Premier Scott Moe, responding to questions about the imminent passing of the Saskatchewan First Act later that day. Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan

NDP asked what they would do instead

REGINA – Government of Saskatchewan passed The Saskatchewan First Act on Thursday, March 16. The government press release said the act, “defends the province’s economic autonomy and potential from federal overreach.”

Introduced Nov. 1, the Act builds upon a case laid out by a white paper released by Premier Scott Moe last fall called “Drawing the Line: “Defending Saskatchewan’s Economic Autonomy.” The white paper was a not-so-subtle shot across the bow from Moe’s Saskatchewan Party government to the Justin Trudeau-led federal Liberal government.

That white paper laid out the case that federal environmental policies, in the name of preventing anthropogenic (manmade) climate change, would effectively bankrupt this province and severely impact its principle industries and power production. In it, Saskatchewan makes the case that if nine federal initiatives related to climate change are implemented, it could cost Saskatchewan as much as $111 billion dollars by 2035. And that doesn’t even include the Clean Electricity Standard. Moe discussed the white paper in depth in this interview with Pipeline Online last fall.

In a very real way, the Act is about keeping the lights on in Saskatchewan, as the impending federal Clean Electricity Standard, currently in the discussion phase, seeks to phase out fossil fuel power production by 2035.

According to SaskPower, on March 15, 86 per cent of Saskatchewan’s power production came from coal (39 per cent) and natural gas (47 per cent). Wind produced 1 per cent of total generation, just 29 megawatts, on that day. While Saskatchewan is now pursuing the development of four small modular reactors, the first won’t be online until roughly 2034. Even then, those four would only replace our coal fleet, never mind natural gas power generation.

SaskPower’s power generation on March 15, as a daily average. SaskPower

Act basically says Saskatchewan will make its own decisions and rules on environmental standards, particularly those applying to greenhouse gas emissions and power generation.

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The Saskatchewan First Act amends the Constitution of Saskatchewan to confirm Saskatchewan’s autonomy and assert Saskatchewan’s exclusive legislative jurisdiction under Section 92 (A) of the Constitution of Canada over a number of areas, including:

  • the exploration for non-renewable natural resources;
  • regulation of fertilizer use in Saskatchewan, including application, production, quantities and emissions.
  • the development, conservation and management of non-renewable natural and forestry resources; and
  • the operation of sites and facilities for the generation and production of electrical energy.

The Act will also create an independent Economic Impact Assessment Tribunal that will define, quantify, and report on the economic effects of federal initiatives on provincial investments and Saskatchewan projects, businesses and people.

“This Act protects our province from constitutional overreach by the federal government,” Justice Minister and Attorney General Bronwyn Eyre said in a release. “We will always stand up for Saskatchewan people against policies that hurt our economic potential and growth.”

Following discussions with First Nations and Métis people and organizations, amendments were introduced by Athabasca MLA Jim Lemaigre to specifically state that nothing in the Act abrogates or derogate from Aboriginal and Treaty rights, the government noted.

“Treaty rights are already enshrined and protected in all provincial legislation, as well as Section 35 of the federal Constitution Act,1982,” Eyre said. “However, I welcome the amendments from the Member from Athabasca which provide even further clarity and certainty about our government’s respect for treaty rights.”

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NDP criticism of consultation, or lack thereof

But it was exactly that – consultation with Indigenous Saskatchewanians – which drew the sharpest criticism from the official opposition New Democratic Party.

NDP Leader Carla Beck said in a release, “Our hospitals are on the verge of collapse, folks are struggling to put food on the table, and Scott Moe’s focus for the past eight months has been on a virtue-signaling bill that, according to his own Minister, doesn’t actually do anything new. It’s a distraction from his failings on healthcare, the cost of living, and job creation,” said Beck. “Moe isn’t putting the people of Saskatchewan first. This bill should be called the Sask. Party First Act.”

