Sask. environment minister confident in carbon tax legal challenge despite unanswered questions

Environment Minister Dustin Duncan remains confident in Saskatchewan's ability to legally challenge a federal carbon tax. Sean Lerat-Stetner / Global News

It’s an irresistible force meeting an immovable object; the federal government saying a carbon tax is coming and the Saskatchewan government remaining steadfast that a carbon tax will not come to the Prairie province.

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has sent a letter to Saskatchewan saying a carbon tax will be implemented in the province doesn’t get on board by September. That’s when Ottawa will be evaluating all provincial and territorial plans.

Saskatchewan Environment Minister Dustin Duncan said that if Ottawa imposes the tax, the two governments will meet in court.

Manitoba had the same plan. However, that province received a legal opinion that the federal government is within its constitutional rights to impose a carbon tax. As a result, Manitoba released their carbon tax plan in October.

READ MORE: Manitoba proposes carbon tax at half of what federal government wants

Duncan says that they are going to rely on the opinions of local lawyers, not those in other provinces.

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“We believe, and I think that there is a strong case to be made, again not knowing the final bill that will be before the house,” Duncan said.

Duncan said they are delayed in releasing an inkling of what Saskatchewan’s legal opinion may be because the legislation for a federal carbon tax is still in the draft phase.

He also pointed to delays in Ottawa passing bills through the Senate, specifically marijuana legislation, as to why a carbon tax may be delayed.

“We’re confident that if it comes to it we will be able to put forward a very strong argument as to why this is not just the wrong approach for Saskatchewan, but a legal argument as to why the federal government shouldn’t have this ability,” Duncan said.

READ MORE: Federal environment minister says areas with carbon price lead economic growth in letter to Saskatchewan

Currently, Ottawa plans to evaluate climate plans in September. Any plan that doesn’t meet the goal of pricing carbon at $10/tonne, and eventually $50/tonne may face the federal tax.

The province’s current plan, Prairie Resilience, has a goal of reducing emissions by 40 per cent and reaching 50 per cent renewable power generation by 2030.

It also includes market based options for heavy industrial emitters, like paying into a green technology fund or purchasing carbon offsets.

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Duncan says that the province sent out surveys to industry leaders last week to gauge input prior to establishing specific targets for these aspects of the plan.

Those performance standards are expected to be rolled out over the coming months.

In question period, Opposition Leader Ryan Meili kept his primary focus on this plan the real possibility Saskatchewan will have a carbon tax imposed on it. The new NDP leader was critical of the government not signing onto the Pan-Canadian climate framework, losing out on $62 million in federal funding.

“Their plan has already failed, and it’s failed because it’s not a very serious plan. It’s full of to be determines and lacks targets. It’s really more of a wish list than any serious plan,” Meili said.

Meili added that if the Saskatchewan NDP was in power, they would have created a plan with firm targets aimed at protecting producers and trade exposed industries through a “modest” price on carbon. It would be put in place to eliminate the risk of the federal carbon tax being imposed.

In the legislative assembly, Premier Scott Moe countered that Meili’s modest price would also not meet federal standards. He said they will apply for the $62 million in lost funding, and it’s better than agreeing to a carbon price that would cost Saskatchewan an estimated $4 billion over the next five years.

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Despite the consistent head-butting over a carbon tax, both Saskatchewan and Ottawa are focused on finding ways to work together on emission reductions and finding reaching an equivalency agreement on the operation of coal fired power plants. ​

With files from Zahra Premji

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