reliable electricity supply across Canada. But that includes Saskatchewan.

 

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Without committing to nuclear, Saskatchewan is pretty much committing to nuclear

Saskatchewan running coal power later than 2030 would be illegal: Guilbeault

 

Saskatchewan will not meet Net Zero by 2035, but will aim for 2050