Saskatchewan will join as an intervenor in a case before the Supreme Court of Canada, alongside other provinces in arguing that a federal environmental law is unconstitutional.
Every other province and territory in Canada has joined the lawsuit, except for Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan said in a March 20 news release.
Alberta brought the challenge, stating the law threatens development of the province’s natural resources and gives the federal government too much power to deny or delay developments—for example, an oil sands project or a new natural gas power plant.
The case is a reference case, with the Alberta government requesting that the top court provide an advisory opinion rather than a ruling. Reference cases can shape policy direction, however.
The legal case is being fought by the provinces and territories against a bill previously known as C-69, “the no more pipelines bill,” said the province. Now renamed the Impact Assessment Act (IAA), the provinces are fighting the bill on the grounds the Trudeau government has exceeded its jurisdiction under the Constitution Act, 1867.
“Last spring, the Alberta Court of Appeal held that, with the IAA, the federal government had taken a ‘wrecking ball’ to exclusive provincial jurisdiction under 92A,” Justice Minister and Attorney General Bronwyn Eyre said in the news release.
“This is precisely the kind of continued, unconstitutional, federal infringement that led to our passing the Saskatchewan First Act. Clearly, most provinces agree that the IAA is a significant federal overreach that will stop future infrastructure and resource development in Canada.”
The IAA was proclaimed in 2019 and authorizes the federal government’s appointed regulators to determine how pipelines, mines, highways, and other major infrastructure projects may impact environmental and social issues, according to Saskatchewan.
The provinces have exclusive jurisdiction over resource development, argues Saskatchewan, and exclusive authority to develop natural resources and create provincial environment regulations.
The provinces and territories have had one success in court to date. In May 2022, in a 4–1 majority, the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled that the entire IAA and regulations were unconstitutional; however, the federal government has appealed to the top court.
The appeal court’s decision said the federal environment legislation presented an “existential threat” to provincial sovereignty, and criticized “the clear and present danger this legislative scheme presents to the division of powers guaranteed by our constitution and thus, to Canada itself.”
The Court of Appeal said provinces could be put in an “economic chokehold,” and said the legislation undermines Canada’s division of powers.
Ottawa argued it has shared jurisdiction over the environment.
Some First Nations communities have indicated they trust the federal government, and not the provinces. The Mikisew Cree and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations are acting as intervenors in support of the federal law being upheld as constitutional.
The hearing is scheduled from March 22 to March 23.
Tara MacIsaac and The Canadian Press contributed to this report.