The Saskatchewan government has introduced legislation that it says would enable it to stop remitting the federal carbon tax on natural gas bills while providing legal protection for those at its energy Crown corporation.

The Saskatchewan Party government announced last month that SaskEnergy would stop remitting the carbon tax on natural gas on Jan. 1 in response to Ottawa's decision to pause the tax on home heating oil.

The federal move largely helps those in Atlantic provinces, where it's a main source for home heating, and Saskatchewan and other provinces have said it's unfair natural gas hasn't been treated similarly.

The bill introduced in the legislature on Thursday would designate the province as the sole registered distributor of natural gas in Saskatchewan.

It says it would protect the Crown corporation, all of its current and former directors, officers, employees and other associates from legal consequences of not remitting the tax.

Federal law says corporations that fail to remit the carbon tax could face steep fines, and its executives could also get jail time.

“I think what we’ve tried to do is provide as much assurance as we can,” Dustin Duncan, the minister responsible for SaskEnergy, said about the bill.

“This will be the government that will be making the decision in the event that we get to the point of not remitting the carbon tax.”

He said he’s hired personal legal counsel over the matter and it's expected the province will cover the cost of his lawyers.

Duncan previously said he’s willing to go to “carbon jail” for not remitting the tax. The province would be responsible for paying fines, he added. 

Donna Harpauer, the province’s deputy premier, has spoken with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland about the issue, said Duncan.

“At this point, all indications are that there weren't going to be any more carve outs, but we're hopeful that will change,” he said.

The federal government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in late October that Ottawa won't offer further exemptions, saying heating oil is far more expensive than natural gas and those who use it don't have other options readily available.

The Saskatchewan government says removing the federal carbon tax from SaskEnergy bills would save the average family in the province $400 next year.

Last year, SaskEnergy remitted $172 million in carbon tax to the federal government.

Saskatchewan's Opposition NDP said it's reviewing the bill before it takes a position. 

In late October, the provincial legislature unanimously passed a motion supporting the move in not remitting the tax to Ottawa.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Nov. 16, 2023. 

This is a corrected story. A previous version said the bill would designate SaskEnergy as the sole distributor.