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“May 30 marks the 90th anniversary of parliamentary assent to the Natural Resources Transfer Acts, legislation passed by the Governments of Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and enshrined in the Constitution Act, 1930, that finally transferred full control over natural resources from the federal government to the four Western provinces.
“This key feature of Canadian federalism, which all other provinces had been granted as a basic tenet of Confederation, had been denied to Manitoba when it became a province in 1870, and to Alberta and Saskatchewan when they attained provincehood in 1905. Control over resources in parts of B.C., known as the Railway Belt and Peace River Block, had also been withheld by Ottawa when B.C. became a province in 1871.
“The four western provinces had fought for decades to get the federal government to uphold the principle of provincial equality and transfer control over natural resources to their rightful owners under the Constitution. On the day Alberta Premier John Brownlee returned home to Edmonton with the fair deal he had won from Liberal Prime Minister Mackenzie King finally in hand, he was greeted by a jubilant crowd of 3,000 and a fireworks celebration. It was the single most important achievement of his tenure, and it set the stage for the development of Alberta’s energy industry and all the prosperity that has flowed from it since.
“The Natural Resources Transfer Acts should have been the last word on provincial control over resources, but in the years since Alberta has had to fend off repeated federal intrusions into our clear constitutional jurisdiction, particularly over energy development. In the 1980s then Premier Peter Lougheed successfully fought for even stronger Constitutional protections, yet today we and other western governments are in court once again, challenging the federal carbon tax and Bill C-69, the ‘no more pipelines bill,’ as violations of the Constitution and the spirit of the Natural Resources Transfer Act.
“As the Alberta Court of Appeal noted in its 2019 ruling against the federal carbon tax as a violation of provincial jurisdiction, the prairie provinces’ ownership of their natural resources was ‘a long time coming.’ Indeed it was, and we will never give up that right, or the fight to defend it in the name of the principle of provincial equality under the Constitution of Canada.”