In question period on March 16, Beck said, “First Nations and Métis leaders were completely, completely shut out of consultations, and that Justice minister herself admitted that last night. This government has shown that they have zero respect for treaty rights and zero interest in hearing concerns and the ideas of Indigenous communities. The question: will this Premier scrap this bill and get to work rebuilding trust with First Nations and Métis people in Saskatchewan?”

Moe responded, “That is not a bill that does not in any way … disrespect in any way the treaty rights that we have in this province, nor does anyone in this Assembly.

“There is entirely respect for the treaty rights that we have in this province and across this nation. Those are respected in The Saskatchewan First Act. They were further amplified with the amendment that was put forward by the member from Athabasca.

Moe continued, “What The Saskatchewan First Act is about is ensuring that this province — whether you’re First Nations, whether you’re Métis, whether you’re non-Indigenous, a person living in Saskatchewan — that this province has the respect of infringement from the federal government so that we can all benefit, all benefit in every community from corner to corner in Saskatchewan from the strength of the natural-resource-based economy that we have, now and most certainly for our children into the future.”

The NDP said in a release, “Moe’s White Paper was discredited by experts across the political spectrum, described as weak, full of half-truths, and misleading and disingenuous. Stephen Harper’s former Deputy Chief of Staff stated that ‘it is doubtful that any government in the history of Confederation – federal, provincial, or municipal – has published something so badly written’ and described it as the ‘literary equivalent of a baby’s high-chair after a spaghetti dinner.’”

NDP Leader Carla Beck, asking about Indigenous consultation regarding the Saskatchewan First Act. Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan

The NPP said the “bill has also been universally panned by Indigenous communities who say that they were left out of the ‘consultation’ process. Yesterday, Sask. Party MLAs voted against allowing any of the over 150 Indigenous peoples present at the Legislature for committee to participate in committee and provide feedback on the bill.”

“The Sask. Party didn’t even have the respect to consult Indigenous communities when they were drafting this legislation, and it shows,” said First Nations and Métis Relations Critic Betty Nippi-Albright. “This is a government with zero regard for treaty rights and zero interest in hearing the concerns or ideas of Indigenous communities.”

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What about the act, itself?

On March 16 Pipeline Online asked NDP critic Nicole Sarauer, who has been leading the opposition’s efforts against the bill, what their position was regarding the act, itself.

She noted that the previous night, when the bill was being discussed in committee, the NDP was trying to find out from the government what the legislation actually does.

Sarauer said, “We’ve heard a lot of rhetoric from the government about what they hope it would do. But in terms of what its actual legal effect is, I think we were able to flush that out at committee last night. And they were really clear, that this bill does not add any new powers to the province, nor can it add any new powers to the province. The province cannot legislate any changes to the powers that exist in the Constitution.

“So, what exists in the contents Constitution before will continue to exist in the Constitution moving. They said last night was this legislation is a statement that they’re making. They described it as a line in the sand. The legal weight that can be attached to a statement, however, is unclear at this time. There is no precedent for being able to do something like this. They have no legal authority to say that the statement holds any legal weight, moving forward. It’s really like a legal argument that’s being made, but being put into legislation. And the validity of that and the strength of that moving forward is questionable at best,” she said.

NDP Justice Critic Nicole Sarauer. Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan

Asked about the Act’s concern with the nine climate change initiatives, and the Clean Electricity Standard, when it comes to continuing natural gas power production and keeping the lights on, Sarauer said, “But it doesn’t do that, because it cannot do that. That’s the thing. You cannot take back or claim power to something that is different from what exists in the Constitution. And they were pretty clear about that in committee last night.

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“Now, whether or not there are obvious questions that I think still remain to be answered and will continue to be fought in the courts around who has jurisdiction over some of these things, whether it should be federal jurisdiction, or provincial jurisdiction, and some of that has already been decided by the courts, like the greenhouse gas, the carbon tax decision in particular, this bill doesn’t change that. And this bill doesn’t strengthen the provinces arguments for that. Those battles will still be hashed out in the courts as they should. But just to be clear, this bill doesn’t actually give the government any of those powers.”

