To recall with longing the good old days when the worst political controversy was the Ontario government making provincial gas stations post partisan information under threat of heavy fines… Those days were revisited again on Friday with the Ontario Superior Court ruling that the anti-carbon tax stickers gas stations were ordered to display are actually unconstitutional.
The decision from Justice Edward M. Morgan said that the Federal Carbon Tax Transparency Act, the law passed in 2019 that said all gas stations in Ontario have to put a sticker printed by the government on each gas pump explaining the cost of additional fuel charges, violated section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that the government has no power to enforce it.
“A government or political party can, in the words of Ontario’s Minister of Energy, ‘stick it to’ another tier of government or political party as a matter of free speech in an election campaign or otherwise,” Morgan wrote in the decision. “But a government cannot legislate a requirement that private retailers post a sticker designed to accomplish that task. The mandatory fuel pump sticker is an unconstitutional attempt to do just that.”
“Gasoline retailers are at liberty to keep the stickers on their fuel pumps or to remove them, as they see fit,” Morgan added.
The suit was brought by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, who said that the law was an example of the Provincial government abusing its power, and constituted a misuse of authority. They also questioned the timing of the law, which was just before a Federal election, and the fact that private business were drafted into becoming part of a political messaging campaign.
“The provincial government can engage in a war of words with the federal government over the carbon tax, but it cannot use the threat of fines to conscript private businesses to take up its cause,” said Cara Zwibel, Director of the Fundamental Freedoms Program in a release last year.
“That’s unconstitutional compelled speech, because it uses the power of the state to propagate government propaganda, using the powerful legal threat of fining dissenters. So we at CCLA are standing up to their abuse of power by taking them to court,” added executive director Michael Bryant.
The Provincial government did not put out an official statement about the court ruling, but Energy Minster Greg Rickford did respond to the CBC with a comment to say that while they will abide by the court’s ruling, they “will always stand up for the people of Ontario when it comes to matters that make everyday life more expensive for hardworking families.”
Members of the Opposition would agree with the idea that families in Ontario need help to save money, but they wish the government would find a different way to do it. “Instead of political advertising on gas pumps, we need a government that will retrofit homes and buildings to lower energy costs, and that will help people make the switch to electric vehicles,” said Abhijeet Manay, deputy leader of the Green Party of Ontario in a statement.
“Today the Ontario Supreme Court revealed what we knew all along: the Ford government is wasting taxpayers’ money playing politics with the climate crisis,” Manay added. “The amount of time, resources and money being wasted on Ford’s politically charged, anti-science campaign is shameful.”
The Ontario government is still involved with the Supreme Court of Canada case against the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act (GGPPA) brought by the Government of Saskatchewan, which the Ontario government decided to continue with even after the results of the Federal election last year. The Ontario government has been accused of wasting taxpayer money on that court case too, and Official Opposition has warned them off wasting anymore.
“The Official Opposition NDP is calling for an immediate commitment from Doug Ford that he will not waste another dollar of public money to appeal the Superior Court decision,” said Energy and Climate Crisis critic Peter Tabuns. “He has already wasted enough of people’s money on his anti-carbon price stickers that don’t stick – a partisan and dishonest propaganda campaign.”