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What to know about the new Economic Assessment Tribunal

Key points from Tuesday’s announcement of the composition of the Sask. First Act’s Economic Assessment Tribunal
At the announcement of the new Economic Assessment Tribunal, seen left to right, Kenneth From, Estella Peterson, Janice MacKinnon, Minister Bronwyn Eyre, and chair Michael Milani.

REGINA - A milestone was marked Tuesday for the Economic Assessment Tribunal created under the Saskatchewan First Act.

Minister of Justice and Attorney General Bronwyn Eyre announced at the legislature the names of the individuals who will sit on the new tribunal, and also what it will do. Here is a rundown of key points from that announcement, and what to know about the newly formed tribunal.

Who is on it

Five people will serve initially on the tribunal and they include some prominent names. They are as follows:

Michael Milani, KC, will serve as Chair. Milani is senior partner at McDougall Gauley in Regina and has previously served as President of the Law Society of Saskatchewan and is current Chair of the Law Reform Commission. 

Janice MacKinnon, former Saskatchewan Finance Minister, professor of fiscal policy at the University of Saskatchewan and member of the Order of Canada, will serve as Vice-Chair.

Kenneth From, former President and CEO of SaskEnergy.

Dr. Stuart Smyth, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Saskatchewan.

Estella Peterson, an oil sands heavy equipment operator in Fort McMurray, AB and from Treaty 4 Cowesess First Nation.

What it will do

The tribunal will now get to work assessing the economic impact of federal policies and regulations on the province. 

According to Minister Eyre, its purpose and role is to “determine, assess and quantify the economic effects of federal policies and legislation on the people, business and industries of our province.”

Minister Eyre said that “no other province has in place an independent tribunal whose exclusive role is to analyze and quantify the dollar figure harm of federal policies and legislation.”

As for how it will function, Milani said it will be examining federal law or policy, and looking at the economic impacts, “and that is an important feature in the sense that the tribunal has been tasked with something important but sufficiently narrow that we can provide appropriate information to the public and the government. And the legislation also empowers the tribunal to make recommendations that can be considered by the government.”

The types of matters they can consider, he said, are such things as total investments, impacts on government revenues, expenditures and debt levels, net exports and imports,    and technological readiness. The report will be submitted to the government and used as the government deems appropriate.

As Chair, Milani said it will be his responsibility to set the panels for each topic that comes before them, which could be all five people or maybe less depending on the subject matter.

As for what the tribunal will be doing at its core:

“What it is doing is gathering information we need to make our assessment, and that information will come from different sources. It may be conducting research studies, it may be interviews, it may be surveys, it may be reviewing data or information that has already been produced. It may mean that industry representatives will be asked to provide submissions to us. And our goal is to ensure that our process is transparent, and thorough, and independent. We do not have a mandate to make any determination in any direction. We are tasked with looking at the consequences and providing information in our report.”

What will be its first assignment 

The first item that will be referred for first consideration by the new tribunal will be the federal Clean Electricity Regulations brought in earlier this summer.

This is one of three sets of regulations that the province had stated in the Throne Speech that it would refer to the tribunal, the others being the proposed oil and gas cap and the federal fuel standard.

Eyre said the CER mandates no fossil fuel power by 2035, which means “no natural gas fired electricity, which means in Saskatchewan the lights go out. The Feds have not costed out any of this.”

What it means for the future

Once they receive the report on the dollar figure impact of the regulations, Eyre said they will decide, as government, how to proceed. One strong possibility, Eyre said, could be that they would submit that finding as evidence in legal action “in defence of, and to protect, Saskatchewan’s autonomy, Constitutional rights and future economic prosperity.”

She said referring the CER to the Economic Tribunal sends a strong signal and the hope is that by putting a dollar figure on the regulations’ impact, it “will exert pressure on the federal government to fundamentally change and/or pause the regulations."

The backdrop

Eyre pointed to there being “something of a tipping point and growing momentum of late” when it comes to recognition of constitutional provincial jurisdiction. She pointed to two key recent decisions: one being the Supreme Court decision on Bill C-69 - the Federal Impact Assessment Act, and the other being the federal court decision on the classification of full plastic manufactured items as toxic. 

Both courts held for the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces, Eyre said, and that the federal government had “exercised far too broad an overreach into provincial jurisdiction.”

Eyre pointed to Saskatchewan’s efforts in fighting those issues in court, joined by Alberta on the C-69 case and on the plastics case by seven other provinces. She called it “a strong symbol and signal to the jaded voices who would rather have us bow down and accept uneven treatment in this country, a double standard and literally impossible expectations.”

She said their efforts starting with the Sask. First Act last fall “have shown that resistance is never futile. The timing is right, now, and when provinces speak up against what is always unilateral, never collaborative action by the federal government, things can change, and we’re seeing that.”

Eyre also pointed to the carbon tax and in particular the carveout for home heating oil for Atlantic Canada, and said “that there is economic harm from the federal government from the carbon tax is now painfully clear.”

Opposition unimpressed

As expected the opposition New Democrats were not impressed by the new tribunal. Their Justice critic Nicole Sarauer had this to say in a statement: 

"At the end of the day, the Sask. First Act added no new tools to the provincial toolbox that didn’t already exist and the only course of action to challenge federal overreach into provincial jurisdiction remains through the courts.

"We do hope that the tribunal’s work will prove meaningful in furthering Saskatchewan’s interests and will not simply be another bureaucratic cost to taxpayers." is Saskatchewan's home page. Bookmark us at this link.