Asked what Saskatchewan should do if the Clean Electricity Standard is implemented and we are forced to shut down natural gas power production by 2035, Sarauer said, “If there are if there are jurisdictional questions that need to be asked, they should still be asked and they can be done through the courts. This bill does not answer that question.”

Natural gas power generation

Pressed on the possibility of being forced to shut down natural gas power generation, after seeing coal shut down, she said, “We have two choices, “If we decide that we want to continue with natural gas and the federal government says no, we can fight that that jurisdictional battle in the courts, or you fight that battle politically. Those are the two options.”

Pipeline Online asked Sarauer if the courts go along the Clean Electricity Standard to force Saskatchewan to shut down natural gas power production, what would the NDP do? If not this Act, then what?

She replied, “It doesn’t give the Saskatchewan government the power to say no. There is still the argument that I think should be made, and will be made through the courts, in terms of whether or not the federal government has the jurisdiction to do that.

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“And now we’re talking in hypotheticals. If the Supreme Court ultimately decided that yes, the federal government does have jurisdiction to do that, and now we’re speaking in hypotheticals at this point, then I think we have a really important role as legislators, both within the public and politically to push our story and our positions at the political stage at a federal level.

“One of the problems we have right now is that our current provincial government and the federal government are at such a clash and aren’t speaking to each other, that we don’t have anybody in the room, at the federal table, being able to put our case forward about our province, where our strengths are and what we need. That’s something that we need to be doing as a provincial government. And that’s something that we’re not doing as provincial government. This bill doesn’t actually help any of those issues.”

She said there’s political advantage to the provincial government to “essentially have a pissing match” with the federal government.

“And the result of that is we don’t have anybody who is giving practical advice to the federal government who’s at the table, speaking like being the adults in the room, speaking to them and telling them about what our strengths are, what our challenges are and what we need. That’s what we need in a provincial government. That’s what we’ve had historically. And there’s been times even when the NDP were in power in Saskatchewan, where we’ve had strong disagreements with the feds, but we were able to get what we needed done for Saskatchewan by being the adults in the room by being at that table by pushing Saskatchewan interests, not by having political pissing matches.”

Fertilizer emissions are now under the crosshairs of the federal government. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

Fertilizer

Another issue the Saskatchewan First Act addresses is regulation of fertilizer, with respect to greenhouse gas emissions. Asked what the NDP would do if the federal government says you must cut nitrogen fertilizer usage, Sarauer said, “Yeah, it would present a really huge challenge for Saskatchewan. But again, this bill doesn’t solve that problem.”

And how would the NDP solve it? “Well, the answer that I just gave about natural gas is the same for this one.”

“It’s super challenging. I think my beef here is that, I feel like the Sask First Act has been sold to the wider public as being the silver bullet in addressing these issues, and it’s not. And I worry about the Sask Party putting all of their eggs in this SaskPower First Act basket, and people thinking that these issues have now been solved because of the passing of the this legislation, and that’s not the case at all,” Sarauer concluded.

 

Pipeline Online provides the in-depth coverage on energy issues in this province that no other media comes close to. However, with recent threats from Facebook to block news links, it’s important to follow Pipeline Online in other manners. The easiest is to check each morning at PipelineOnline.ca, with the top story posted at 7 a.m. Monday to Friday, and additional coverage throughout the day and weekend. But you can also follow on LinkedIn and Twitter. You can follow editor Brian Zinchuk online at LinkedIn as well (you’ll see more stories that way). Finally, you can subscribe to a weekly newsletter

 

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NDP critic Aleana Young asks if the Saskatchewan First Act constitutional? Is it window dressing?

Just what does The Saskatchewan First Act do? We asked the minister behind it

Saskatchewan First Act introduced to literally keep the lights on in this province, and allow farmers to keep using nitrogen fertilizer

Saskatchewan First Act introduced to literally keep the lights on in this province, and allow farmers to keep using nitrogen fertilizer