Premier Jason Kenney said the government will consult with Albertans to determine its next steps after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Thursday that the federal carbon price is entirely constitutional.
On Thursday morning, the Supreme Court of Canada gave the federal government the constitutional green light to impose a carbon tax on the provinces.
Kenney said his government is “obviously disappointed” with the ruling, and said it will take time to study the final decision in detail.
“Obviously it’s a majority decision of the Supreme Court. There is no court that we can appeal this to. But when it comes to complying with this decision, we’re going to do it in a way that imposes the lowest possible cost on Albertans,” Kenney said.
The province now has the option of keeping the federal carbon tax in place or coming up with a plan of its own.
“There are a number of different options that we will be considering. We will be starting those consultations right away,” the premier said.
“The key criteria will be, which approach imposes the least damage on jobs and economies and the least cost on Alberta families?”
When asked if the province would consider a made-in-Alberta approach, Kenney reiterated that the government will consider all options and “listen to Albertans and see what they want us to do.”
“By the way, just because the court says that the federal government can punish people for filling up their gas tanks and driving to work and heating their homes, doesn’t mean the federal government should do that. This comes back to being a political issue, a democratic issue.”
The split decision upholds a pivotal part of the Liberal climate-change plan that accounts for at least one-third of the emissions Canada aims to cut over the next decade.
Chief Justice Richard Wagner said in the written ruling that climate change is a real and existential threat to Canada and the entire world, and evidence shows a price on pollution is a critical element to addressing it.
Wagner also said provinces can’t set minimum national prices on their own and if even one province fails to reduce their emissions it could have an inordinate impact on the rest of the country.
It is a split decision with six judges entirely in favour, one partial dissent and two entirely in disagreement with the majority.
Along with consulting with Albertans, Kenney said the government will also work with its allied provinces on the next steps.
“We will do everything in our power to minimize the costs on Albertans and on our trade-exposed industries that must compete globally while at the same time, we continue to ensure that we responsibly reduce emissions from Alberta.”
Since he entered provincial politics, Kenney has pledged to kill the consumer carbon tax. Bill 1 of the UCP government was the Carbon Tax Repeal Act.
The province won its challenge in the Alberta Court of Appeal. Ottawa won cases in Ontario and Saskatchewan, but this was always going to be decided in the Supreme Court. Arguments were heard in September.
The premier’s office said that as of December, the cost of the carbon tax court challenges in Alberta and at the Supreme Court have cost taxpayers $1,060,291, which is anticipated to increase as lawyers go through Thursday’s decision.
Opposition NDP leader Rachel Notley said now is too late to start work on a new climate plan and that the premier has had two years to develop a plan.
“We need a climate-combatting plan and we need a jobs plan now,” Notley said. “I can tell you from past experience, that is not a thing you do overnight.
“He’s wasted important time in a province whose economy is incredibly linked to the energy sector and that is exceptionally weak leadership on his part.”
On Thursday’s Supreme Court outcome, Notley went on to say that she has “no doubt he (Kenney) was told that this was absolutely predictable.”
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi also said he wished the province had been thinking for the past couple of years about a climate plan.
“When this was launched, pretty much every constitutional lawyer that was quoted said this has no chance of success. And I don’t mind doing test cases, I don’t mind testing the limits of what we need to do. But when every single lawyer is telling you this has no chance of success and we’re in a pandemic and we don’t have any money, is this really a good use of public funds?
“It’s the law and you can disagree with the policy, you can agree or disagree with the carbon tax, you can make your feelings known at the ballot box. But ultimately, the Supreme Court has given us the very clear thing, saying the federal government does have the ability to do this. And at some point you figure out how to make that best for yourself,” Nenshi continued.
“I hope that the provincial government is now thinking, would they rather have a made-in-Alberta designed program or would they prefer the federal government to impose that on us?”
Pollster and political commentator Janet Brown said while the premier didn’t like the outcome, she believes Kenney was prepared for it.
“He was ready to fight back, he was ready to criticize the decision, but I think he was ready for it and I think, although he didn’t say exactly what the government’s next move is, I think he’s ready to accept this decision and move on,” she said.
Brown believes it “seems unlikely” that Kenney would take on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax.
University of Calgary law professor Sharon Mascher called the Supreme Court ruling “a very, very significant decision.”
“I think it was widely anticipated that at least the majority of the Supreme Court of Canada would uphold this legislation and they did so on the basis that there is this carbon pricing is a single and indivisible matter and that really there is a provincial inability to alone address this issue,” Mascher said.
“It’s a really, really obviously significant finding for how Canada moves forward with its carbon plan, with carbon pricing a big part of that.”
Mascher said the provinces don’t have a lot of recourse from here, but said “it does still leave the provinces with the ability to regulate and legislate in relation to the provincial aspects of greenhouse gases.
“So there is still room for the provincial governments to operate provided they meet these minimum benchmark requirements at the federal level in relation to carbon pricing.”
The Alberta Party issued a statement following the ruling Thursday.
“Once again, Jason Kenney has fought and lost a political battle which accomplished nothing besides wasting time and taxpayer money,” acting leader Jacquie Fenske said. “Whether it is Bigfoot or the prime minister, the UCP is more focused on theatrical opposition than on improving the lives of Albertans, caring for our environment, and improving the lives of Albertans.”
Canada implemented the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act in 2019 setting a minimum price on carbon emissions in provinces which don’t have an equivalent provincial price, a law that was challenged by Saskatchewan, Ontario and Alberta.
The program applies a price per tonne to fuel purchases by individuals and businesses with lower emissions, and on part of the actual emissions produced by entities with large emissions, such as pipelines, manufacturing plants and coal-fired power plants.
Right now, the carbon tax is $30 per tonne. It will increase to $40 per tonne on April 1. The Liberal government has committed to increasing it to $170 by 2030. The way the federal program is designed sees that money returned to Albertans through rebates.
The federal fuel-input charge applies in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, while the federal charge for big emitters currently covers only Manitoba and Prince Edward Island.
All other provinces have systems that meet the federal threshold.
With files from Tom Vernon, Global News and The Canadian Press.