Alberta government lawyers made their case for upholding a lower court ruling that the federal government’s Impact Assessment Act (IAA) is unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court of Canada began hearings on Tuesday as the federal government asked it to overrule an Alberta Court of Appeal opinion that declared their 2019 IAA to be unconstitutional.
Several provincial governments told Canada’s top court that the act undermines their ability to determine their own futures.
The act was adopted to “establish a federal environmental assessment process to safeguard against adverse environmental effects in relation to matters within federal jurisdiction,” the attorney general of Canada stated in written legal arguments to the Supreme Court.
Provinces have exclusive jurisdiction over laws relating to resource development under the Canadian Constitution. But neither the provinces nor the federal government has total control over environmental regulation.
Alberta lawyer Bruce Mellett said the province already does comprehensive reviews of projects, but now Ottawa is imposing new rules which prioritize federal policies.
Former Alberta premier Jason Kenney dubbed the IAA the “no more pipelines” bill, a colloquium continued by Premier Danielle Smith.
The province’s Justice Minister, Tyler Shandro, says the legislation is a threat to the long-term economic prosperity of Alberta’s province, energy industry and the entire country.
“We want to grow investment in Alberta, not have it driven away by unbalanced, unpredictable new rules for major projects,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.
Justice Mahmud Jamal wondered who has jurisdiction to police pollution if the federal government doesn’t.
Manitoba lawyer Charles Murray argued “what we don’t need is one party always holding the trump card,” while Quebec lawyer Frédéric Perreault said the province’s main concern is preserving the “balance of federalism.”
“We’re asking the court not to give the federal laws more favourable treatment than provincial ones,” Perreault said.
Ontario lawyer Joshua Hunter said Ottawa doesn’t even need to show a minimum risk before invoking an environmental review process that could last years.
The ruling will be decided by a seven-member panel of justices.