Federal election, Supreme Court may douse Western separatist flames

by Murray Mandryk

Really? Our issue is we can’t get oil to tidewater because we are landlocked provinces. And becoming a landlocked country will fix that?

It would be ironic if two of our most venerable institutions — the Canadian electoral system for our parliamentary democracy and the Supreme Court of Canada — wound up dousing the prairie fire of Western separatism.

But come this fall, it could be that those in the West who have passionate-albeit-inarticulate grievances with our nation will no longer have much to aggrieve. It does, however, make one wonder: What’s next?

The Supreme Court of Canada announced this week it will hear Saskatchewan’s appeal of the decision that upheld the legality of the carbon tax on Dec. 5. But first there’s this little matter of an Oct. 21 federal election in which the polls suggest Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives could defeat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals. Scheer has vowed his first order of business will be the repeal of the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act that has added four cents to our fuel since April 1. (Not to be confused with the already-existing 15-cent-a-litre provincial tax on gasoline … Sigh.)

While logic dictates any Supreme Court ruling on the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal’s 3-2 decision would seem rather moot if the carbon tax is already gone, Saskatchewan Justice Minister Don Morgan said Tuesday his government has a vested interest in pursuing its appeal anyway, to make it crystal clear where federal taxation authority starts and ends.

“I think it’s worthwhile to carry on with the court application in any event, and just get some better clarity,” Morgan told reporters last week.

“I don’t think it matters which government is in office in Saskatchewan or in Ottawa.”

Morgan again contended Tuesday the uneven application of taxation authority on this province, Ontario, New Brunswick and presumably Alberta makes the federal per-tonne greenhouse gas (GHG) levy inherently unfair. That levy is $20 a tonne this year, increasing to $50 a tonne, but the federal government has already provided an income tax rebate to individuals and families, starting at about $600 this year.

“It’s punitive treatment of some of the provinces, so we think it’s worthwhile to get some clarity as to their right to levy a disproportionate tax or a punitive tax,” Morgan said.

Clearly, it’s such notions now driving Western separatist sentiments, which have never really been based on logic. Really? Our issue is we can’t get oil to tidewater because we are landlocked provinces. And becoming a landlocked country will fix that? There are people who want to break up the country over an additional four cents a litre on gas?

It’s also not helpful that former premier Brad Wall and even current Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe have sometimes fanned these flames — seemingly for the less-than-altruistic purposes of getting Scheer elected and/or getting their party re-elected.

That said, Western frustration with the federal government — and, by extension, the federal system — is all too real. So it’s no small irony the fix may be the system itself. If either the election or the highest court dispenses with the carbon tax, what’s the Western separatist argument that Confederation no longer works?

Of course, there is actually a pretty good likelihood the Supreme Court upholds the Court of Appeal decision. If so, that would certainly stir up brilliant arguments of a biased, eastern-based court. (That it was a “western-based” Saskatchewan Court of Appeal that ruled against the provincial government is something separatists have already forgotten … Sigh.)

And Scheer might not win in October … or his Conservatives might only win a minority, meaning a carbon tax repeal would have to get past the Liberals, New Democrats or Greens. But, as they say, let us burn those bridges when we come to them. Let us assume the best argument that our Canadian system still works is the reality that it does seem to be working.

Ironically, the salvation of Confederation seems to be the very institutions separatists would appear to oppose.

Mandryk is the political columnist for the Regina Leader-Post.


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