OTTAWA, REGINA – Last week, two things happened that could have profound impacts on natural resources development in Saskatchewan. One is a hint the federal government might want to take control of natural resources away from the provinces, and the other is the Saskatchewan government’s assertion that it’s not going to happen.
And now, Premier Scott Moe is up in arms about comments made by the federal justice minister about this very thing, as is Alberta Premier Danielle Smith.
On April 5, federal Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti was speaking to the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly, in Ottawa. The event was focused on a national action plan to address the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
During a panel at the assembly, Justice Minister David Lametti was asked by two people about provincial jurisdiction over natural resources. Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte from Prince Albert Grand Council asked Lametti to “rescind the act, The Natural Resource Transfer Act, that affect the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. That’s what we’re asking you, minister as and action item with a statement. It affects our treaty rights, of course, under the Sask First Act, that we hear about. And it’s to do with natural resources. Indian natural resources.”
Chief Don Maracle of Mohawks of Bay of Quinte said, “Canada exports natural resources to other countries. They earn trillions of dollars in revenues from those resources. Those resources were given to the provinces, without ever asking one Indian if it was okay to do that, or what benefits the First Nations expect to receive by Canada consenting to that arrangement.”
In response, Lametti said, “I take from Chief Brian and Chief Don Maracle the point about the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement … You’re on the record for that. I obviously can’t pronounce on that right now. But I do commit to looking at that.
“It won’t be uncontroversial, is the only think I would say, with a bit of a smile,” Lametti said.
These comments got a sharp reaction out of Premier Scott Moe, who tweeted on morning of April 10, “The federal Justice Minister says he will look at taking control over natural resources away from the provinces. It’s an outrageous statement. Read my response below.”
That statement by Moe said:
“These dangerous and divisive comments from the federal Justice Minister are a threat to the unity of our country.
“The federal Justice Minister says he will look at rescinding the 1930s Natural Resources Transfer Agreements that gave control over natural resources to Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba. This is an outrageous and ill-informed comment, as those agreements and the provinces’ control over natural resources have been entrenched in the Canadian constitution since 1930.
“On what basis does the federal Justice Minister think he has the authority to unilaterally strip Saskatchewan and the other western provinces of our constitutional authority over our natural resources?
“Saskatchewan has always had reason to be concerned about this federal government’s agenda to infringe on provincial jurisdiction and autonomy, and we will be relentless in defending our jurisdiction and autonomy.
“The Prime Minister needs to immediately tell his Justice Minister he has no business even speculating about rescinding western provinces’ constitutional authority to control our natural resources.”
Reacting to Moe’s tweet, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith tweeted, ““I just received word that the Federal Justice Minister may attempt to rescind the 1930 Natural Resources Transfer Agreement with the prairie provinces. This would pose an unprecedented risk to national unity and Alberta condemns this federal threat in the strongest possible terms. I will be contacting Premiers Scott Moe and Heather Stefanson to discuss next steps and call on the Prime Minister to immediately have his Justice Minister retract and apologize for these comments immediately.”
This perceived threat over control over natural resources was a driving factor behind the Saskatchewan First Act. And that was the second major item on this file to take place last week. The Saskatchewan First Act was proclaimed into law on Thursday, April 6, coincidentally the day after Lametti’s remarks to the Assembly of First Nations. While a bill may pass the legislature on a particular date, as the Saskatchewan First Act did on March 16, it is not the law of the land until it has been proclaimed.
While its short form title is “The Saskatchewan First Act,” its full name implies the action it means to take. And that name is “An Act to Assert Saskatchewan’s Exclusive Legislative Jurisdiction and to Confirm the Autonomy of Saskatchewan.”
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 has been criticized by First Nations groups, citing a lack of consultation and infringement of inherit treaty rights. The Federation of Saskatchewan Indigenous Nations has threatened blockades and legal action, as seen in this report by Global News on March 19. Chief Bobby Cameron even threatened that it would be “Like they did in the Oka crisis in the 90s.”
Pipeline Online spoke to Saskatchewan Justice Minister and Attorney General Bronwyn Eyre on March 17, posing the fundamental question: What will you do next?
Eyre responded at the time, “The next step is establishment of the economic tribunal. The economic tribunal is a crucial part of The Saskatchewan First Act. It’s an independent tribunal, which will look at the economic harm and impact of federal policies. So, bottom line, its job, its sole job, is to put a dollar figure on the federal policy it is considering.”
By late afternoon on April 10, Canadian Press reporter Jeremy Simes tweeted a response from Lametti’s office. It stated, “The Natural Resources Transfer Act was originally raised during a meeting with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations. The Minister simply committed to looking into it when asked.
When Grand Chief Hardlotte asked to put the question on the record in main plenary at the SCA, the Minister said he cannot pronounce on it, but agreed to take this back to his colleagues. The Act does not fall within Minister Lametti’s responsibilities.”
Brian Zinchuk is editor and owner of Pipeline Online, and an occasional contributor to the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. He can be reached at email@example.com.