Splish-splash! Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe channels UCP frontrunner Danielle Smith’s cynical Sovereignty Act performance

Politics

Splish-splash! Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe channels UCP frontrunner Danielle Smith’s cynical Sovereignty Act performance
Splish-splash! Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe channels UCP frontrunner Danielle Smith’s cynical Sovereignty Act performance
Splish-splash! Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe channels UCP frontrunner Danielle Smith’s cynical Sovereignty Act performance
Splish-splash! Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe channels UCP frontrunner Danielle Smith’s cynical Sovereignty Act performance

CALGARY – Is there something in the water in Saskatchewan?

Or has Premier Scott Moe’s government just been paying too much attention to the success of the separatist pish-posh served up by Danielle Smith that seems to have set the narrative for the United Conservative Party’s leadership race here in Alberta?

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe (Photo: Public Domain).

Whatever it is, last weekend we learned that the Saskatchewan Party government in the next province to the east had decided to start complaining that employees of the federal environment department were “trespassing” when they took water samples on private land. 

On Saturday, according to media, Mr. Moe’s cabinet approved an Order in Council adding a new section to the province’s Trespass to Property Act that would “state that ‘person’ includes the Crown in right of Canada.”

By the sound of it, in a bit of legal legerdemain that should sound familiar to bemused Albertans following the UCP leadership race in which Ms. Smith is now thought to be the frontrunner, Mr. Moe would like us to believe this bit of stagecraft means that federal law he doesn’t like for whatever reason no longer applies in Saskatchewan. 

Meanwhile, Mr. Moe’s minister responsible for provincial water resources, Jeremy Cockrill, posted a belligerent letter to federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault claiming that federal scientists testing for water quality interferes with the province’s jurisdiction and that the federal officials have been “covertly” doing tests in Saskatchewan – an accusation that on its face appears to be false.

UCP leadership contender Danielle Smith (Photo: Dave Cournoyer, Creative Commons).

Mr. Cockrill’s letter also repeated implied threats by Mr. Moe that trespassers – presumably including federal water scientists – could face fines of $25,000 and up to six months in jail for doing their jobs. 

Back here in Wildrose Country, Ms. Smith was quick to publish incendiary comments on social media, stating falsely in a tweet that Ottawa “is sending federal agents to trespass on private land without authority” and not incidentally painting targets on the backs of those federal civil servants. 

“We stand with Premier Scott Moe & Saskatchewan for protecting the rule of law within their borders,” Ms. Smith was quoted saying in an image published with the tweet. She added in another tweet: “This is the latest example of Federal lawlessness & why we need the Alberta Sovereignty Act.”

This is pretty rich for someone whose so-called Sovereignty Act would, if it lives up to its billing, render the concept of rule of law all but meaningless in Alberta by permitting the province to ignore the constitution and federal laws it doesn’t like. Her comments were, as we have come to expect from Ms. Smith, based on a false premise. 

As University of Calgary law professor Martin Z. Olszynski explained on social media, the amendment to the Saskatchewan Trespass Act “didn’t magically make fed inspectors trespassers.”

Saskatchewan water minister Jeremy Cockrill (Photo: Saskatchewan Party).

“It merely clarifies that ‘person,’ where used in the Trespass Act, includes the Crown in right of Canada.” This, he pointed out, is the case anyway, thanks to the wording of Ottawa’s Crown Liability Act, which states that “the Crown is liable for the damages for which, if it were a person, it would be liable.” That includes actions committed by servants of the Crown. 

“Nothing in the amendment changes the law of trespass, esp. that entry w/ lawful authority is *not trespass*, and that such authority comes from the relevant fed law — not the province,” Mr. Olszynski continued.

Thankfully for provincial civil servants in Canada, this also applies to the lawful authority that permits provincial food inspectors, agricultural inspectors, animal health officers, provincial fisheries officers and the like to perform their duties on private land without trespassing. 

University of Calgary law professor Martin Z. Olszynski (Photo: University of Calgary).

Mr. Olszynski added, rather plaintively, as many of us here on the Prairies feel these days: “Painful ignorance or reckless cynicism. In either case, will Smith’s & Moe’s supporters care?”

Aye, there’s the rub. Of course they won’t – and that’s the reality these cynical conservatives are exploiting, by all appearances successfully. 

That, alas, is why Mr. Olszynski may have been being too optimistic when he commented earlier that, “If there is a bright side to this … dust-up, it’s that it will further expose the AB Sovereignty Act as the fraud that it is. “

So, to return to the original question, is it something in the water? 

Of course not. The law is clear: trespass is entry without permission or a lawful excuse. Federal water inspectors and their provincial counterparts are off the hook because they have a lawful excuse. 

And provinces – headed by the likes of Mr. Moe or Ms. Smith – can’t simply wish federal regulations away.

Mr. Moe’s performance is just that – a performance intended to deceive his supporters and create new problems for the Liberal federal government as yet another Conservative leader prepares to try for the brass ring.

Ms. Smith’s applause is natural enough – she recognizes that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. 

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