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Saskatchewan First Act will help in future court fights with Ottawa: justice minister

REGINA — Saskatchewan’s Attorney General, while campaigning for legislation giving the province more autonomy, says Ottawa’s actions have had a bigger impact on investor confidence than Indigenous and environmental groups’ push back on the legislation.

Bronwyn Eyre says the proposed Saskatchewan First Act is not about creating new powers for the province.

“This is about protecting the people of the province and the economy of the province from politics (that causes harm),” Eyre said Wednesday after a call organized by the Saskatchewan and Regina Chambers of Commerce.

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

The bill has faced significant backlash, including from the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, a group representing 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan. More than 35 chiefs called on the government to scrap the law in December and said they would consider legal action or deadlocks if the law isn’t repealed.

Eyre said she recently had a “heartfelt discussion” with some chiefs, including Chief Bobby Cameron with the association, about how the law would not affect indigenous rights. She has previously said that indigenous advocacy groups were not consulted during the drafting of the law.

The minister was also asked whether the bill is necessary as it does not change or expand the province’s current jurisdictional powers and whether investors will be deterred due to a lack of support for the bill from indigenous groups and threats of protests.

Eyre responded that investors told her Ottawa was 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.

Saskatchewan’s ruling party has kept the Liberal federal government on target on resource and environmental policies. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pushed the province to its clean energy record last month after Premier Scott Moe said he was unaware of Trudeau’s visit to a rare earth processing plant in Saskatoon.

“The federal government is very tough on the West,” Eyre said.

She criticized Ottawa for not appearing as an honorable partner in the association.

The federal government “continues to violate” provincial jurisdiction, Eyre said, citing the federal carbon tax, environmental impact legislation and anticipated “Just Transition” legislation — a plan designed to help workers and communities move towards a net-zero economy. carbon economy to thrive.

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

The tribunal would be independent but the government would refer politicians for a cost analysis, Eyre said. This 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 are seeing the importance of Saskatchewan and its resources.

“But not our own federal government.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on February 1, 2023.

— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Saskatoon


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