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. 

Join the Conversation


  1. What is odd is the reaction from Travis Toews. He spoke against Smith’s Sovereignty Act. But he immediately jumped on the ridiculous Moe bandwagon.

    The UCP leadership contest will only get sillier and sillier. Meanwhile readers should review Especially section 25

  2. In the aftermath of the infamous ‘Storming of Mar-a-Lago’, the FreeDUMB gang has decided to take up their arms and head for the barricades. They have nothing to lose but everything — including their dignity.

    Of course, water testing remains a matter for the domain of whatever federal agency looks after it, but the weirdness that this whole matter is being turned into a property rights is comical. For one thing, property rights are not protected in Canada — eminent domain and special authorized interest remains over and above any whatever kind of rights. Both the federal and provincial governments of all partisan stripes have found ways to run over rights, so good luck trying to fight it.

    Now that Moe Money is in the works, and Danielle Smith is screaming ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ for no particular reason, we are entering a silly season of nonsense that will only get more impressive as it goes forward.

    Now that we have a provincial authority threatening to charge and fine federal employees for doing their jobs, as mandated by federal regulation, we will soon be back before the Supreme Court for another decision, where the provinces with be told nice try, but you’re still a bunch of idiots.

    They may as well evoke the Notwithstanding Clause on everything and see what sticks, but I see one messy floor to come.

      1. Cool: in general, I agree with you, but there are specific exceptions. One morning I caught a guy peeping into the window of my mother’s house in our farm yard. He claimed to be from Stats Can doing a housing survey. He seemed harmless enough so I sent him on his way and phoned his supervisor to advise him that for the safety of his people they really should put a sign on their vehicles and give them an ID card.

        That was comedy. However, Stats Can also demands I report our grain inventory every three months. This information is like gold to the speculators and grain oligarchs and is not available to farmers or the general public except for a very handsome price. This is an example of where “lawful access” is only of benefit to the oligarchs who own government and does actual harm to grain growers. Oh, and aside from a dubious crop insurance and so-called Ag Stability program which is absolutely trivial compared to the US Farm Bill and the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, prairie farmers get sweet tweet from government.

        1. RE: Governments stacking the deck against prairie farmers

          Prairie farmers work, and Western governments have fully committed to making sure that the value created by work benefits billionaires not workers. Vote Liberal or Conservative, it won’t change. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

        2. Presumably, Prairie farmers get federal protection—considerably strengthened by strategic alliance with some of the most powerful nations on earth—from any chance that Putin will try to restrict the commerce of Prairie grain for ulterior, Russian reasons.

          1. Scotty: there is a lot more to the grain trade than Moscow or Ottawa. Now that the Canadian Wheat Board is gone there is no longer any such thing as Canadian grain on the world market. The commerce in grain as well as grain exports from Canada, the US, Australia, Argentina, the EU, and yes both the Ukraine and Russia, are controlled by the same four giant grain companies. They are the ones making most of the profits from both production and speculation. Prairie grain is simply part of the global pool run by these companies. As Mr. Lore has pointed out, the value of that grain no longer stays with prairie farmers thanks to Ottawa taking away the Wheat Board.

      2. “Alt-right” = white supremacist Christofacist for ‘white supremacist Christofacist.’
        “Woke” = white supremacist Christofacist for ‘progressive’

        Rupert Murdoch always takes their side, so society always ends up using their language. Super weird to me that Fox is taken seriously by anyone at any time for any information, let alone that it is allowed to rake in obscene profits by helping destroy Western society. Maybe we should change the laws that make it legal for private citizens to assemble multinational propaganda empires.

  3. These people are dangerous in that they don’t care about the rule of law, rather they are interested in the dog whistle of an uneducated and belligerent public mood.

  4. These pretend conservatives and Reformers also forget that the environment is also a federal government matter too. They don’t care, and just want to rile up their base. Federal government bashing isn’t going to accomplish anything. Scott Moe is also copying the likes of Danielle Smith, who is mimicking her hero, Ralph Klein, with vote buying gimmicks. Scott Moe is using revenue from higher oil and potash prices, which he had nothing to do with, and is giving adults in Saskatchewan $500, to help stave off higher costs from inflation. Not a smart move, like the $400 Ralphbucks wasn’t a smart move. When the price of oil goes down, government coffers will be lessened, because the government foolishly threw that money away on buying votes. The results will have to be cuts. Nobody will be ahead. That money should be saved, and also put into public services, like education and healthcare.

  5. For whatever reasons, Saskatchewan often does tend to imitate or echo politically what Alberta does in recent years. Sometimes less thoughtfully because it is copying, not initiating an idea.

    There is also a long history of conflict between Federal and provincial jurisdictions in some areas such as environmental matters. So we have Mr. Moe as the last real surviving member of the famed “resistance” to the Federal carbon tax, perhaps still somewhat bitter and resentful because that court case was lost. Other remaining premiers seemed to get the message and seem to be trying to take a more cooperative approach with the Feds.

