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Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe speaks during a press conference in Regina, on Oct. 25, 2023.Heywood Yu/The Canadian Press

The Saskatchewan government’s refusal to collect and remit the federal carbon tax on natural gas represents a flagrant violation of its legal and federal obligations. No loyal Canadian should support such actions.

That the Liberal government in Ottawa drove Saskatchewan to this extreme reveals the utter failure of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s approach to federal-provincial relations.

Both governments are putting the unity of the country at risk.

To the best of this writer’s knowledge, no provincial government has ever refused to collect and remit a legally valid federal tax.

But that is exactly what Premier Scott Moe’s Saskatchewan Party government is guilty of in its decision not to collect or remit the federal carbon tax on natural gas.

As Donald F. Bur, an authority on constitutional law, reminds us: “The rule of law is the rule of law.” The Moe government cannot defy one law, he says, while expecting citizens to respect other laws.

The Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act contains severe financial penalties, and even prison time, for individuals and organizations that disobey the act. Mr. Bur believes Ottawa should take the Saskatchewan government to court.

But Adebayo Majekolagbe, a professor in the faculty of law at University of Alberta, points out that, while the Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the constitutionality of the federal carbon tax, “no court can by judicial fiat confer legitimacy.”

Public opposition to the carbon tax, Prof. Majekolagbe said by e-mail, “has allowed the Moe government to do the unthinkable and restricted how far Ottawa can go in responding.”

The tax represents the worst example of the Trudeau government’s heavy-handed approach to federal-provincial relations.

When they came to office in 2016, the federal Liberals wanted to act on health care, child care, the environment and other areas of provincial jurisdiction. But rather than negotiating cooperatively, they used the federal spending power and constitutional authority to bend the provinces to their will. This is never good for national unity.

When several provinces failed to meet their standards for reducing carbon emission, the Liberals imposed the tax on those provinces, angering premiers from Edmonton to St. John’s. Among provinces, only Quebec and British Columbia are fully exempt.

The Liberals then compounded tensions through an act of rank political hypocrisy, by pausing the tax on home heating oil, which is most heavily used in Atlantic Canada, after Liberal MPs there pressed the government for an exemption.

Premiers demanded an exemption for homes heated by natural gas. Mr. Trudeau refused. Mr. Moe retaliated. Ottawa has retaliated in turn by saying it will cancel rebates to consumers. The Premier now threatens to stop remitting the carbon tax entirely.

The situation is dangerous. What if Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, who says her province “stands with Saskatchewan” in this dispute, decides to also boycott collecting the tax?

Livio Di Matteo, a professor of economic history at Lakehead University, believes that Saskatchewan probably doesn’t have a strong legal case. But how could Ottawa respond? By refusing to remit to Saskatchewan the provincial income tax it collects, or by withholding other transfers?

”Such measures are undiscovered country, but then so is a province choosing not to remit a federal tax,” Prof. Di Matteo said in an e-mail.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre vows to eliminate the carbon tax completely if he becomes prime minister. Environmentally, this is unsound. But it might help to hold the nation together. Voters will choose which matters more.

Federalism requires cooperation. Ottawa and the provinces argue, dicker, haggle, compromise and reach some kind of agreement, grumbling even as they sign the papers. We’ve been doing this for nigh on 157 years.

But Mr. Trudeau concluded that the crisis of global warming was so acute that he was prepared to bend recalcitrant provinces to his will, rather than negotiate the best deal he could get.

He then undermined that position by exempting home heating oil for nakedly political reasons. This does not justify the Saskatchewan government’s decision to ignore its legal obligation, but it does reveal how badly the Liberals have botched what should be their highest priority: keeping the country together.

The best solution, of course, would be for the federal and Saskatchewan governments to reach some sort of compromise. But Canada doesn’t work that way right now.

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