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opinion

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe speaks during a media event on the University of Saskatchewan campus in Saskatoon on June 28.Liam Richards/The Canadian Press

A month ago, this page lamented a disappearing breed, the serious politician who is unafraid to tell voters that there are no simple answers to complex questions.

Instead, Canada and the world has seen a steady rise of the unserious politician, the ones for whom partisan antagonism is in every moment their first priority.

Last week, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe presented what he claimed was a serious analysis of how federal climate rules will hurt his province. But it was in fact the opposite, a threadbare and mathematically halfwitted sketch that was brutally panned. The episode was much like, earlier this year, the widely lambasted “sovereignty act” put forth by the new and embattled premier of Alberta, Danielle Smith.

In both cases, the Prairie premiers made a basic mistake: They conflated what are ordinary provincial-federal policy debates and disagreements with accusations of Ottawa’s undue constitutional overreach. It is akin to shouting “fire” when nothing is ablaze.

Mr. Moe’s insurgency began a year ago on Twitter and talk radio. He said his province of 1.1 million “needs to be a nation within a nation,” so it could “stand up” against Ottawa.

Last week, Mr. Moe elaborated in a 24-page document dubbed “Drawing the Line: Defending Saskatchewan’s Economic Autonomy.” It came with six pages that tallied the cost of federal climate policies for the province at $111-billion over the dozen years from 2023 to 2035. In Mr. Moe’s calculus, to defend Saskatchewan’s oil, potash and farming businesses, the province needs to “protect” its constitutional rights, have more say over immigration, and “prepare to take legal actions” to “maintain control” over its economy.

The math – from the province’s finance ministry – was abysmal. It counted only costs, ignored potential benefits and supposed that climate policies will suck 14 per cent out of Saskatchewan’s forecast GDP in 2035. That’s a lot more than a report for the Saskatchewan government in 2017 that said climate rules would barely affect economic growth.

You know when the occasional movie gets laughably bad reviews – Cats being a recent one? Well, this was kind of like that, for economists. The language was … frank. Trevor Tombe of the University of Calgary said the analysis was “incredibly weak” and called the GDP forecast “insane and completely un-credible.” Economist Brett Dolter at the University of Regina called the claims “half-truths” and said, if he was grading the paper, it would be “dripping with red ink.” Joel Bruneau, head of the economics department at the University of Saskatchewan, said it was a “transparent attempt to undermine support for climate change policies rather than a serious cost-benefit analysis.”

Indeed, the paper is largely politics. The “Drawing the Line” title echoes the “Firewall Letter” from conservatives in Alberta in 2001. The Saskatchewan jeremiad blasts Ottawa’s “climate agenda,” rails against “the guise of environmental regulation” and says it all “seems to target” the province.

What this fully ignores is the Supreme Court’s landmark 2021 decision that upheld Ottawa’s power to legislate countrywide climate standards. Mr. Moe wants to fight the lost fight again, through pending legislation this fall and possibly in the courts.

Ms. Smith in Alberta has suggested the same, believing she has “new information” to get the top court to somehow reconsider the settled case.

Sooner or later, unserious gambits collapse. Ms. Smith is a ready example. She barely won the UCP leadership in Alberta, and got there by promising her “sovereignty act” would allow the province to ignore federal laws and court rulings. Among the many critics was former premier Jason Kenney, who branded it “cockamamie.” After winning, Ms. Smith immediately conceded her promise was baseless. She called the Supreme Court the “ultimate arbiter” and said “when the Supreme Court makes a decision, we have to abide by that.”

This unserious leadership does not serve the people of the Prairies. Standing up for a province is one thing; doing so with misleading and disingenuous proposals is another.

If Saskatchewan wants more control over immigration or policing, that’s a reasonable idea. But it’s not reasonable to try to ignore federal climate policy. The constitutional questions are settled. And if Mr. Moe wants to make serious claims that are worthy of debate, he should start with a course in remedial math.