    So this becomes another example of when you are losing, rather than taking a more productive approach of just trying to change the rules, doubling down and pretending you are winning.

    Even worse, it is particularly rich for Smith to start talking about rule of law, as someone who is trying to ignore the laws or rules she doesn’t like and only focus on the ones she does. I don’t think you can cherry pick when it comes to laws. This is a sign of a poorly though out strategy by someone who is losing it being imitated without enough thought.

    There seems to be a knee jerk reaction is Saskatchewan conservatives to copy bad ideas coming from Alberta, but Mr. Moe would be smarter to take a moment to think about where this has got Alberta Conservatives so far. Their movement is a political mess, a disaster happening. Mr. Moe’s position seems more secure, so politically it is probably better for him that he does not go further down a path that he does not need to. Otherwise his own voters might start to wonder why he has been so ineffective, like they did with Kenney and like they will with Smith if she wins the party leadership.

  6. These Reformers stick together. I wonder what their pal Doug Ford has to say about it? He has started pushing his privatization of health care just like we knew he would , now that he has destroyed it by treating doctors and nurses like third class citizens. Doctors tell us it’s a reform party scheme to help the rich obtain first choice of medical procedures leaving the rest on long waiting lists. Reformers have always catered to the rich, at ever level, in an effort to try to buy votes.

    1. Ford recently joined with the premiers of the Maritime provinces for a discussion of Healthcare reform. There seemed to be a lot of agreement that the system must “change”. Now Higgs, of New Brunswick, is publicly signalling that we need to adopt a more flexible approach, i.e. the camel’s nose is under the tent flap. Privatization – the creeping ooze around our ankles …now our shins … now our knees …

      1. somesweetday: the annual premiers’ conference long ago degenerated into a gabfest that can be summed up as a tweet:
        “Give us more money. Don’t tell us what to do with it. Signed: (cut and past list of current premiers’ names here).”

      2. I wonder what’s in it for these provincial leaders. They’re doing to Canadians what Canadians don’t want: selling us down the river. Are these powerful American health insurance companies and private care providers making it worth their while, KWIM?

        Why do we in Canada seem so gullible about the potential for graft and corruption? Wheels get greased in banana republics.

    2. Alan K. Spiller: This is certainly true. Mike Harris, the former Ontario PC premier, was chummy with Ralph Klein. He admired his slash and burn policies, and it also cost people their lives in Ontario, just like Ralph Klein’s austerity did in Alberta. Mike Harris also wanted private for profit healthcare, just like Ralph Klein did. Also, the private for profit long term care problems in Ontario, are from the bad policies of Mike Harris. Furthermore, we have seen what cabinet ministers in Mike Harris’ PC government in Ontario did when they joined the CPC. John Baird, Tony Clement and Jim Flaherty carried on with their bad policies, in the CPC, and it also cost people their lives. The UCP also wants to follow in their hero, Ralph Klein’s footsteps, by having private for profit healthcare in Alberta. We can’t expect these pretend conservatives and Reformers to do the right things.

  7. In Daniel Smith’s opinion piece printed “special to the National Post” on August 22nd, she quotes a 1994 essay titled “Sovereignty and Federalism: The Canadian Perspective” as if its authority lends weight to her sovereignty pitch. The quoted essay isn’t really a deep reflection on provincial sovereignty, rather it is a pitch by a railway executive in support of NAFTA which had just come into being on January 1st of that year. In fact, the author is clear “I do not pretend to be an authority on the subject of ‘sovereignty'”. She does quote Peter Hogg in her essay, who actually is an authority on constitutional law, and his quote is quite clear when it says “In a federal state, governmental power is distributed between a central (or national or federal) authority and several regional (or provincial or state) authorities, in such a way that every individual in the state is subject to the laws of two authorities, the central authority and the regional authority . . . .” The quote from Mr. Hogg goes on to say “The powers of the Legislature of Ontario are not granted by the Parliament of Canada Canada, and they cannot be taken away, altered or controlled by the Parliament of Canada. And the Legislature of Ontario, even acting in concert with all the other provincial Legislatures, is likewise incompetent to take away, alter, or control the powers of the Parliament of Canada.” So, if Daniel Smith and her team have actually read the essay that they quoted to Canadians, they would know that their railway executive “expert” has actually quoted a real expert who actually speaks against their main argument. Or they do know, and they don’t care. It’s hard to say which is more troubling.

    1. Micheal: Sadly, there are now people who believe what these pretend conservatives and Reformers, like Danielle Smith, have to say. There are people, like myself, who remember what Danielle Smith was like before, and didn’t want her as premier of Alberta. I still don’t want Danielle Smith as premier of Alberta. Maybe Danielle Smith will succeed in sticking her hoof in her mouth, once again, and won’t get the chance to become premier. Here’s to hoping.

  8. Moe and Smith cannot win a constitutional fight on this issue. The Constitution Act, 1867 does not address the environment as a heading of either federal or provincial power, but it is plain that the federal parliament has jurisdiction over criminal law, fisheries and navigation and shipping. There is little doubt that the federal government has at least as much interest in water quality and pollution in bodies of water as does any province.

