Saskatchewan loses carbon tax challenge — what it means for the rest of Canada
Chief Justice Robert Richards wrote in the 155-page decision that establishing minimum national standards for a price on greenhouse gas emissions falls under federal jurisdiction.
He wrote that Ottawa has the power to impose its carbon tax under a section of the Constitution that states Parliament can pass laws in the name of peace, order and good government.
That sets a significant precedent for other provinces, several of which have said they will fight the tax in court.
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Nathalie Chalifour, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, explained to Global News that this ruling will help the federal government fight other challenges in court.
“The issues in different provinces are very much the same,” she explained. “This decision undoubtedly will take the wind out of the sails of the other arguments. It’s created a bit of a standard now.”
But she also noted that the ruling is strictly about the Constitution — not about whether the carbon tax has merit as a means to combat climate change.
“The issue is entirely is it within Parliament jurisdiction to enact a carbon price? That has nothing to do with whether the carbon price is effective or not,” Chalifour said.
Saskatchewan had argued a carbon tax is unconstitutional because it’s not applied evenly across the country. It also said the tax erodes the sovereignty of provincial jurisdiction.
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In reaction to the ruling, Premier Scott Moe tweeted that he is “disappointed.”
Moe indicated that the province would appeal the decision, saying the ruling was “only game one of the playoffs.”
Meanwhile, the federal government argued that it has the power to put a price on pollution because greenhouse gas emissions are a national concern.
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Following the ruling Friday, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said the court’s decision proves Canadians want the government to tackle climate change.
“The court also recognized, as do most Canadians, that climate change is man-made and one of the great existential issues of our time,” a statement read.
While the court has ruled in the federal government’s favour, the battle over the carbon tax is far from over, Chalifour said.
“They will very likely appeal it in the Supreme Court,” she explained.
But Chalifour added that if other provincial courts, such as in Ontario, rule similarly to the Saskatchewan court, further appeals may have more trouble being successful.
“The Supreme Court may decline to hear the issue because there is consistency among provinces,” she said.
Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Ontario all became subject to a carbon price last month. The provinces, and federal Conservatives, have criticized the carbon tax as a “cash-grab” for the Liberal government, and said it will lead to job losses.
Liberals have insisted that the carbon tax is necessary to fight climate change, and that Canadians will be compensated through a rebate.
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.
WATCH: Scott Moe says carbon tax ruling is only ‘game one of the playoffs’
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.
In response to the Saskatchewan court ruling, Kenney issued a statement Friday.
“We are reviewing the decision, but our initial reaction is that this narrow, split decision is far from the broad victory the federal government sought and we are glad all five justices rejected the federal government’s claim for a sweeping power to regulate GHG emissions in the provinces,” the new premier said.
“We disagree with the narrow ruling by the majority that the federal government has the power to ensure a provincial minimum price on carbon, and will be joining Saskatchewan in their appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. That said, the new government of Alberta takes our environmental responsibilities very seriously and during the election we put forward a serious plan for reducing GHG emissions.
“We believe that our strong plan makes a federal carbon tax redundant and that a consumer-punishing retail carbon tax – whether imposed by the NDP or by Justin Trudeau - is the wrong way to go. It’s all economic pain and no environmental gain.”
Watch below: Saskatchewan lost its federal carbon tax challenge Friday. But as Tom Vernon reports, opponents of the tax, including those here in Alberta, say the fight is far from over.
Sixteen groups — including the attorneys general 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 set to rise $10 each year until 2022.
Keith Brooks, programs director at Environmental Defence, hailed the Saskatchewan court’s decision as a “very positive” step.
Brooks said that those opposed to the carbon tax have made claims “backed up by half-truths” and the court’s decision acknowledged that research backs up the effectiveness of a carbon tax.
“The criticisms are baseless, in our view, and the court affirms that carbon pricing is an essential tool to limit emissions,” he said.
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