Having watched the saga of the S.F.A. wending its way through the Marble Palace, and now seeing it become sanctioned into Saskatchewan law as Bill 88, I’m becoming even more worried as to what environmental concerns this bill might eventually wrought upon the province.
More worrisome, however, is the doggerel its contents contain. Once any Saskatchewan Party legal team fails to defend its very existence before Canada’s Supreme Court – and that most assuredly will happen – I’m worried its language will deteriorate the value of a University of Saskatchewan Law degree, which many of my friends and even former students now hold.
The many lawyers that closet themselves in isolated offices along Central Avenue shouldn’t take umbrage with my concern; in fact, my daughter holds one of these degrees. However, if you read the text finally crafted by our Minister of Justice, Bronwyn Eyre, you may now start to wonder as to how she even managed to argue a case in her Moot Court presentations, not to mention start speculating as to the various reasons she may have had in not following up on her degree by articling and then taking the Bar Exam. She has NEVER been a member of the Law Society of Saskatchewan, so the only question one needs ask Premier Moe is, “Why was she appointed Minister of Justice in the first place?”
It’s not hard to understand why it is that this Bill is receiving such flak, even before considering Ms. Eyre’s part in both drafting and then promoting its implementation. Bailey Sutherland provided one of Saskatchewan’s more comprehensive reports in the Bill’s passage in Thursday’s Herald. To even suggest that its opening statement, “The Sask. Party government is facing backlash from all sides following the passing of the Saskatchewan First Act…” is prejudicial to the government defies reality. The “Who’s Who” list of organizations lining up to condemn the Bill includes not only the NDP opposition, but every environmental group active in the province, various hunting and fishing outfitters, as well as the FSIN and Metis Nation – Saskatchewan.
Indigenous leaders simply believe that the provincial government has no legal standing in the Bill’s assertion to claim exclusive jurisdiction by the province over the economic exploitation of natural resources, much less deny their people access to the economic benefits derived from such activities. They have a point; the Treaties defining their rights over Saskatchewan lands were signed well before Saskatchewan became a member of the Confederation in 1905, and throughout the endless negotiations that have followed their implementation, the contention that the Treaties only intended to provide settlers to the lands to till the soil for agricultural purposes has never satisfactorily resolved in court.
Equally egregious to First Nation leaders is the fact that the Natural Resources Transfer Act of 1930, passed so as to give Canada’s four western provinces jurisdiction of Crown lands and resources to the provinces did not include consultation with Indigenous leaders, which in itself makes the constitutionality of that Act itself questionable. Equally annoying to Indigenous leaders was that even when Section 92 of Canada’s Constitution was updated in 1982 to confirm transfer of such jurisdictional rights to the provinces, there was STILL disagreement as to whether these provinces even wanted to fully eliminate any form of federal involvement in such rights, which then begs the question: does Bill 88 merely state the obvious and as such is an innocuous piece of legislation that will have no effect whatsoever on matters particularly affecting resource management as now being practised in the province, or is it simply a propagandist piece of provincial oratory attempting to put the province on an “equal footing of power” with the federal government, which in a Confederation such governments have no right to claim unless offered by the central government itself?
Neither Premier Moe nor his Minister of Justice will attempt to answer this question, of course. Ms. Eyre’s response is particularly noteworthy for its mere mention of conflict existing between both levels of government; “This Act protects our province from constitutional overreach by the federal government,” a parroting of the premier’s oft-stated reason as to why the Bill is necessary, yet without actually “defining” HOW the federal government is “overreaching”.
Voters, however, are fully aware of economy realities that are confronting the Moe government, and for which they have no answer. Simply put, the province is broke, and there are no job prospects on the horizon save for those that might be possibly available should a resource-based company choose to develop a business profile in the province. In the past fifteen years, however, the government has seen how various governmental levels having chosen to limit public consultation has only succeeded in delaying the start-up of such business ventures and have now taken it upon themselves to place the “blame” for such delay upon the federal government’s so-called “unreasonable” demands for the protection of the land and citizen rights, thereby giving the companies proposing such development exactly what they want, thus prostituting the entire process for the “quick fix” of much needed jobs and tax relief to stem the existing bleeding of its budgetary deficit.
The reality is, there isn’t any enforceable way for the provincial government to simply deny the federal government a legal standing in any such development, particularly those involving the resource sector. When the federal government is brought into the project as a partnership, the province has no legal standing to deny them a say as to how that business shall be run. On the other hand, should some form of industrial or environmental catastrophe occur, be it even accidental in nature, the moment the environmental effects transcends jurisdictional boundaries, be it leakage from tailing ponds or oil spills affecting Indigenous lands, groundwater safety or even exportation of such damage into international jurisdiction (such as, say, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster, the Exxon Valdez spillage of oil into Prince William Sound, or even the fire that turned half of Fort McMurray into ashes, disrupting air quality in western Canada for days), the federal government will be involved, whether the province likes it or not.
What’s really disturbing about the pettiness that underlies the very reason for the existence of this Bill is that SHOULD there be a disaster coming from such development of any major consequence, not even the province of Ontario has the capacity to absorb the cost of rehabilitating environmental recovery without the assistance of the federal government.
In other words, Bill 88 is just Saskatchewan’s way of pretending it can win an economic fight with Ottawa, and establish its business practices without due regard to the concerns of others. As such, Ms. Eyre is attempting to produce something that means nothing, changes nothing and only results in our economic environment worsening over the remaining years we’re stuck with a Saskatchewan Party government.
Is Bill 88 really worth that much?