Opinion-Policy Nexus

It is time that climate change deniers, doubters and skeptics – along with the provincial and federal politicians who seek to advance partisan agendas by playing bootless legal and constitutional games with the carbon tax issue – folded their tents.

It is time they stopped wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on court challenges to the federal government’s carbon pricing regime – the 2018 Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act, to give it its official name. It is time they stopped misleading the public about Ottawa’s anti-pollution strategy.

Any lingering doubt should have been swept aside by the Ontario Court of Appeal on Friday when it decisively rejected the Ontario Progressive Conservative government’s challenge to the aforementioned GGPPA.

The decision, written by Chief Justice George R. Strathy, could not have been clearer. Ottawa is acting within its constitutional authority. It has the jurisdiction to enact a carbon tax – or, in this instance, what the court agreed was not so much a “tax” as a “regulatory charge.” (The chief justice compared it to the licence fees that the CRTC collects from broadcasters.) The charge is imposed on carbon-producing businesses, with all or part of the proceeds being returned to citizens to offset higher prices that result from the carbon charge.

The Ontario decision followed a similar ruling in Ottawa’s favour by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal in May when it rejected a challenge by that province’s Saskatchewan Party government. Next door, a challenge by Jason Kenney’s United Conservative government is heading to the Alberta Court of Appeal.

The challengers see a shred of hope in the fact that the two court rulings to date have come from divided courts – 3-2 in Saskatchewan, 4-1 in Ontario. It is a very small shred, because the dissenting judges did not deny that the feds have the constitutional authority. Their objection was more to the way the carbon levy was structured.

Federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer was – shall we say? – disingenuous when, commenting on the Ontario decision, he ignored the majority’s reasons and seized on the dissent by Justice Grant Huscroft to bolster his attack on what Scheer denounced as Trudeau’s “unfair carbon tax” and “so-called environmental plan.”

Scheer and the three provincial premiers in his camp may want to rethink their strategy. The Ontario decision gave Justin Trudeau everything he could have hoped for, including a powerful wake-up call for the nation from Chief Justice Strathy as he endorsed what he called “the need for a collective approach to a matter of national concern.”

He continued: “The uncontested evidence before this court shows that climate change is causing or exacerbating: increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events (including droughts, floods, wildfires, and heat waves); degradation of soil and water resources; thawing of permafrost; rising sea levels; ocean acidification; decreased agricultural productivity and famine; species loss and extinction; and expansion of the ranges of life-threatening vector-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus.

“Recent manifestations of the impacts of climate change in Canada include: major wildfires in Alberta in 2016 and in British Columbia in 2017 and 2018; and major flood events in Ontario and Québec in 2017, and in British Columbia, Ontario, Québec and New Brunswick in 2018. The recent major flooding in Ontario, Québec and New Brunswick in 2019 was likely also fueled by climate change.”

One can hope that politicians who do not take climate change seriously or do not believe it warrants a national “collective approach” will take the chief justice’s words seriously.

There’s hope, but there’s also Doug Ford. The premier wasted no time in announcing he will appeal last week’s decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. A Saskatchewan appeal is already on its way there.

More public money will be wasted in doomed efforts. There isn’t a snowball’s chance in Hades that the Supreme Court will overturn appeal court decisions on a matter that so clearly involves, as the Ontario court found, the “peace, order and good government” of Canada.


Monday, July 8, 2019 - 10:28