Alberta’s Justice Minister is demanding the federal government immediately stop collecting the carbon tax in his province and return what consumers and businesses have already paid after its appeal court concluded this week that the levy is unconstitutional.
Doug Schweitzer outlined his demands in a letter to his federal counterpart, Justice Minister David Lametti, on Wednesday, two days after the Alberta Court of Appeal released a 4-1 decision that found the carbon tax overstepped Ottawa’s jurisdiction.
The decision, like previous ones in Saskatchewan and Ontario that sided with the federal government, isn’t binding, although all three rulings will be before the Supreme Court of Canada at a hearing next month that will ultimately settle the issue.
Mr. Schweitzer said the federal Liberal government should heed the Alberta ruling while it is waiting for the Supreme Court.
“The highest court in our province has ruled that the carbon tax is unconstitutional,” Mr. Schweitzer said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s a complete infringement on provincial jurisdiction, and we expect that the carbon tax should be immediately removed on Albertans.”
In a strongly worded decision, the court concluded that the federal carbon tax violated the constitution and wrongly infringed on the province’s right to control its natural resources. The ruling called the tax a ”constitutional Trojan horse,” warning that it would allow the federal government to exercise an unprecedented level of control over the lives of Canadians.
Mr. Schweitzer’s warned the Alberta government would take legal action if Ottawa doesn’t accede to its demands by the end of the week. Mr. Schweitzer said that could include seeking an injunction until the Supreme Court of Canada case is decided and he also raised the possibility of Albertans filing a class-action lawsuit.
“We would expect that any reasonable person would not impose an unlawful tax on people of a different jurisdiction,” he said.
Saskatchewan’s Court of Appeal issued a 3-2 decision last May that said the carbon tax, which it concluded was legally a regulatory charge rather than a tax, is constitutional. Ontario’s Court of Appeal issued a 4-1 opinion that reached a similar conclusion last June.
Both of those decisions have been appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. While Mr. Schweitzer acknowledged it is likely too late for the Alberta case to be formally appealed in time to be added to the March hearing, the decision will be raised and debated before the Supreme Court. The Alberta government is an intervener.
Mr. Lametti’s office referred questions about Mr. Schweitzer’s letter to Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, who made it clear his government does not intend to do anything before the Supreme Court rules. Mr. Wilkinson said he’s confident the federal government will win.
“Ultimately, the arbiter of this will be the Supreme Court,” he said.
“We clearly have a difference of opinion on this. Two-thirds of Canadians voted for political parties that wanted to see a price on pollution and wanted more aggressive action on climate change.”
Saskatchewan, Ontario and Alberta all launched reference cases, a process in which governments can ask for the court’s opinion on constitutional issues. The resulting decisions aren’t binding and have no immediate effect on the law, but governments typically heed those opinions, particularly when they come from the Supreme Court of Canada.
Eric Adams, who teaches law at the University of Alberta, said there’s no legal reason for the federal government to act before the Supreme Court of Canada releases its decision.
“There will be no incentive for the federal government to treat the Alberta Court of Appeal decision as binding or to take any steps as a result of it,” he said.
“They are fixing their eyes upon the Supreme Court of Canada and will wait to hear the opinion of that final court of appeal.”
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