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Sask. gov’t expects to pay upwards of $500K for outside lawyers in carbon tax case

Justice Minister Don Morgan estimates hiring MLT Aikins to help prepare arguments for the Supreme Court carbon tax case will cost upwards of half a million dollars.
Justice Minister Don Morgan estimates hiring MLT Aikins to help prepare arguments for the Supreme Court carbon tax case will cost upwards of half a million dollars. Michael Bell / The Canadian Press

The Saskatchewan government has retained MLT Aikins for additional assistance on their fight against the federal carbon tax.

Attorney General Don Morgan estimated hiring the firm, on top of using the in-house constitutional law branch, will cost between $400,000 and $500,000 based on interim billing.

“We have really good lawyers in the constitutional law branch, but we wanted to do everything we could to make sure we’re successful before the Supreme Court,” Morgan said.

“The precedent we’re setting here is very important, not just to Saskatchewan but all of Canada.”

MLT Aikins was retained after the province’s unsuccessful challenge of the carbon tax in Saskatchewan’s Court of Appeal. Three of the five judges on that panel ruled in favour of Ottawa having the constitutional power to apply a minimum national carbon price.

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The province’s argument is that the carbon tax is unconstitutional because it has a disproportionate impact on resource-reliant provinces, and the federal government is overstepping jurisdictional bounds as the environment is typically an area of provincial jurisdiction.

“We had discussions with myself and the premier, and [MLT] approached us and said ‘we think you may want to argue some things slightly differently here,’ so it gets into the nuances and finesses of the actual arguments,” Morgan said.

Morgan said costs in the constitutional law division are covered in house. This all falls under the $10.8 million legal services line item in the 2019-20 provincial budget.

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Extra costs for the two in-house lawyers on this file, Mitch McAdam and Alan Jacobson, include airfare, hotel and meals. Morgan said he signs off on these expense reports, and they range from $1,000 to $2,000. This includes being an intervener in Ontario’s reference case and the upcoming one in Alberta.

Saskatchewan’s Supreme Court case is expected to be heard March 17 and 18.