Federal carbon tax ‘sets a dangerous precedent’ as constitutional review starts: Alberta justice minister

Alberta’s justice minister discusses importance of federal carbon tax challenge
WATCH ABOVE: In an exclusive interview with Global News ahead of the start of Alberta’s constitutional challenge of the federal carbon tax, Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer said the province has to fight for its jurisdiction and against the Liberals’ goal to amend the constitution.

The Alberta government’s constitutional challenge to the federal carbon tax will begin three days of arguments in the Alberta Court of Appeal Monday morning.

The tax is set to take effect on Alberta consumers on Jan. 1, imposing a $30-per-tonne charge on gasoline, diesel, propane and natural gas.

One of the first things on the new UCP government’s agenda was to repeal the provincial carbon tax put in place by the previous NDP government, opening Alberta up to the federal backstop.

READ MORE: Ottawa approves Alberta’s carbon tax on big industrial emitters

In its submission to the court, Jason Kenney’s government argues the imposition of a federal tax undermines section 92A(1) of the constitution, which gives provinces jurisdiction over the development, conservation and management of natural resources and electricity generation within a province.

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Ottawa argues that the peace, order and good government clause of the Constitution gives it power to pass legislation on matters of national concern. Establishing minimum national standards on greenhouse gas emissions “is a matter of national concern that only Parliament can address,” it argues.

LISTEN: Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer joins Danielle Smith to discuss the province’s challenge to the federal carbon tax

“What the federal government is doing right now is they’re effectively seeking to amend the constitution,” Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer said in an exclusive interview with Global News ahead of the start of the court case.

“It sets a dangerous precedent when you expand the constitution in this way.”

Courts in Ontario and Saskatchewan have already ruled in favour of the federal government in similar challenges, although neither case was unanimous.

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READ MORE: Saskatchewan loses carbon tax challenge — what it means for the rest of Canada

In Saskatchewan, Chief Justice Robert Richards found that because emissions are of national concern, establishing minimum national standards for a price on greenhouse gas emissions does fall within federal jurisdiction.

Schweitzer said Alberta now has the benefit of seeing how those cases were argued.

“I do believe Alberta has a unique fact scenario that is not there in Saskatchewan and Ontario,” Schweitzer said, adding Alberta does have an emissions plan in place.

“We’ve been in this space for over a decade, we’re responsible with what we do, we’re the best in the world at what we do when it comes to developing our resources, and I hope the court hears that and they see it.”

Alberta has ‘unique fact scenario’ in constitutional challenge of federal carbon tax
Alberta has ‘unique fact scenario’ in constitutional challenge of federal carbon tax

READ MORE: Ontario vows to keep fighting carbon tax after 2 courts uphold it

Both the Saskatchewan and Ontario cases will be heard by the Supreme Court in 2020, and the Alberta government plans to take part in those cases as well.

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“It’s important for us to have Alberta’s case heard before that Supreme Court case, we have to get all of Alberta’s evidence before the court,” Schweitzer said, adding that simply being involved in another province’s move isn’t enough.

“When you intervene in another province’s jurisdiction, you don’t have that full ability to get your evidence in, this gives us the clear ability to talk about our program.”

The United Conservative government recently received federal equivalency for its TIER plan, which places a $30-per-tonne price on carbon for heavy industrial emitters.

A portion of the money collected will help develop technologies to further reduce emissions. The rest will go into general revenues and help fund the UCP government’s so-called energy war room, the Canadian Energy Centre.

Kenney has established a $30-a-tonne carbon tax on industrial emitters, replacing somewhat stronger measures introduced by the NDP. The Trudeau Liberals have approved that tax.

Arguments are scheduled for three days. As well as Alberta and Canada, the attorneys-general of Ontario, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and British Columbia are to speak, as are eight First Nations, non-governmental groups and Crown corporations.

— With files from The Canadian Press