  9. It seems Conservatives have renounced all of their values. Personal responsibility, national security, economic prudence, virtue ethics, valuing senior citizens, the very idea that such a thing as a ‘community’ exists and is worth investing in… all they have left is ‘gimme the shiny thing because WAAAAAAAAAAAAA!’

    I take no delight in this – it is distressing watching grown adults behave like deranged toddlers. It is beyond demoralizing watching all the other adults take no action against these society-pillaging grifters. Historically, a strong Conservative party is the best safeguard against the Liberal party’s tendency to arrogance, corruption and entitlement. They also used to be a welcome voice in favour of fiscal responsibility. Wouldn’t it be great if someone had been trying to make sure that Canada got some tangible infrastructure out of the frightening amount deficit spending we’ve done nearly every year of my entire life (I was born in 81, count the balanced budgets since then).

    1. Neil Lore: When Reformers started infiltrating and taking over the conservatives, they brought in disastrous policy ideas of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Preston Manning. They demean the needy, treat senior citizens shamefully, destroy our esteemed public services, such as healthcare and education, so they can privatize it, leave infrastructure in a shoddy state, neglect the environment, and do not care what the consequences of doing these things are. At the end of the day, they only see dollar signs. We end up paying for their very pricey shenanigans, which often cost billions of dollars. True conservatives, such as Peter Lougheed, were well aware that Reformers can’t be trusted.

  10. O, Daniel’s boy, the pips, the pips are bawling
    Through every slough across the prairies wide
    All sense is gone with wilder roses calling
    ‘Tis you must go, the rest of us will bide.

  11. “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends, we’re so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside.”

    Danielle Smith and her like minded, overtly cynical political performance artists are apparently well practised in the common theatrics and skill of the average sideshow or carnival barker, knowing fully and completely that there is zero accountability or responsibility attached to the deliberately deceitful sales pitch, i.e., “Mr. Olszynski added, . . . : “Painful ignorance or reckless cynicism. In either case, will Smith’s & Moe’s supporters care?””

    “The talker’s pitch evolved to elevate his talk over these other sales tools: the blinking lights, circus flags, etc. A skilled talker uses the complexity of frenzy as a frame for his pitch, rather than seeing it as a sales-stealing distraction. . . . Scripting is your secret weapon. Prepare by putting down exactly what you want the client to take away. Why? The carnival talker knows that if she misspeaks just a bit, she waters down the whole pitch; the audience won’t stop — they’ll keep walking down the midway. Hone your script down to the essentials. . . . , the carnival talker has repetition on her side. She only has to be loud enough to be heard . . .”

    “A barker, often a carnival barker, is a person who attempts to attract patrons to entertainment events, such as a circus or funfair, by exhorting passing members of the public,[1] announcing attractions of show, and emphasizing variety, novelty, beauty, or some other enticing feature of the show.”

  12. Alternative take: there “lawful access”, which those federal scientists apparently did have a right to — then there’s common courtesy, which they apparently decided not to exercise in the process.

    Last year, a contractor hired by ATCO Power asked us for permission to access our backyard for the purpose of trimming some trees that were impinging on overhead powerlines behind our property. They probably had lawful access under some sort of easement, but they had the common courtesy to ask anyway.

    I don’t know why it would have been so hard for those federal scientists to have simply knocked on those people’s doors, or dropped leaflets in their mailboxes announcing their impending visit, before entering those farmers’ land. I have seen no suggestion that there was any criminal investigation going on that would warrant a ‘no-knock entry’ because they were afraid of someone flushing something down the toilet if they knocked first.

    1. I’m inclined to agree with this take… like yes obviously all of the analysis about how Smith and the UCP and Moe are using the incident in a crass political way etc. is obviously true, but there is something to say for courtesy, where these inspectors could have made sure to let the farmers know they would be doing water samples in that area, by any number of reasonable and common methods, such as those Jerrymacgp suggested (i.e. knocking, leaflets) or via things like an advance mail-out, a letter from the feds, an advertisement on the radio (like they do here in BC when there are planned power outages for maintenance) etc.

      And this seems especially important to do, when it comes to the recent history of farmers acting very badly (regardless of thier legal right to do so) to anyone trespassing on thier land who is not white – like what if the scientists sent out that day were visible minorities? what if they were First Nations? They would be putting their staff at risk of retaliation, regardless of whether they have marked GoC vehicles. It just seems kind of oblivious for the feds in this day and age not to see the risk inherent in sending people unannounced onto other people’s farm land, without informing the farmers. Especially when that would be the *most opportune way* to actually get ahead of these types of dog-whistle tactics, because they would be *providing literature on the spot that accurately explains their jurisdiction over water testing and how the law works*, and thus be able to answer questions directly at that time, and/or be able to provide contact info on where the farmer can go to get any further concerns/questions they have about the issue answered. And that would make these kinds of dumb political refrains from people like Smith and Moe much less likely to stick!!

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