David Lametti tells AFN he is willing to look at rescinding the Natural Resource Transfer Act of 1930

Brian ZinchukLast week, two things happened that could have profound impacts on natural resource development in western Canada. One was a hint the federal government might want to take control of natural resources away from the provinces, and the other was Saskatchewan and Alberta governments’ assertion that it was not going to happen.

On Apr. 5, federal Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti was speaking to the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa. The event was focused on a national action plan to address the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

During a panel at the assembly, Lametti was asked by two people about provincial jurisdiction over natural resources. Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte from Prince Albert Grand Council asked Lametti to “rescind (the Natural Resource Transfer Act), which affects the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. That’s what we’re asking you, Minister, as an action item with a statement. It affects our treaty rights, of course, under the Sask(atchewan) First Act that we hear about. And it’s to do with natural resources. Indian natural resources.”

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The Saskatchewan First Act, which passed on March 17, amends the Constitution of Saskatchewan to confirm Saskatchewan’s autonomy and assert Saskatchewan’s exclusive legislative jurisdiction under Section 92 (A) of the Constitution of Canada over a number of areas, including:

  • the exploration for non-renewable natural resources;
  • regulation of fertilizer use in Saskatchewan, including application, production, quantities and emissions.
  • the development, conservation and management of non-renewable natural and forestry resources; and
  • the operation of sites and facilities for the generation and production of electrical energy.

Chief Don Maracle of Mohawks of Bay of Quinte said, “Canada exports natural resources to other countries. They earn trillions of dollars in revenues from those resources. Those resources were given to the provinces, without ever asking one Indian if it was okay to do that, or what benefits the First Nations expect to receive by Canada consenting to that arrangement.”

In response, Lametti said, “I take from Chief Brian and Chief Don Maracle the point about the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement … You’re on the record for that. I obviously can’t pronounce on that right now. But I do commit to looking at that.

“It won’t be uncontroversial, is the only thing I would say,” Lametti said.

These comments got a sharp reaction from Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, who tweeted on Apr. 10, “The federal Justice Minister says he will look at taking control over natural resources away from the provinces. It’s an outrageous statement.”

In a later statement, Moe added, “These dangerous and divisive comments from the federal Justice Minister are a threat to the unity of our country.

“The federal Justice Minister says he will look at rescinding the Natural Resources Transfer Agreements of 1930 that gave control over natural resources to Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba. This is an outrageous and ill-informed comment, as those agreements and the provinces’ control over natural resources have been entrenched in the Canadian constitution since 1930.

“On what basis does the federal Justice Minister think he has the authority to unilaterally strip Saskatchewan and the other western provinces of our constitutional authority over our natural resources?

“Saskatchewan has always had reason to be concerned about this federal government’s agenda to infringe on provincial jurisdiction and autonomy, and we will be relentless in defending our jurisdiction and autonomy.

“The Prime Minister needs to immediately tell his Justice Minister he has no business even speculating about rescinding western provinces’ constitutional authority to control our natural resources.”

Reacting to Moe’s tweet, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith tweeted, “I just received word that the Federal Justice Minister may attempt to rescind the 1930 Natural Resources Transfer Agreement with the prairie provinces. This would pose an unprecedented risk to national unity and Alberta condemns this federal threat in the strongest possible terms. I will be contacting Premiers Scott Moe and (Manitoba Premier) Heather Stefanson to discuss next steps and call on the Prime Minister to immediately have his Justice Minister retract and apologize for these comments immediately.”

By late afternoon on Apr. 10, the Canadian Press tweeted a response from Lametti’s office. It stated, “The Natural Resources Transfer Act was originally raised during a meeting with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations. The Minister simply committed to looking into it when asked.”

Brian Zinchuk is editor and owner of Pipeline Online and an occasional contributor to the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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