Ontario Court of Appeal Upholds Federal Carbon Tax
The Doug Ford government will be looking for a hearing before the Supreme Court of Canada after the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled 4-1 last Friday that the federal government had the constitutional authority to introduce its national carbon pricing plan.
The result means that, now, “the real carbon tax is the money provinces are spending on lawyers,” the Globe and Mail’s Politics newsletter headlined this morning.
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“Parliament has determined that atmospheric accumulation of greenhouse gases causes climate changes that pose an existential threat to human civilization and the global ecosystem,” Chief Justice George Strathy wrote in the majority decision.
“The need for a collective approach to a matter of national concern, and the risk of non-participation by one or more provinces, permits Canada to adopt minimum national standards to reduce [greenhouse gas] emissions,” he added.
“The Act does this and no more,” the court decision added. “It leaves ample scope for provincial legislation in relation to the environment, climate change ,and GHGs, while narrowly constraining federal jurisdiction to address the risk of provincial inaction.”
The judges added that the provinces on their own would not be able to reduce carbon pollution on the scale the climate crisis demands. “Without a collective national response, all they can do is prepare for the worst,” they wrote.
The Ford government responded immediately with a promise to seek a Supreme Court appeal, repeating its claim that the federal carbon tax makes life more expensive for Ontarians. “We promised to use every tool at our disposal to challenge the carbon tax, and we will continue to fight to keep this promise,” the premier said in a prepared statement.
But this morning’s Globe and Mail editorializes that “at this point that the conservative-led movement to discredit Ottawa’s carbon pricing regime is in tatters. Two courts in two different provinces have now ruled that the regime is constitutional. At the same time, the climate-change plans introduced by provincial governments that oppose carbon pricing, as well as by the federal Conservative Party, are being criticized for their lack of effectiveness.”
In the Ontario case, “federal lawyers argued the province was fearmongering,” CBC reports. “The act, they said, was a legitimate response to potentially catastrophic climate change by creating an incentive for people to change their behaviour.”
And “to the delight of environmental groups, the majority of the Appeal Court agreed with Ottawa, rejecting any contention the carbon levy is an illegal tax,” the national broadcaster adds. “They are regulatory in nature and connected to the purposes of the act,” Strathy wrote, adding that greenhouse gas reductions must be achieved efficiently, not piecemeal.
“The establishment of minimum national standards does precisely that.”
Federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney both echoed Ford’s opposition to the ruling. “The good news is that after October 21, provinces will no longer have to fight the Liberal carbon tax in court,” Scheer said in a prepared statement. “My first action as prime minister will be to scrap Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax and help Canadians get ahead.”
“It is unfortunate that Conservative politicians…continue to waste taxpayers’ dollars fighting climate action in court rather than taking real action to fight climate change,” responded Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, who called the judgement “good news for every Canadian who believes that climate action is urgent”.
Stewart Elgie, a University of Ottawa professor of law and economics at the University of Ottawa, called the decision a “big nail in the coffin” for the Conservative premiers fighting the federal carbon tax. “Two provincial appeal courts have upheld the federal law, and it is very likely the Supreme Court will do the same,” he told CBC. “It would be great if Doug Ford took the C$30 million he’s using to fight carbon pricing, and instead used it to fight climate change.”
“The court decision may not have gone his way, but it should be welcomed by Premier Doug Ford because it gives him the chance to change course on his misguided efforts to fight the carbon tax,” said Clean Prosperity Executive Director Michael Bernstein. “This ruling should be considered a victory for both the environment, and Ontario families and businesses.”
“The courts are aligning with Parliament, Canadian municipalities, and the public in confirming that national action is needed to tackle this climate emergency,” said David Suzuki Foundation Science and Policy Director Ian Bruce. “There’s growing recognition throughout the country that Canada’s climate emergency must be met with national measures in line with the urgency and challenge of meeting our climate commitments.”
“One of the main recommendations from the 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change was the establishment of a strong, predictable price on climate emissions to drive healthy change in the same way as increased prices of tobacco products did.” said Dr. Courtney Howard, president of Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. “Including carbon pricing, a proven, effective tool as part of our approach to climate change, helps us protect people from the harmful impacts of heat waves, droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, and floods that are becoming more frequent and more intense because of climate change.”