Saskatchewan needs to increase its autonomy to further its economic interests, Premier Scott Moe told a town hall in Maple Creek Friday.
The province's economy shouldn't suffer from federal environmental and energy policies, Moe told a crowd of about 50.
"We're going to ensure that we are going to exercise all of our provincial jurisdiction within the confines of the Canadian Constitution, from natural resources and other topics," he said, adding Saskatchewan could be an "energy powerhouse."
Moe and Cypress Hills MLA Doug Steele fielded questions from the crowd in the southwestern Saskatchewan town of Maple Creek on a variety of topics, including health care, education and the economy.
Moe also said a discussion paper on industry-specific carbon pricing released by the federal Liberal government earlier this week was "problematic."
Ottawa is proposing an industry-specific cap-and-trade system or a modified carbon pricing system to set a ceiling for emissions from the oil and gas sector, with the aim of driving them down almost 40 per cent by the end of this decade.
Moe took issue with that, and criticized the federal government's national fertilizer emissions reduction target of 30 per cent below 2020 levels by 2030.
"And they're in addition to a number of policies that have been problematic since the get-go for how we ultimately are generating wealth," the premier said.
The premier also discussed provincial autonomy at a July 7 town hall in Davidson with Arm River MLA Dana Skoropad. That event, like Friday's Maple Creek town hall, was open to everyone and there was no fee to attend, according to Skoropad's office.
"We have a duty as a government of Saskatchewan to enhance and foster every opportunity to achieve what we can achieve in this province," Moe said in Davidson.
But when "other levels of government are putting in place impediments or barriers in allowing us to achieve this provincial success, this community success, we're going to have to do what we can to stop that," he said.
Closed-door meetings on autonomy
This month, Moe asked Lyle Stewart, an MLA from his Saskatchewan Party, and Allan Kerpan — a former Sask. Party MLA and Reform Party MP who more recently has been involved with the Wexit movement — to co-host closed-door meetings about increasing Saskatchewan autonomy.
Kerpan said he and Moe have met over the last few months, and he has been asked to "try to gauge the opinion and the feelings of people who live in our province."
Tom McIntosh, a professor of politics and international studies at the University of Regina, said he's not sure what public engagement behind closed doors is meant to achieve.
"If you're only inviting the people who already agree with you, then you're not actually having a conversation or a debate about the merits of the issue," McIntosh said.
"And I don't see that the public either would take anything that comes out of a kind of closed-door private session as being terribly legitimate."
In an interview earlier this month, Kerpan raised concerns about energy and environmental policies, specifically pipeline projects.
He also raised issues with two pieces of federal legislation passed in 2019 — Bill C-48, which prohibits tankers carrying more than 12,500 metric tonnes of oil from docking along British Columbia's north coast, and the Impact Assessment Act, previously known as Bill C-69, which allows the federal government to consider the effects of new resource projects on issues such as climate change.
Kerpan said every province should have "control over their natural resources, which includes getting them to market."
Moe has also raised each of the issues mentioned by Kerpan. He has repeatedly said he is not interested in an independent Saskatchewan, but rather that he wanted Saskatchewan to become a "nation within a nation."
McIntosh said it's unclear what more autonomy Saskatchewan needs.
"Canada is, in fact, one of the most decentralized federations in the world. Our Canadian provinces have far more autonomy and authority than subunits in almost any federal state you can name," he said.
McIntosh pointed out that while the province may not like Ottawa's carbon tax, the Supreme Court ruled it is constitutional despite legal challenges from Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario.
Provinces can't "pick and choose what laws apply to us and what laws don't," said McIntosh. "That's not how a federation works."
'Channel our inner Quebec'
Speaking Thursday at a North Saskatoon Business Association luncheon titled "Standing up for Saskatchewan," Saskatchewan Justice Minister Bronwyn Eyre said federal policies are thwarting economic potential in Saskatchewan and called the federal government "anti-energy."
"We have to sell ourselves as something of a 'nation state' … for that reason," said Eyre, who was previously the energy and resources minister.
She stressed the need to export Saskatchewan natural resources internationally.
A "broad range of people" RSVP'd to a meeting she hosted in her constituency a few weeks ago to discuss autonomy, Eyre said, including former Saskatchewan premier Grant Devine, farmers, ranchers, businesspeople and a "well-known Liberal lobbyist."
"What really came out of the meeting … was that we should channel our inner Quebec," Eyre said, applauding that province for protecting its provincial constitutional jurisdiction.
CBC News asked Eyre if the government would be willing to take legal action to increase autonomy, and what other actions it could take but the minister did not give a clear answer.
Moe said Friday that legal action is not necessary at the moment, but warned "if the federal government moves on a 30 per cent mandated fertilizer reduction, that's going to be problematic."