Jurisdictional Division of Responsibility

Which level of government in Canada has authority over and responsibility for electricity?

Under Canada’s Constitution Act, jurisdiction over energy is divided between the federal and provincial governments, with clear identification of responsibilities over most areas, but complicated at times by shared responsibilities in other areas. Understanding how these areas of responsibility are apportioned provides insight into which level of government can address which issues.

  • In most areas, the provinces have principal responsibility for energy and electricity. The Constitution provides for exclusive provincial power over resources management within provincial boundaries, as well as trade and commerce within provincial borders. Specifically with respect to electricity, this includes the development, conservation, and management of electricity. These constitutional powers have resulted in the evolution of electricity companies in Canada that in many instances operate in only one jurisdiction, though in recent years we have seen the emergence of companies operating in multiple provinces.
  • In addition to responsibility for resource management on frontier lands (Crown owned lands in Canada’s North and offshore areas not under the jurisdiction of a federal/provincial shared management agreement), the federal government has specific authority when it comes to uranium and therefore the regulation of nuclear safety. The federal government also has responsibility for policies of national interest, and these may impact energy in the areas of environment, economic development, energy security and science and technology. And while provinces have responsibility for trade and commerce within their borders, the federal government’s authority extends to interprovincial and international trade and commerce. With significant electricity imports and exports between Canada and the United States on a daily basis, the National Energy Board, the federal regulator, plays a role in that trade.
  • The most significant area of shared responsibility is with respect to the environment. Provincial governments have jurisdiction over the impacts within their borders. Environmental impacts can sometime occur beyond provincial boundaries, however, and the federal government is responsible for interprovincial and international impacts. Under specific legislation, Canada has responsibility where the implications affect federal lands or federal power, such as fisheries and navigable waters.