Aleana Young, NDP MLA for Regina University. Facebook

REGINA – Is the Saskatchewan First Act window dressing? Is it unconstitutional?

These are questions NDP Regina University MLA Aleana Young is asking. She’s critic for both Energy and Resources and SaskPower. Both of those areas are key considerations specifically listed within the Saskatchewan First Act.

That act was introduced by introduced by Minister of Justice and Attorney General Bronwyn Eyre on Nov. 1, with the intention of “reasserting” Saskatchewan’s jurisdiction on resources, environmental regulation, power production and fertilizer usage. It’s the Saskatchewan Party government’s response to what it believes has been overreach by the federal government into nine different areas, all in the name of climate change.

Asked of her thoughts on the act, Young said on Nov. 7, “The bill itself has essentially three key points, by my reading.

“It reasserts that Saskatchewan has exclusive jurisdiction over exploration development, management of natural resources, forestry, power generation, and fertilizer. What the bill does, again, is it amends the Saskatchewan Act and the Constitution Act to add these provisions, essentially reasserting that exclusive legislative jurisdiction. And the last point is it establishes this Economic Impact Assessment Tribunal, which in my understanding, is going to examine and report on impacts of federal policies on Saskatchewan, and Saskatchewan’s economy in particular.

She said, “I suppose my take thus far, is two-fold. We need to stand up for Saskatchewan. We need to be the adults in the room. We need to be serious decision makers at the table, in the media, in investment meetings, making the case for Saskatchewan. And as I’ve stated previously, this province needs this all-of-the-above approach to energy development and, of course, that needs to include renewables. That needs to include innovations like lithium and helium and things like that. But this bill, in essence, does nothing new to actually help Saskatchewan people, workers or investors.”

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Young heard Eyre’s second reading speech earlier in the day, and noted the minister was careful to stress what the bill cannot change, such as the federal constitution, or things considered already in the constitution.

Young said she’s brought back to a place of genuine frustration with the federal government. There’s a real openness and desire to have a strong economy and to have a federal government that understands what that means in Saskatchewan and Western Canada, but it seems to be lacking.

“This bill, if it sought to move beyond what is already in the constitution, it would be unconstitutional, and therefore useless and irrelevant,” she said.

And that’s where Young struggled a great deal with the Act, frequently bringing up the question of if it would actually be constitutional?

“It’s a nice PR exercise at this put, but it doesn’t do anything new or practical to industries, to actually impact the areas of concern that the minister is talking about,” she said.

Asked if the bill would allow Saskatchewan to set up its own carbon offset credit market, allowing industrial greenhouse gas emitters to buy carbon credits from farmers, Young replied, “There’s nothing preventing this premier, this government, from introducing a carbon market or something like it. Other jurisdictions have had it for decades. The government doesn’t need this legislation to act in those ways. If that is the will of the Saskatchewan Party government, that’s part of their legislative agenda, that’s part of how they’re governing this province. This bill does not help or hinder that.”

But it does create these economic tribunals. She wanted to examine it in committee and debate, fleshing out what the tribunals will actually do, and what will they be empowered to do. Young said constitutional experts have called them into question. “This could be essentially a version of the much-maligned Alberta ‘war room,’ by another name,” she said.

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The legislation talks about using tribunal reports as evidence in legal proceedings.

She can’t figure out why the government is restating constitutional items, which, she notes, were established by former NDP premier Allen Blakeney and his attorney general, Roy Romanow.

“If this tribunal is essentially going to lay out economic cases that the government of Saskatchewan is already making, is already fully empowered to make, why would we, as a province, spend unknown millions of dollars, setting up an additional level of bureaucracy to essentially issue quarterly press releases?”

She said the NDP is talking with constitutional law experts.

“Whether or not this would be considered as evidence is questionable. Certainly, the government could submit it. I mean, you can submit, with relative restrictions, whatever you want. Whether or not it is considered relevant or taken is a question. I don’t know. And I think it’s an important question to be answered, whether rulings or statements from the tribunal would be counted as expert testimony by the courts. And that is a big question mark, alongside the cost and the efficacy of having a tribunal which in worst case scenario, but also very real possibility, may exist for no other reason … to be rubber stamping and championing issues that we already have a government talking about.”

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She said the doesn’t know if the bill, or part of it, is constitutional, but “No matter what legislation a provincial government introduces at a provincial level, if it’s unconstitutional, it’s unconstitutional.”

A province does have jurisdiction over those things being reasserted, she noted, but that’s pre-existing.

“If they wanted to address a real substantive way to stand up for Saskatchewan, again, I would encourage them to renew the equalization lawsuit that they dropped once (Stephen) Harper came into power.

“I said, and I continue to say that energy security, the security of our power generation is fundamentally the most important challenge that we have in this province. Yes. Does this bill do anything to address that? Unfortunately, no.”

As critic, she wants to see progress, “some movement and some real decisions made.

“But this bill, and a lot of the rhetoric around it just feels like window dressing, as opposed to real action on economic issues, which, yes, are about money, but also about people’s lives,” she said.

 

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