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Ontario’s top court ruled Friday that the federal carbon tax doesn’t overstep provincial jurisdiction — and the decision could have ramifications on the rest of Canada.
Nathalie Chalifour, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, told Global News that the ruling will send a message to other provinces.
“I think this sends a really strong signal back to the other provinces that are contesting the constitutionality of this legislation. There’s a very strong chance they will also lose their challenges,” she said.
Ontario had argued that the tax undermines co-operative federalism by allowing Ottawa to step into areas of provincial authority. Meanwhile, the federal government said it has the power to put a price on pollution because greenhouse gas emissions are a national concern.
Chief Justice George Strathy wrote on behalf of the Ontario court that fighting climate change is a matter of “national concern.”
“The need for a collective approach to a matter of national concern, and the risk of non-participation by one or more provinces, permits Canada to adopt minimum national standards to reduce (greenhouse gas) emissions,” Strathy wrote.
Ontario is the second province that tried to fight the carbon tax battle without success.
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Saskatchewan’s Court of Appeal found in May that establishing minimum national standards for a price on greenhouse gas emissions falls under federal jurisdiction. It’s a decision that the province appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada shortly after.
While a date for the Supreme Court hearing has been tentatively set for Dec. 5, Chalifour says this latest decision will likely impact it.
“Given that the two courts have ruled virtually in the same way, there is less need for the Supreme Court to pronounce on this. Usually, the Supreme Court will get involved if there is disagreement among provinces.”
Chalifour said there is now “some chance” that the highest court will now say there is consensus and simply confirm other decisions.
What happens next?
Provincial leaders have, however, vowed to keep fighting.
When courts ruled against Saskatchewan in May, Premier Scott Moe wrote on Twitter the ruling was “only game one of the playoffs.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in a statement that he is “disappointed” in the court’s ruling, adding it makes life more expensive for Canadians.
The statement added that Ontario will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, and instead focus on a “Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan.”
“Ontario has intervened in Saskatchewan’s appeal of its reference to the Supreme Court of Canada and in Manitoba’s application for judicial review in the Federal Court. We will also be seeking to intervene in Alberta’s challenge,” the government’s statement added.
Ford has also said that if carbon tax opponents lose in the courts, they will win at the ballot box in October — federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has promised he’d scrap it.
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Because the Supreme Court hearing is after the federal election, Chalifour explained that creates some uncertainty about what exactly will happen.
If the Liberals win another term, the battle likely will go on as scheduled.
“It would put the federal government in a very interesting position,” Chalifour said. “If there was a Conservative government at the time that would have opted to scrap the carbon price, it would be in court defending it as constitutional.”
Ford has also taken other steps to denounce the carbon tax, including making it mandatory for gas stations to display anti-carbon tax stickers. New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs has enforced a similar sticker at gas stations.
Plans for other provinces
Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Ontario all became subject to a federal carbon price in April after refusing to create their own. The provinces, and federal Conservatives, have criticized the carbon tax as a “cash-grab” for the Liberal government, and said it will lead to job losses.
Liberals have insisted that the carbon tax is necessary to fight climate change, and that Canadians will be compensated through a rebate.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney scrapped the provincial carbon tax the previous NDP government had created shortly after the election.
A federally imposed carbon tax will begin in the province on Jan. 1, 2020, if the Liberals win the October election, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said this month.
Other provinces, such as British Columbia, have enforced carbon taxes. Several studies have shown that British Columbia’s carbon tax has reduced that province’s emissions by 15 per cent and reduced its per-capita gasoline and natural gas use.
WATCH: Alberta launches constitutional challenge of federal carbon tax
What the federal government is saying
Following Friday’s win in Ontario, McKenna released a statement that echoed one released after the Saskatchewan win.
“…the ability of the federal government to tackle carbon pollution which knows no borders, is a clear issue of national concern, and which presents an urgent threat to Canadians and the world,” the statement read.
“It is unfortunate that Conservative politicians including Doug Ford and Jason Kenney, supported by Andrew Scheer, continue to waste taxpayers’ dollars fighting climate action in court rather than taking real action to fight climate change,” it said.
— With files from The Canadian Press
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