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Controversial Bill Now Law

Regina Leader Post
October 19, 1961. p.21

The infamous Bill 56, after lurking in the wings for several months, has again taken the centre of the stage with its formal proclamation as law under the title the Mineral Contracts Alteration Act, 1961. The enactment in effect empowers the provincial government to rewrite some 2,200 mineral leases on lands in southern Saskatchewan.

This, it will be remembered, is the bill passed at the spring legislative session on which Lt.-Gov. Bastedo on April 8, 1961, reserved royal assent "for the significance of the governor general's pleasure."

Mr. Bastedo based his unprecedented move on the contention the bill was beyond the constitutional powers of the province and contrary to the national interest. He acted on his own, without consulting Ottawa. After obtaining opinions from the federal justice department which failed to sustain Mr. Bastedo's grounds for reserving royal assent, the Diefenbaker cabinet advised the governor general to give assent. This was done, leaving as a final step before Bill 56 became law its formal proclamation by the lieutenant-governor.

At the time he originally introduced Bill 56 in the legislature, and since then, Attorney-General Walker declared the government intended to proclaim the bill only as a last resort if it failed to work in its unproclaimed state as "an arbitrary stick" to force the 15 companies which hold the contracts to agree to their "voluntary" renegotiation.

The "arbitrary stick" didn't work. According to the brief statement announcing the bill's proclamation into law, one of the companies stood firm against renegotiation, Canadian Williston. This company holds about half of the 2,200 contracts.

Under the terms of Bill 56, the mineral contracts renegotiation board has until December 31 to place contracts slated for alteration before the cabinet, with its recommendations as to changes to be made. The enactment carries its own expiry date, January 31, 1962. But prior to that date the cabinet will have authority to alter the contracts and issue the appropriate orders to the registrars of land titles to endorse memoranda of the changes on the certificates of title.

The enactment expressly states this power is to be exercised without hearings. The act fails to make provision for appeals to the courts against the cabinet's orders.

It hardly seems necessary to repeat that this is extremely arbitrary legislation. Both the government members, and those from the opposition who voted for it, admitted it was "distasteful." Basically, it was a political measure put through under pressure from the Mineral Owners Protective Association. Those who supported it in the legislature apparently had their eyes more on political support they might lose than on the impropiety of using the legislature's sovereign powers over property and civil rights in such an arbitrary way.

Now that the measure has been proclaimed, the expectation is its constitutional validity will be challenged in the courts and that eventually a ruling will be obtained from the highest court, the Supreme Court of Canada.

It is not improbable that the courts may declare the provincial legislature was within its powers under the British North American Act in passing Bill 56. If they do, this will point to the necessity of stronger constitutional safeguards against the confiscation of property and the abrogation of contracts.