Saskatchewan’s Court of Appeal is to make the first ruling in Canada on Friday on whether a federally imposed carbon tax is constitutional.
The Saskatchewan Party government filed a legal challenge of Ottawa’s levy that came into effect April 1 in provinces without a carbon price of their own.
Over a two-day hearing in February, Saskatchewan argued that the question isn’t one of climate change, but rather the division of power.
It argued a carbon tax is unconstitutional because it’s not applied evenly across the country and erodes the sovereignty of provincial jurisdiction.
The federal government said it has the power to put a price on pollution, because greenhouse gas emissions are a national concern.
Premier Scott Moe believes a carbon tax hurts his province economically and has said he plans to appeal if the court upholds the validity of the tax.
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“It’s the first word, it’s not necessarily the last word,” Dwight Newman, a University of Saskatchewan law professor, said of Friday’s ruling.
He said the decision will serve as “persuasive authority” that will be closely examined by other provinces waging their own legal battles against the federal tax.
Manitoba, New Brunswick and Ontario all became subject to a carbon price last month.
Manitoba recently filed papers in Federal Court for its challenge, while Ontario was in court last month to argue its case and is waiting for the outcome.
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“If they (Saskatchewan Appeal Court justices) write a persuasive judgment it could impact on how other courts decide the matter,” suggested Newman.
“Of course, both sides could learn from the arguments made in this one, and how they fared, and even make adjustments in the other cases.”
New Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has promised he will scrap the carbon tax the former NDP government brought in and also fight in court if Ottawa tries to impose a national tax on his province.
Newman notes that given the complexity of the case, Saskatchewan’s Appeal Court arrived at a decision “surprisingly quick.”
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Sixteen groups — including the attorney generals of British Columbia, Ontario and New Brunswick — intervened in the court case on both sides of the debate.
The federal government’s carbon price starts at a minimum of $20 a tonne and is to rise $10 each year until 2022.