Christine Van Geyn and Jasmine Pickel are the Ontario Directors of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation
In Ontario’s fight against the federal carbon tax, we should separate the wheat from the chaff. The court battle is the wheat; the recent slew of taxpayer-funded provincial ads criticizing the tax is the chaff.
The Ford government is running radio, television and online ads that criticize the federal carbon tax. The expenses for these ads are coming from a taxpayer fund of $30-million previously set aside by the government to challenge the federal carbon tax.
These ads would not have been permitted under the Auditor-General’s previous power to review government advertising for partisan content. It’s a power the Wynne government repealed four years ago and the Ford government promised to restore in his 2018 election campaign. The Auditor-General has said that the new ads would not have passed her review under the old legislation.
Since the Auditor-General lost that power, every year the government has spent more money on more partisan advertising. In 2017-18, the government spent $62.6-million on taxpayer-funded advertising, the highest since 2006-2007. The cost of government advertising has essentially doubled since 2014-15, and the Auditor-General found that more than 30 per cent of that advertising should be considered partisan.
During the campaign, the PC platform estimated that the carbon-tax fight would cost $30-million in taxpayer money, but today it is unclear how much of that fund is being used for the actual court fight, and how much is being used to run ostensibly partisan ads.
The Ontario Attorney-General isn’t using outside legal counsel to fight the carbon tax, so the cost needed for that court challenge isn’t likely much outside of the normal department costs. So how much will these ad campaigns cost taxpayers over the course of this government’s mandate?
While big ad buys aren’t delivering value for taxpayers, Ontario’s fight against the federal carbon tax is critically important. Fighting the carbon tax was a promise Premier Doug Ford was elected on. And the fight is winnable.
The Saskatchewan court’s decision was only one vote away from a different ruling. The strongly worded dissenting opinion from two of the five judges called the act “an unconstitutional delegation of Parliament’s law-making power.”
British Columbia’s former minister of justice and attorney-general Suzanne Anton slammed the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal’s majority ruling in favour of federal carbon pricing, stating that the court “got it wrong.” She expressed grave concern for the feds’ intrusion into historically provincial domains, saying it could threaten the very foundation of our federation.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has stated that he plans to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, and he’s in good company. He has allies in Ford, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs – all of whom rode to power in elections that have been described as referendums on the federal carbon tax. Add Manitoba to the mix, and now 50 per cent of the provinces with almost 60 per cent of Canada’s population are actively opposing the carbon tax.
Under Canada’s Constitution, provinces have the right to pursue their own solutions for environmental issues. And if the federal government wants to impose a tax – and the federal carbon tax certainly is a tax – it needs to call it a tax and ensure it complies with the constitutional requirements for a tax. Otherwise, we are empowering the federal government to call any new tax a fee or levy, and take hard-earned money from the most vulnerable in society while failing to make any meaningful impact on climate change.
Ontario is right to pursue this fight − just as Saskatchewan, Alberta, New Brunswick and Manitoba are right. But for how the government is spending taxpayer money on it, keep the wheat and cut the chaff.