Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe once said a fundamental pillar of Canadian democracy is the rule of law. His province is now prepared to break it.
In a recent year-end interview with The Canadian Press, the premier said it’s unfortunate the province won’t follow federal law by not remitting the carbon levy to Ottawa starting Jan. 1, but it’s a decision he believes is fair.
“It’s unfortunate that there will be a violation of federal law, led by our provincial minister here in Saskatchewan,” Moe said.
“But that violation is coming about by the province making the very same decision on behalf of its residents as the federal government did on behalf of residents in Atlantic Canada.”
In October, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced people who use heating oil are exempt from paying the carbon levy over the next three years, largely helping those in Atlantic provinces.
Moe and Alberta Premier Danielle Smith asked Trudeau to extend that exemption to cover all other forms of heating, including natural gas, but the request was denied.
Moe’s Saskatchewan Party government then upped the ante, saying the province’s gas utility, SaskEnergy, won’t remit the federal carbon levy starting Jan. 1 so residents can save on their bills.
He said in an interview that it’s unfortunate the province and Ottawa can’t always work together.
“When that opportunity is not there, and these unconsulted policies or regulations come forward, unfortunately, then we communicate our position through the media, and it’s much more publicly than if we work through some of these challenges behind the scenes,” Moe said.
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This past year, the Saskatchewan Party premier has often been at odds with the federal government over environmental policies that he believes will damage the province’s economy.
In May, he said Saskatchewan won’t follow Ottawa’s proposal to work toward a net-zero electrical grid by 2035. He thinks 2050 is doable.
Five months later, he made the announcement that SaskEnergy would not be remitting the federal carbon levy.
“The decisions that we’re making are not decisions that we’re sitting around and conjuring up,” Moe said.
“They are reactionary decisions to a federal government that increasingly is not consulting with provincial governments.”
But should SaskEnergy not remit the carbon levy, it may face fines and company executives could also get jail time.
The province passed legislation this fall that aims to shield the company from legal ramifications. Instead, the province plans to bear that burden.
In February 2020, when groups blocked rail lines across the country over the construction of a pipeline in traditional Indigenous territory, Moe demanded the rule of law be respected, calling it a “fundamental pillar of democracy.”
Now that he’s prepared for his province to break emissions law, he again said it’s unfortunate it may cause instability in the country.
“We would ask the federal government to change course, just a bit,” Moe said.
“They have an election coming up at some point. I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to garner some credibility in the area of affordability.”
But as the premier dukes it out with the federal government, his government has got its own battles at home.
In August, Saskatchewan announced a rule that prevents children under 16 from changing their names or pronouns at school without parental consent.
Lawyers for UR Pride, a Regina LGBTQ2 group, challenged it, arguing it’s discriminatory. A judge then granted an injunction to temporarily pause the rule.
However, Moe called the legislature back early to enshrine it in legislation and invoke the notwithstanding clause to prevent the challenge from proceeding.
Since then, some teachers have said they won’t abide by it.
Moe said he understands not following federal law could open “a can of worms” for others to defy rules.
“Through all of that discussion and everything, I think at the end of the day, it’s important for us to keep a couple of things prioritized, and they are about the child,” he said.
The province received 18 official complaints in June and July about pronouns, Pride activities and sexual education in school. Some complainants said they think “gender ideology” is being forced onto kids.
Moe said whether he agrees with that is “irrelevant.”
It was conversations legislature members had with parents that guided the policy, he added.
Meanwhile, Saskatchewan is expected to have an election next year.
Moe said he’s going to focus on what his 16-year-old government has built while protecting “that opportunity for future generations.”
His main challenger, Opposition NDP Leader Carla Beck, hopes to form government.
“Our job in the next year is to build that trust, build those solutions with those people in this province and show ourselves to not only be a good Opposition, but to be a government in waiting,” she said in a recent interview.
Beck said people are tired of a province that’s picking fights with Ottawa instead of getting results.
Her party supported the province’s move to prevent SaskEnergy from remitting the carbon levy to Ottawa.
But she said that was two months ago. Since then, she had expected Moe to move the needle on getting Ottawa to exempt carbon charges from all home heating, but it hasn’t happened.
She said she’s proud of how her caucus handled the emergency debate over pronouns. Her party saw its biggest online sign-ups of memberships when the province announced the rule.
“I think it was because people in this province increasingly see a government that is not focused on the priorities that are important to them,” she said.
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