Ottawa acting like ‘Big Brother’ on carbon price law, Ontario court told

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Ottawa acting like ‘Big Brother’ on carbon price law, Ontario court told

by - 4 min read

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A lawyer for Saskatchewan says Ottawa’s carbon-pricing law amounts to Big Brother forcing its will on the provinces.

He tells Ontario’s top court that it’s no coincidence the law only applies in four provinces with Conservative governments.

On Day 3 of Ontario’s legal challenge, a five-judge panel is hearing from environmental, Indigenous and taxpayers’ groups, as Ford’s government continues its legal fight against the tax. 

CBC Toronto is live-streaming the court proceedings as the lawyers make presentations at the Ontario Court of Appeal Wednesday.

The crux of the constitutional challenge is whether the federal government has the right to impose the carbon tax on a province. Supporters of Ontario’s position say pollution pricing is unfair to taxpayers, while those who agree with the federal government say pollution is a national concern.

Like Ontario, Saskatchewan calls the federal charge imposed in four provinces on fossil fuels an illegal tax.

Ottawa maintains the law is needed to fight greenhouse gas emissions in those provinces that aren’t doing enough.

But Saskatchewan says the federal government is intruding on provincial authority simply because it doesn’t like provincial policies.

“This Big-Brother-Ottawa-knows-best is inimical to federalism,” lawyer MitchMcAdam told the five-justice panel. “You don’t need to throw out the Constitution in this case in order to save the planet.”

The federal Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act, which levies a charge on gasoline, other fossil and on industrial polluters, kicked in on April 1. While Ottawa calls the levy — currently four cents a litre on gasoline — a regulatory charge designed to change behaviour, Ontario and Saskatchewan call it an illegal tax.

“Consumers are simply told to do one thing: Pay more tax,” McAdam said. “The power to tax is the power to destroy.”

Earlier, a lawyer for British Columbia, which sides with Ottawa, said Canadians elected the federal government to address climate change. The law, he said, doesn’t get in the way of provinces’ ability to do their part.

“Each jurisdiction can innovate,” the lawyer said.


Here is a rundown on some of the organizations being represented in court Wednesday:

Canadian Taxpayers Federation

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) supports the province in its fight against the implementation of the federal carbon tax as it’s in favour of lower taxes. 

“There’s a problem with the tax and the way it’s been implemented,” said CTF federal director Aaron Wudrick. 

“Governments get very creative in how they want to frame things to make [taxes] more palatable.” 

Ford spoke out about the pan-Canadian policy during question period at Queen’s Park on Wednesday, saying that Alberta premier-designate Jason Kenney’s big win last night will strengthen Ontario’s fight against the carbon tax. 

“We’re building an anti-carbon tax alliance like this country has never seen,” Ford said, pointing out that there will soon be five premiers across the country who oppose Ottawa’s framework.

The CTF has long campaigned against the tax. 

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in Alberta says its way of life will be adversely affected by climate change. 

The lawyer representing the first nation says the carbon tax is the best solution Canadians have to fight it.

Lawyer Amir Attaran, who is representing the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, says climate change will disrupt their way of life. (CBC)

He said temperatures there will increase seven degrees between now and the end of the century. 

“You destroy the ecology, you destroy the way of living of Aboriginal people, and you destroy them as a culture,” said Ottawa lawyer Amir Attaran.

“To them, climate change is an existential threat.”

Several Indigenous groups are also interveners, including the Assembly of First Nations. 

Canadian Public Health Association 

To the Canadian Public Health Association, climate change is a public health concern, which only the federal government can address through pollution pricing. 

“Greenhouse gases don’t respect provincial or national borders,” said executive director Ian Culbert.

The federal government says its carbon tax is a way to curb greenhouse gas emissions. In this photo, the steel mills on the Hamilton waterfront are shown. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

He said there can often be a “patchwork quilt” approach to protecting the health of Canadians. 

“It’s one of the most grave, global public health threats in the 21st century.” 

Environmental Defence

The program director of Environmental Defence, Keith Brooks, says the Ontario government’s plan for the environment “lacks rigour” in fighting climate change.

It’s not ambitious enough.– Keith Brooks, Environmental Defence

As the court heard Thursday, Ontario has already brought down its greenhouse gas emissions by 22 per cent from 2005 levels, in large part due to decommissioning all coal-fired power generation. That happened under the previous government. 

The PC plan includes a fund of $400 million over four years that will help companies develop clean technologies. 

“There’s no math behind the plan,” said Brooks. “It’s not ambitious enough.” 

Brooks says a carbon tax will have a “very minor” impact on affordability of life, whereas unmitigated climate change will lead to flooding in peoples’ homes and cause forest fires.

“That has a much greater effect on peoples’ quality of life than four cents on a litre of gasoline.” 

This story originally appeared on CBC

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