PSCI prof. questions where intentions lay with Moe’s new white paper  

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Banking on more supporters for the next election. Eric Brochu via Flickr

No Indigenous consultation, uncredible data 

The Sask. Party introduced the Saskatchewan First Act on November 1. According to an announcement by the provincial government, the Saskatchewan First Act will “confirm Saskatchewan’s autonomy and exclusive jurisdiction over its natural resources.”

The Act will attempt to amend the Constitution of Saskatchewan to confirm the province’s “sovereign autonomy.” Specifically, the legislation will assert the province’s jurisdiction over the exploration and development of non-renewable natural resources, forestry, and the “operation of sites and facilities for the generation and production of electrical energy.” 

The Saskatchewan First Act has its own motto: ‘drawing the line.’ The Sask. Party has long claimed that the federal government’s environmental regulations encroach on the province’s right to explore and develop natural resources, especially in the oil and gas sector. The message is clear: the Saskatchewan government is drawing the line against Trudeau’s carbon tax and other green strategies to reduce carbon emissions.  

The legislation derives much of its content from a white paper released by the Sask. Party in October. The white paper caused controversy for its provocative rhetoric and dubious economic claims – a phenomenon unofficially named “Moe math.”  

The white paper claims that the federal government interferes “in the province’s jurisdiction over natural resources under the guise of federal environmental regulation.” Further, this interference causes serious economic damage to Saskatchewan: “If this continues it will have an extremely detrimental impact, costing Saskatchewan’s economy $111 billion by 2035.” This figure has been widely disputed by nonpartisan analysts, economists, and various journalists. But the math may not matter. Political theatre rallies the base far better than numbers do. 

Garry Ewart, a political science professor at the University of Regina, sat for an interview with the Carillon to discuss the white paper. “It’s basically saying that we [Saskatchewan] are an equal partner with Canada under the constitution, […] it’s designed to put forth that autonomy in Saskatchewan,” Ewart said. “This white paper was possibly bound to happen with the animosity between the provincial and the federal governments ever since the Supreme Court ruling on the carbon tax. Ever since that, there’s been uneasiness.” 

Commenting on the provocative rhetoric used in the white paper, Ewart said “It has hit an all-time high for rhetoric between the province and the federal government, […] ‘Drawing the line,’ as they say.” But the Sask. Party may also be feeling pressure within the province, too. Ewart went on to say that “With the political landscape in Saskatchewan, you have the rise of other parties, like the Buffalo Party, and so on. I think, to some extent, that is why the [Sask. Party] is trying to keep those votes from going to other parties by appealing to a broader group of people.”  

With this in mind, the white paper seems to make a little more sense. The white paper’s purpose is for the provincial government to reassert jurisdiction over Saskatchewan’s natural resources. But in reality, the provincial government is attempting to reassert jurisdiction over something it already controls.

Again, Ewart thinks many of the claims in the white paper are about politics: “These are already issues that are within the provincial jurisdiction. So, a lot of it is, I would say, purely political. And, again, to get their base of people and other groups to come back into the [Sask. Party’s] political frame.” 

Regarding the dubious math in the document, Ewart stated that the Sask. Party may be willing to risk credibility to arouse a strong reaction from its base. The white paper claims federal environmental regulations will cost the Saskatchewan economy $111 billion by 2035. Even though this figure has been disputed, that may not be the point. Ewart said “It’s a number that would make people take notice, even if it is wrong. The issue now is that the onus is on opposition groups and the opposition party to prove that that number is wrong.” 

The fundamental issue in the white paper is natural resources and the question of who actually controls them. Ironically, the white paper makes no mention of First Nations, who undeniably have prime stake in the natural resources of Saskatchewan. Ewart emphasized time and again that this is an inexcusable oversight by the Sask. Party: “One comment that I mentioned but can’t say enough is that First Nations Peoples were not mentioned or consulted.”  Mostly politics, little substance; the white paper’s lack of credibility and its bold rhetoric makes it more like demagoguery than reliable economic policy. “It’s an interesting document, but I think it will fade with time,” Ewart concluded

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