Alberta is following the lead of Saskatchewan and Ontario as it seeks a legal opinion from the province’s appeal court on the constitutionality of the federal government’s carbon tax.
Doug Schweitzer, Alberta’s Justice Minister, said Thursday that his office has filed a reference case with the Alberta Court of Appeal, joining a coalition of conservative premiers opposed to the centrepiece of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s climate plan. Alberta’s legal challenge comes one week after Ottawa announced that it is imposing a carbon tax in January on the province.
Saskatchewan’s Court of Appeal ruled in May that a federally imposed carbon tax is constitutional and that Ottawa has the right to set national standards for a price on greenhouse gas emissions. Ontario’s highest court has yet to rule on that province’s appeal.
“We will use every legal tool at our disposal to fight the federal carbon tax and uphold the promise we made to Albertans,” Mr. Schweitzer told reporters in Edmonton. One of Premier Jason Kenney’s first decisions after his election in April was to scrap the provincial carbon tax put in place by the former NDP government.
“We have a coalition of allies with three other provinces who are also taking action against the constitutionality of the imposition of a federal carbon tax,” Mr. Schweitzer added. Manitoba has also filed a challenge with the Federal Court, which takes a different approach from the other three provinces.
The Justice Minister said the court case is expected to cost Alberta about $300,000. He said he hopes the province’s Court of Appeal will be willing to speed its regular process and hear arguments in October. The Saskatchewan and Ontario cases took about nine months to get to court.
The imposition of Ottawa’s carbon tax, known as the backstop, is an unconstitutional intrusion into provincial jurisdiction and threatens to upset Canada’s constitutional order, argues the legal challenge signed by Alberta’s Lieutenant-Governor on Thursday morning. It asks the court: “Is the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act (Canada) unconstitutional in whole or in part?”
The argument, as well as the reference question to the province’s court, mirrors the case brought forward by Saskatchewan’s government, lawyer Amir Attaran said. Saskatchewan’s case is currently being appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
“It’s exactly the same constitutional question as Saskatchewan tried and failed, Ontario tried and probably will fail, and here we go a third time,” said Dr. Attaran, a law professor at the University of Ottawa and a lawyer for one of the complainants in the Saskatchewan and Ontario cases.
He said it would be unlikely Alberta’s court will accept the minister’s wish for an expedited hearing schedule. “It would be unseemly for the court to look like it is rushing to please the government,” he said.
Irfan Sabir, the Alberta New Democrats’ energy critic, said the challenge is a waste of money for the government.
“Essentially it’s insane that you’ll do the same thing over and over and over and expect something different,” he said. “This is not what the energy industry is looking for.”
Asked if he was concerned Alberta’s case is too similar to a case that already failed in Saskatchewan, Mr. Schweitzer said it is important for Alberta to have its objection to the federal tax noted in court.
“We obviously disagree with the decision that was provided in Saskatchewan. This is a gross overreach by the federal government into clear provincial jurisdiction,” he said.
Mr. Kenney should join the federal government in fighting climate change and not waste money in court, a spokeswoman for Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said.
“Jason Kenney knows full well that he’s trading a made-in-Alberta approach to pricing pollution for the federal backstop. That’s the choice he made when he decided to tear up Alberta’s climate plan,” spokeswoman Sabrina Kim wrote in a statement.
According to the federal government, the average family of four in the province can expect to get a rebate of $888 next year after the federal tax is applied.
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