The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the Federal government can impose a price on carbon. The 6-3 decision was released on Thursday morning, and effectively ends a joint appeal by the Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan governments of the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act, aka: the Carbon Tax. Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield hopes this means the whole country can now move forward on climate action.
“We were anticipating that [the decision] was going to be positive, and we’re now thinking about how we can get on with things without all this back and forth,” Longfield told Guelph Politico by phone on Thursday. “The Supreme Court has weighed in, and that puts the whole matter to rest so that we can now start working on things.”
In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Richard Wagner said the government was well within the bounds of its authority to put a price on carbon. “The GGPPA is constitutional. It sets minimum national standards of GHG price stringency to reduce GHG emissions,” Wagner wrote. “Parliament has jurisdiction to enact this law as a matter of national concern under the peace, order, and good government (“POGG”) clause of s. 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867.”
Wagner written decision explains that climate change is a matter of “national concern”, which is a limited but well-established clause in Canadian constitutional law. He does acknowledge an impact on “the provinces’ freedom to legislate” but notes that putting a price on carbon is a “narrow and specific regulatory mechanism” and that the GGPPA’s establishment of a minimum national standard is allowed so that the work of fighting a national threat like climate change doesn’t falls on some provinces more than others.
“This irreversible harm would be felt across the country and would be borne disproportionality by vulnerable communities and regions in Canada,” Wagner wrote. “The impact on those interests justify the limited constitutional impact on provincial jurisdiction.”
“It is well established that climate change is causing significant environmental, economic and human harm nationally and internationally, with especially high impacts in the Canadian Arctic, coastal regions and on Indigenous peoples,” Wagner added.
“We knew what we were doing was sound policy, it’s been policy that other countries looked at and said that pricing pollution is definitely the way to go,” Longfield said. “The only people that weren’t saying it was conservative premiers.”
“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court of Canada does not change our core conviction that the federal carbon tax is bad environmental policy, bad economic policy, and simply wrong,” said Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe in a statement. “While the Supreme Court has determined that Prime Minster Trudeau has the legal right to impose a carbon tax, it doesn’t mean he should, and it doesn’t make the carbon tax less punitive for Saskatchewan people.”
The Government of Saskatchewan led the appeal with support from the Governments of Alberta and Ontario. In a lengthy statement on behalf of the Government of Ontario, Environment Minister Jeff Yurek basically said that there’s no regrets at Queen’s Park.
“Ontario will continue to argue that the provinces, not the federal government, have the primary responsibility to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and that the charges the federal Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act seeks to impose are in fact unconstitutional taxation,” Yurek said.
“Our government will continue its fight for Ontarians to have both a healthy economy and healthy environment,” he added. “Our Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan is proof that you can address climate change and protect the environment without a costly carbon tax on Ontario families.”
“This $30 million lawsuit was a politically motivated waste of public dollars,” said Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner in his own statement on the matter. “Chief Justice Wagner’s words should send a clear message to the Premier. The threat of climate change is so great that a national approach is necessary.”
“I’m calling on the Premier to stop wasting our hard-earned tax dollars sabotaging climate solutions with stickers that don’t stick and politically motivated lawsuits,” Schreiner added.
Longfield, who is part of the Environmental Committee on Parliament Hill, said that he and his colleagues were excited about the ruling this morning, and they are now thinking about the next phases of climate action. He said it’s important work that he hopes governments at the provincial level will take a more active role in.
“We’ve updated [the GGPPA] to take us out to 2030, and the provinces have an accountability piece to take the equivalent steps to reduce the impacts of climate change,” Longfield explained. “The City of Guelph is working on net zero, we’re working on net zero, businesses are working on net zero, maybe the provinces will join us.”
That will be determined, but Longfield said that his primary take away from the decision is the Supreme Court’s emphatic statement that climate change is an existential threat that falls within the definition of “peace, order, and good government” in Canada’s constitution.
“To put it as seriously as they did this morning, that it’s such a serious crisis and a threat to human life, and that we need a coordinated effort from all orders of government working together, was an interesting emphasis from the Court,” Longfield said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us, and this helps reinforce the importance of the work that we’re doing.”