Life Experience Counts

Well-known economist and business professor enrolled in graduate studies at UAlberta Law

Helen Metella - 31 January 2020

Prominent economist Andrew Leach, who has a tenured position as associate professor in the Alberta School of Business at the University of Alberta, is now pursuing a graduate degree in law at UAlberta Law.

Leach is using his sabbatical year to earn a master's degree, with a focus on Constitutional Law and climate change. His thesis work will be supervised by the Faculty's Vice-Dean Eric Adams, who publishes on all aspects of Canadian Constitutional Law, theory and history.

"I've always been interested in law but this part of the adventure began when the legal discussions around the TransMountain pipeline became heated," said Leach. "I started to pay more attention to the Constitutional questions around it."

Leach says that when economists discuss the energy sector, they usually look at different types of policies that could be implemented, how to design them, how they work now or could work differently, and which are better or worse than another.

"But there's very little examination of how those tools would fit into the constraints or limits on federal or provincial powers imposed by the Constitution."

The pitfalls of that are evident in the widespread frustration with the pipeline process and its many delays, he says. Additionally, Leach says he's seen politicians and industry members misrepresenting why the delays have happened, and what it is about the Constitution that makes some of these projects so complicated.

"Even if we don't agree on what should happen, we should agree on what has happened in the past, and what can or cannot happen, given the divisions of power and government responsibilities," he said.


In 2015, Leach was chair of Alberta's Climate Leadership Panel, which made recommendations to the province's previous government under Rachel Notley on policies concerning carbon pricing, coal-fuelled power, energy efficiency and renewable power.

The spine of the panel's report was a recommendation to put a price on carbon emissions in order to prompt changes in behavior that would reduce emissions. While Notley's government did that by introducing a carbon tax, the current Alberta government has removed the tax. Now, the matter has become a Constitutional argument, and one that will potentially provide Leach's master's research with a great deal of new material to work with.

In early 2020, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear appeals from the governments of Ontario and Saskatchewan on the Canadian government's Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act. The two provinces are contesting appeal court reference decisions in each of their provinces from early 2019 that ruled the federal government does have a jurisdictional right to impose a carbon tax on provinces.

"We don't have a lot of examples of that in environmental legislation, in which the federal government is bringing provincial governments to a minimum standard," said Leach. He adds that without a firm grasp of the federal powers to regulate environmental issues, economists such as him may miss some crucial pieces of the equation when offering advice to governments.

With his master's research to aid him, Leach hopes that in the future, even if he is not leading the Constitutional discussion on a panel, "I might at least know the right questions to ask."