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British Columbia Western Canada: Court rulings on the carbon tax set stage for federal election

Good morning. Wendy Cox in Vancouver here.

Provincial premiers – notably Alberta’s newly elected Jason Kenney – have turned a dizzying array of lawsuits and threats of lawsuits into cannon fodder in advance of the next general election.

This week has demonstrated that the partisan battle over the balance between economic development and climate action will be fought this fall at the ballot box with the use of legal filings to add gravitas

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On Friday, the Province of Saskatchewan lost a pivotal challenge to the federal government’s imposition of a carbon tax when its highest court concluded climate change is a vital national issue. But the five judges split, with two dissenting saying the tax should be struck down.

While the ruling was a temporary political win for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the court’s opinion will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The case is also a harbinger of rulings to come: Ontario has made a similar argument to its highest court and a ruling is pending. The governments of Manitoba, New Brunswick and Alberta plan similar legal challenges.

But the carbon tax is just one court challenge that Mr. Kenney plans. On Thursday, Mr. Kenney threatened to sue the federal government to block its bill overhauling the environmental assessment of major resource projects.

Mr. Kenney maintains Ottawa has no business regulating provincially owned resources. He also took issue with another bill that would ban oil tankers from B.C.’s northern coast and said both bills are stoking the flames of Albertans’ alienation.

On Tuesday, when Mr. Kenney was sworn in, his cabinet proclaimed an NDP-drafted law allowing Alberta to restrict the flow of refined fuels to British Columbia in retaliation for that province’s opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

B.C.'s lawyers were in Alberta expecting the change. They immediately filed suit challenging the law and plan to be in court next week seeking an injunction to prevent Alberta from using it until the courts have ruled on its validity. Mr. Kenney has said the government doesn’t plan to turn off the taps immediately. And if it ever comes to that, Mr. Kenney also risks inflicting pain on his own oil industry.

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B.C. argues in its court filings that the Alberta law is unconstitutional because it illegally seeks to punish another province. The lawsuit also notes that while the Constitution does give provinces the ability to control some aspects of interprovincial trade, refined and upgraded oil products are explicitly exempt.

Meanwhile, British Columbia’s reference case to its highest court seeking approval of proposed provincial legislation that would have an impact on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is awaiting a ruling. B.C. wants to create a permitting system for companies that wish to increase the amount of heavy oil they are transporting through the province.

The gulf between pipeline opponents and carbon-tax opponents seems not to be bridged but through the courts.

The Globe’s editorial board, in a pox-on-all-your-houses take on the situation, writes: “A toothless carbon-reduction plan, paired with pipeline paralysis. More greenhouse gas emissions, paired with a hamstrung oil industry. Less environmental progress, paired with less economic prosperity. From an easy win-win to a frustrating everybody-loses. Hooray."

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. Let us know what you think.

Around the West

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CANOLA: The federal government is more than doubling a loan program designed to help canola farmers who are suffering from punitive Chinese trade restrictions. Farmers will now be able to borrow $1-million, up from $400,000, as grain traders look for new markets to replace China, which has ended purchases of Canadian canola amid a diplomatic dispute over the arrest of a Chinese executive. Growers say the extra money does not address the root of the dispute, and taking on new debt at a time of low crop prices is a poor business decision.

BY-ELECTION: Voters in Nanaimo head to the polls Monday in a federal by-election that is being treated by all major parties as a dry-run ahead of the fall election. The NDP held the riding previously and is consequently seen as the favourite.

REAL ESTATE: Vancouver’s real estate market continues to soften as sales hit a 24-year low in April, dragging down prices. The market has been cooling for more than a year, in the face of tightened mortgage rules, as well as restrictions on foreign buyers and vacant homes. But that doesn’t mean things are cheap: the average home price in the region is still above $1-million.

GAY-STRAIGHT ALLIANCES: Groups of students across Alberta walked out of class yesterday to protest the United Conservative Party government’s stance on gay-straight alliances. The UCP platform promised to retain protections for GSAs, but remove an NDP law that prohibited teachers from telling parents when a student joined one of the clubs.

POLICE SHOOTING: An investigation has found that a woman who was killed during a recent hostage situation in Surrey was shot by police officers. An armed man was also killed.

LGBTQ RIGHTS: Edmonton’s police chief has apologized for past discrimination against members of the city’s LGBTQ community, joining other Canadian forces that have done the same: “Our actions caused pain. They eroded trust. They created fear. They caused members of the public and our service alike to feel unsafe on their own streets, in their workplaces and even their homes.”

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HOUSING: West Vancouver has approved a housing development geared to middle-income earners, as cities in the Lower Mainland continue to look for ways to cope with sky-high real estate prices. The proposal, which is modelled after a similar project in Whistler, aims to address the reality that many people who work in West Vancouver can’t afford to live there.

Opinion

Jeffrey Jones on the B.C.-Alberta pipeline fight: “The B.C. government’s distaste for the Trans Mountain expansion has not been the main cause of the project’s regulatory quagmire. Blame that on a disastrous federal consultation record with Indigenous communities and insufficient evaluation of how increased oil tanker traffic off the Pacific coast will affect orcas.”

Martha Hall Findlay on the anger in Alberta: “Mr. Kenney is upset, but perhaps that righteous anger will force a more honest and balanced discussion about what’s important to the whole country, rather than individual regions – and reaffirm how this federation is supposed to work.”

Konrad Yakabuski on Jason Kenney’s fight against pipeline opponents: “But there is a big difference between making the case for new pipelines and taking aim at anyone or anything that might stand in the way of them. Mr. Kenney may be giving voice to the frustrations of many Albertans. But it won’t do a thing to change anyone’s mind.”

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