OTTAWA – The Supreme Court of Canada ruled Thursday that the federal government has the power to impose a minimum carbon price across the country in the name of reducing greenhouse gas emissions “as a matter of national concern “.
This decision is a victory for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government, who have staked the success of their climate plan on Ottawa’s power to ensure a minimum price for carbon in all provinces and territories.
In a 6-to-3 split decision, a majority of Canada’s nine highest court judges upheld the federal greenhouse gas pollution pricing law as constitutional in its entirety, dismissing the legal challenges of the governments of Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan who argued that the law interfered with provincial jurisdiction. The court sided with federal government lawyers who argued that Ottawa has the power to impose a minimum carbon price because reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a “national concern” under of the “peace, order and good government” clause of the Constitution.
“Climate change is real. It is caused by greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activities and poses a serious threat to the future of humanity, ”reads the majority decision drafted by Chief Justice Richard Wagner.
The Court found that provinces are also limited in their ability to tackle the threat of climate change on their own and that Canada’s overall effort to reduce emissions would be undermined if a province refused to participate in carbon pricing programs with a minimum level of rigor.
In light of this, the tribunal determined that the potential interference with a province’s “privileged balance between economic and environmental considerations” is justified, because of the harms that would occur if Ottawa could not lead a response. national climate change policy.
“This irreversible harm would be felt across the country and would be borne disproportionately by vulnerable communities and regions in Canada,” Wagner wrote. “The impact on these interests justifies the limited constitutional impact on provincial jurisdiction.”
However, three judges from the highest court disagreed with the majority’s decision. Justice Suzanne Côté agreed that carbon pricing is a matter of “national interest”, but did not accept that federal law imposing a national minimum price be constitutional as drafted.
Justices Malcolm Rowe and Russell Brown strongly disagreed with the majority decision, concluding that the carbon pricing law interferes with areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction and therefore unconstitutional.
“It is not possible for a matter that previously fell under provincial jurisdiction to be transformed, when minimum standards are invoked, into a matter of national interest,” Brown wrote in his dissenting opinion.
To do so, argued Brown, “would be to accept a model of supervisory federalism” which opens “any area of provincial jurisdiction to unconstitutional federal intrusion.”
In a written statement, Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson called the decision “a victory for the millions of Canadians who believe we must build a prosperous economy that fights climate change” and wondered if that ” would end the efforts of conservative politicians. fight climate action in court. ”
The federal NDP and environmental policy groups also welcomed the decision, with Clean Prosperity Executive Director Michael Bernstein calling on federal and provincial opponents of carbon pricing to reconsider their positions.
“Canada has the world’s most ambitious economy-wide carbon pricing system,” Bernstein said in a statement. “Today’s court ruling leaves this system intact.”
The federal carbon pricing law was enacted in 2018 and required provinces to put in place their own carbon pricing programs – through a tax or a cap-and-trade system – which meet the minimum standards set by Ottawa. Provinces that do not create such systems are subject to the federal “support” carbon price, which includes a “fuel charge” on gasoline and other fuels that is offset by rebates sent to households, and a separate pricing system for heavy industries like cement and steel production.
The federal minimum price is currently set at $ 30 per tonne of emissions, and the Liberal government intends to continue raising it until it reaches $ 170 per tonne in 2030.
However, this policy has been the site of a heated political battle, with federal Conservatives and like-minded provincial governments poking fun at the price of carbon as a “job-killing tax on everything.” Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has vowed to give up politics if he gains power and has vowed to unveil a credible plan to cut emissions without it.
The government of Ontario Premier Doug Ford also fought against politics, including spending $ 30 million on deceptive stickers for gas pumps that showed how the price of carbon would increase the cost of fuel, but not to mention the discounts.
The Federal Parliamentary Budget Officer reported in 2019 that most households in provinces subject to the fuel charge would receive more than they paid because of the rebates.
Only the fuel charge portion of the federal carbon price applies in Ontario, after Ottawa ruled that the Ford government’s pricing system for large emitters met federal minimum standards.
In a statement Thursday, Ontario Environment Minister Jeff Yurek did not address the province’s legal defeat but said: “We will continue to do whatever we can to make life better. affordable for families and businesses.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a group that wants to cut taxes, called the decision “disappointing” and pledged to continue to fight the price of carbon in the public arena now that the Supreme Court has ruled it. “Legal”.
The Liberal government has championed the price of carbon as an essential tool to reduce emissions and deliver on its promise of Canada’s current target to cut emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 and achieve emissions net zero by 2050.
It was the centerpiece of the government’s new $ 15 billion climate plan, which shows how Canada will overcome a persistent deficit and exceed that target by reducing emissions to at least 31% below 2005 levels by 2030.
With files from Robert Benzie
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