Environmental watchdog slams Sask. First Act, warns it could jeopardize UN pledges

Environmental watchdog slams Sask. First Act, warns it could jeopardize UN pledges

The Saskatchewan Environmental Society has taken a firm stance against proposed Bill 88, also known as the Saskatchewan First Act.

The provincial government introduced the law last fall, calling it an assertion of the province’s exclusive jurisdiction over natural resources and other rights. Although the second reading was passed, the law is not yet law.

Peter Prebble, an SES board member, said the group was concerned about language in the bill, which could be used to block federal government initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“The Saskatchewan government is essentially saying that it wants exclusive authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in every sector of Saskatchewan’s economy,” Prebble said.

“This is a big change from the current tradition, which essentially consists of the government of Canada and each provincial government sharing responsibility for setting environmental standards.”

Prebble said SES is “very concerned” that Saskatchewan will end up having weaker greenhouse gas emissions regulations than other jurisdictions in the country.

He added that this could affect Canada’s United Nations commitment to cut nationwide greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The province touts a “strong record” on the environment

Provincial Attorney General Bronwyn Eyre addressed the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce on Bill 88 during a lunchtime presentation at the hotel on Wednesday.

In a subsequent conversation with the media, Eyre pointed to Saskatchewan’s current plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“On the environmental side, we have a very proud record,” said Eyre. “We are very sustainable in what we do, very innovative.”

Eyre cited the example of the province’s Methane Action Plan, released in January 2019, which aims to reduce methane emissions by 4.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent annually by 2025.

According to the plan, the total reduction in methane emissions between 2020 and 2030 will be at least 38.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Saskatchewan Attorney General Bronwyn Eyre addresses the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce on Bill 88 during a lunchtime presentation at a hotel in downtown Regina on Wednesday. (Adam Bent/CBC)

The SES acknowledged that while the province has environmental regulations and emissions targets, it believes they are not ambitious enough.

“In pursuing Bill 88, the Saskatchewan government is ignoring warnings from the UN Secretary-General and the scientific community about the urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Prebble said.

In 2017, the provincial government released Prairie Resilience, a “Made in Saskatchewan” climate change strategy with more than 40 commitments to address climate change.

The government has targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in some specific sectors of Saskatchewan’s economy, but no provincial target for 2030.

No new powers “work out”: Eyre

Eyre also emphasized Wednesday that the Saskatchewan First Act is not about exclusive jurisdiction over greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s exclusive responsibility for production, exploration, natural resource management and also power generation,” she said.

Eyre pointed out several times that the language regarding exclusive jurisdiction stems directly from Section 92A of the Constitution Act 1867 – which already gives Saskatchewan jurisdiction over its natural resources.

“This is not about carving out new powers,” Eyre said.

“This is not new language, not exclusive jurisdiction. It is about protecting the people of the province, the economy of the province, from policies that lead to economic damage.”

Concerns about language within the law have also been raised by Indigenous leaders.

In December, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations announced protests should the province go ahead with legislation.

“We have mandates from the Chiefs in Assembly to move forward legally [and] politically,” FSIN chief Bobby Cameron said on December 16, 2022.

“We are close to the point where we will begin the blockade.”

The Saskatchewan First Act is one of several recent moves by the provincial government to push for more autonomy, including the possible creation of a new police force and a new method of collecting taxes.

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