The Saskatchewan government’s challenge of the federal carbon tax heads to a Regina courtroom this week, as the province is joined by Ontario and other intervenors in opposing a key part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s climate plan.
Premier Scott Moe’s government asked Saskatchewan’s Court of Appeal to examine the constitutionality of the federal carbon-tax regime, which allows provinces to create their own climate plans but imposes a federal tax on those that do not meet Ottawa’s requirements. Arguments begin on Wednesday.
The case, which is expected to end up at the Supreme Court of Canada, is the first of a number of legal challenges ahead of a federal election in which the carbon tax is expected to be an issue. Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government has also filed a separate legal challenge that will be heard in that province’s courts in April.
Mr. Moe has opposed the idea of a carbon tax and warned it would hurt his province’s economy. Saskatchewan has instead put out plans to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions through limited levies on large emitters and the use of technology, and in court the province will argue the federal government should take those efforts into account.
Despite the Saskatchewan Premier’s objections, the province’s legal argument says it “would have no constitutional objection” if the federal government adopted a national tax that applied across the country.
“The carbon tax will apply in Saskatchewan only because the government of Saskatchewan has decided not to impose its own carbon tax,” the province’s Attorney-General said in a written argument to the court.
“This is constitutionally illegitimate.”
The federal government plans to impose a carbon tax in April on five provinces that do not have one of their own: Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.
The Ontario government argues in its court filings that Ottawa does not have the power to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from all sources, including provincially regulated industries.
Ottawa argues that it has the power to impose the carbon tax under Section 91 of the Constitution, which gives the federal government broad powers to make laws for “peace, order and good government.”
The federal government has said most of the money raised by the tax will be returned to individual Canadians through rebates.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna said that this week’s case in Saskatchewan is more than just a fight between the federal government and conservative leaders. She pointed to health professionals, Indigenous communities and youth groups who intervened in favour of the federal law.
“This is going to the Supreme Court. Pollution doesn’t know borders,” Ms. McKenna said in Victoria. “It’s provinces led by conservative politicians who are fighting this, and they don’t understand that climate change is costing billions.”
In a statement on Tuesday, Ms. McKenna said the federal government is determined to press ahead with its carbon-tax plan, and will not replace the large emitters levy with the Ontario approach.
Amir Attaran, a professor of law and medicine from the University of Ottawa, will be in court for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.
“Their existence is at stake due to global warming, it’s not hyperbole,” he said of the northern Alberta community, which relies heavily on the health of local caribou. “If the federal law is disapproved by the Saskatchewan court, that solution to the constitutional question would only spawn a new constitutional problem, which is that no level of government can adequately regulate greenhouse gases."
The British Columbia government is supporting Ottawa’s case, noting that it adopted a carbon tax 10 years ago, and now enjoys the highest economic growth in the country.
On the eve of the Saskatchewan court hearing, Ontario released more details on Tuesday of its plan to require large industrial operations to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions.
The provincial proposal is broadly similar to Ottawa’s regulated standards for large emitters, which essentially sets a threshold based on industry averages above which a facility’s emissions are taxed.
“Our proposed approach to reduce emissions from industry would help us achieve our emissions-reduction targets without imposing a carbon tax, which would kill jobs, negatively impact the province’s economy and make life more expensive for workers, seniors and families,” said Rod Phillips, Ontario Minister of the Environment, in a release on Tuesday.
However, the Ontario proposal includes a carbon tax on emissions from large industrial facilities that exceed regulated limits, starting at $20 a tonne this year and rising to $50 a tonne in 2022, in line with the federal levy.
With reports from Justine Hunter in Victoria and Shawn McCarthy in Ottawa