Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government filed a submission Friday asking the Court of Appeal of Ontario to declare Ottawa’s carbon tax to be unconstitutional, ratcheting up the battle over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national climate-change plan.
The filing asking the court to strike down Ottawa’s Greenhouse Gas Pollution Act comes just five days after Premier Doug Ford slammed an “appointed” judge for quashing a law passed by the “elected” provincial legislature to reduce the number of city councillors in Toronto.
“Our view is that the provinces have the ability to regulate greenhouse gases and it does not require the significant expansion of federal powers to create a one-size-fits-all federal carbon tax solution,” Environment Minister Rod Phillips said in a news conference Friday.
The minister said Ontario will be finalizing its own climate plan this fall, as required under provincial legislation that is currently being debated and that would end the previous Liberal government’s cap-and-trade plan. The former government’s plan capped greenhouse-gas emissions and effectively established a price that was passed through to consumers.
The new plan will “protect taxpayers, it will make real greenhouse-gas reductions and it will help prepare Ontario for a changing climate,” Mr. Phillips said.
Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna insisted Friday that Ottawa has clear jurisdiction to impose the levy.
“We’ve been clear that we were elected on a mandate to take serious action to tackle climate change, including recognizing the cost of pollution to Canadians. So we’re going to move forward,” Ms. McKenna said in a call from California, where she participated in a global conference on climate action.
The federal minister said Ottawa will rebate the revenue back to the provinces from which it was collected, including direct rebates to homeowners and businesses. With respect to Ontario, she said the federal government will also provide support for municipalities, hospitals, school boards and businesses to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings, reviving a provincial program that was being paid for with cap-and-trade revenues and was eliminated by the Ford government.
She said it was “ironic” that the Progressive Conservative government in Ontario is asking judges to quash an act of Parliament given Mr. Ford’s comments earlier in the week on the primacy of elected legislatures.
Asked whether the government was being inconsistent, Mr. Phillips said the government is willing to use “all the tools in our toolbox” to defeat the federal carbon levy. Earlier this week, Mr. Ford announced his government would invoke the Constitution’s nothwithstanding clause to override a court decision striking down the provincial law that would reduce Toronto City Council from 47 members to 25.
On Friday, Mr. Phillips said he has “absolute respect” for judges, that it is “their role” to review the federal legislation to determine whether it is constitutional.
In July, Ontario joined Saskatchewan in a court case challenging the federal tax, which will be applied in provinces that either do not have their own carbon-pricing plan or fail to meet Ottawa’s national standards.
Ms. McKenna suggested Ontario’s retreat from action on climate change was unfortunate given the strong evidence that warming temperatures are already contributing to extreme events, such as property damage from floods, people dying in heat waves and forest fires from rising temperatures and drought.
Mr. Phillips said the Ontario plan will reduce emissions but also focus on adaptation to ensure the province is ready for the extreme weather and other effects of a changing climate.
Greenpeace climate campaigner Keith Stewart said the Ontario plan should be judged according to whether it is consistent with the target agreed to under the 2015 Paris Agreement of keeping warming as far below a 2-degree limit as possible.