Saskatchewan First Act will help in future court fights with Ottawa: Justice Minister

Prince Albert, Sask. Source: Carolyn Carleton

Saskatchewan's justice minister, while promoting a bill she touts as giving the province more autonomy, says Ottawa's actions have a larger effect on investor confidence than pushback on the legislation from Indigenous and environmental groups.

Bronwyn Eyre says the proposed Saskatchewan First Act isn't about carving new powers for the province.

“This is about protecting the people of the province and the economy of the province from policy (that causes harm),'' Eyre said Wednesday following a talk organized by the Saskatchewan and Regina Chambers of Commerce.

The legislation, which passed a second reading in November, would assert that Saskatchewan has exclusive jurisdiction over its resources and set up a tribunal to be used in future court cases.

The bill has faced significant pushback, including from the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, a group that represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan. More than 35 chiefs called for the government to scrap the bill in December, saying they were looking at legal action or blockades if the legislation was not repealed.

Eyre said she recently had a “cordial discussion'' with some chiefs, including Chief Bobby Cameron with the federation, on how the bill would not affect Indigenous rights. She has previously said Indigenous stakeholders were not consulted during preparation of the act.

The minister was also asked whether the bill is necessary, considering it doesn't change or expand the province's current jurisdictional powers, and whether investors will be dissuaded due to a lack of support for the bill from Indigenous groups and threats of protests.

Eyre responded that investors have told her Ottawa is sending mixed messages with its policies. However, Eyre added that the legislation is “not about fed-bashing for fun.''

“It's about drawing the line,'' she said.

The governing Saskatchewan Party has kept the federal Liberal government in its targets over resources and environmental policies. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pressed the province on its record for clean energy last month after Premier Scott Moe said he was not made aware of Trudeau's visit to a rare earth elements processing plant in Saskatoon.

“The federal government is very hard on the West,'' Eyre said.

She criticized Ottawa for not acting as an honourable partners in the federation.

The federal government continues to ``infringe'' on provincial jurisdiction, Eyre said, pointing to the federal carbon tax, environmental impact legislation and the expected “Just Transition'' legislation – a plan to help workers and communities thrive in a net-zero carbon economy.

The purpose of the act's tribunal would be to determine economic harm of such policies, she said, and it would have helped in scenarios such as Saskatchewan's challenge to the carbon tax. In 2021, Supreme Court of Canada ruled against Saskatchewan saying Ottawa was within its constitutional authority.

The tribunal would be independent, but the government would refer policy for a cost analysis, Eyre said. That information could be used in future cases where the province takes the federal government to court.

She said investors around the world and the United States see the importance of Saskatchewan and its resources.

“But not our own federal government.''

© 2023 The Canadian Press

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