A legal expert that was involved in crafting Canada's 1982 constitution doesn't believe provinces will have much luck claiming complete control over what they do with their natural resources.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe wants to establish provincial autonomy over its natural resources, as mentioned in the white paper 'Drawing the Line: Defending Saskatchewan's Economic Autonomy' and in Wednesday's throne speech.

The Saskatchewan Party government feels federal environmental policies are crippling the province's ability to benefit financially from its resources.

Saskatchewan supported the Alberta government's challenge of the federal Impact Assessment Act (formerly Bill C-69), which won in the Alberta Court of Appeal. 

The same court deemed the carbon tax unconstitutional. Its carbon tax ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada. University of Regina Emeritus Professor John Whyte predicts the same result would occur in an Impact Assessment Act appeal.

Section 92A of The Constitution Act, 1982 lists natural resources under provincial jurisdiction.

But the Peace, Order, and good Government clause from Section 91 has evolved to place matters of national concern within the federal government's powers.

john_whyte_1_0.jpg John Whyte was Dean of Law at Queen's University from 1987-1992

"The real crux of the debate now is, are these powers given to the province in 1982? Are these exclusive provincial powers? And I'm really very confident that they're not," said Whyte.

Whyte, Saskatchewan’s deputy minister of justice and deputy attorney-general from 1997 to 2002, believes the precedent-setting 2021 SCC ruling on the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act is an indicator of how similar rulings would play out.

"I think the carbon tax case is a case, in point, it seems, it's got a lot of parallel features," said Whyte. "That the federal government upheld the carbon tax as a legitimate federal government enterprise to participate in environmental safety as a matter of national interest and international obligation. I think that reasoning can likely apply here."

Whyte said he can sympathize with provinces that feel their powers are being eroded.

"They also argue that if activity, which has international implications, triggers a paramount of federal jurisdiction, then there's not much left of Canadian federalism. And that's the line that is said over and over again. 'There's not much left of Canadian federalism, because the federal government keeps on usurping our jurisdictions under its open-ended, big-head powers.' It's not a bad point."