Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson does us all proud in defending the province’s constitutional right to control its natural resources.
She tweeted recently, “I will always defend Manitoba from any attempt to unilaterally strip clear provincial constitutional authority over natural resources. This needless provocation by the federal government now requires early clarification from the Justice Minister and the Prime Minister.”
Stefanson is referring to a controversial exchange involving the federal justice minister David Lametti at an Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa.
While there, the justice minister was asked about provincial jurisdiction over natural resources. One chief from Saskatchewan asked Lametti to rescind the Natural Resources Transfer Act, a long-fought agreement from the 1930s that gave control over natural resources to the three Prairie provinces.
In reply, 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.”
When asked to explain this provocation, the prime minister did what he does best – use government talking points to explain away what was clearly said in context.
Lametti’s comments succeeded in creating a united front among the Prairie provinces. On April 11th, all Prairie premiers issued a joint release condemning this provocation.
The release stated: “The Prime Minister needs to tell Canadians today that his Justice Minister was not speaking on behalf of the federal government when he said he would look at rescinding the 1930 Natural Resources Transfer Agreements with the prairie provinces and stripping away their constitutional authority and control over natural resources.
“These agreements recognized that the prairie provinces have the same rights over resources that all of the other provinces already had. Those rights have been fundamental to the people and the economic autonomy of Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba for nearly 100 years.”
Assuring Manitobans they are in control of their resources is not some academic exercise or lesson in constitutional law.
If Manitoba is to embark on serious resource development work into the future, it must be firmly in the driver’s seat, not Ottawa. Divisively obsessed with climate change theory, this federal government has shown hostility to certain (mostly western Canada based) industries. It also has a propensity for trying to pick winners and losers with mostly poor results.
On the same day the premiers issued their joint statement, they unveiled a MOU committing them to improve Western Canada’s interconnected road, rail, air and port corridors.
This brings to mind the NeeStaNan Utility Corridor project, a First Nation-led proposal to complete a shipping route through Port Nelson, Manitoba. The corridor would provide rail transportation for potash, so-called critical minerals and other Prairie commodities– to be shipped out of Northern Manitoba, rather than a longer more difficult route through the Rockies.
The project – which is an Indigenous word meaning ‘all of us’ – lays to rest concerns of the chiefs at the assembly over provincial control of natural resources. Even with natural resources under provincial control, First Nations clearly benefit from Canada’s resource bounty. This will not change. First Nations are no longer passive beneficiaries, they are equity owners and proponents.
Good on Premier Stefanson for showing leadership with the other Prairie premiers on protecting our resources. Let the era of Manitoba begin.
Joseph Quesnel is a Research Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy