Alberta’s latest case against the federal government began in Alberta’s Court of Appeal on Monday, with the province arguing Ottawa overstepped its jurisdiction when it implemented a new federal assessment law it says is unconstitutional.
At the heart of the case is the Impact Assessment Act, formerly Bill C-69, which allows the federal government to consider the impacts of new resource projects on issues such as climate change. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney routinely criticizes the legislation, which the province says is a “Trojan Horse” that attempts to override provincial powers through a back door, thus eroding control over who has the final regulatory say over natural resource and infrastructure projects.
While Alberta and Canada are the two main parties in the case, 18 interveners are also set to make their arguments to the court this week.
The list includes the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the provinces of Ontario and Saskatchewan, which support Alberta, and various environmental and legal groups siding with Ottawa.
Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage told The Globe and Mail in an e-mail the Impact Assessment Act is an “unprecedented power grab” that interferes with the ability of provinces to develop their natural resources – a right enshrined under Section 92A of the Constitution.
Such a violation of Alberta’s constitutional jurisdiction will “drive away the investment needed to create jobs for both Canada and Alberta’s economic recovery,” she said.
Moira Kelly, press secretary to federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, countered that the new rules provide certainty to businesses and investors.
“This legislation was built with Canadians to ensure good projects go ahead in a sustainable way,” she said.
“Premier Kenney and [federal Conservative Leader] Erin O’Toole want to weaken rules that protect people and the environment. Another taxpayer-funded legal challenge will do nothing to advance economic growth and good-paying jobs in Alberta nor will it build a sustainable industry.”
Alberta lawyer Bruce Mellett told the court Monday the province has no problem with projects being subject to environmental, economic, social or other impact assessments. “These are all reasonable ideas incorporated already in comprehensive provincial assessment regimes,” he said.
Instead, Alberta’s objection is that the Impact Assessment Act imposes a review in areas “where there is no basis of federal jurisdiction,” and subjects projects to an “expansive review through a federal lens.”
“It means that the decision on, for example, an in-situ oil sands project in Alberta or a power plant in Saskatchewan or a highway in Ontario ultimately may be made not in Edmonton or Regina or Toronto, but in Ottawa,” he said.
That, he said, “represents a legislative disregard for our federalism principles, and a disrespect for provincial autonomy.”
“It is a legislative effort to take from provincial governments the ultimate say over whether significant resource and infrastructure activities and projects will be permitted to proceed and to subject those projects to federal priorities.”
The federal government is slated to respond to Alberta’s arguments later this week.
MiningWatch Canada, Nature Canada and Environmental Defence Canada are also intervening in the hearings.
“People across Canada deserve a robust impact review process that safeguards the long-term health of our communities while allowing good projects to be built,” Julia Levin of Environmental Defence said in a statement.
“This is yet another baseless attack from the Government of Alberta against measures meant to tackle the climate crisis – as were the attacks on carbon pricing, environmental activists and more.”
With a report from The Canadian Press
We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.