On March 25, 2021, the Supreme Court of Canada released a decision related to the federal government’s highly controversial carbon pricing system. In the on-going national debate over federal and provincial policy-making authority across Canada, the nation’s capital is victorious this year.
The recent environmental-based court decision and the process that evolved formally started in 2018, when Ottawa passed the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act which required all provinces to levy a charge on pollution either through a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system. Ottawa also said they would place a carbon tax on fuels in provinces that failed to establish adequate emission pricing regimes.
The provincial governments in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Ontario legally challenged the legislation, arguing it was federal intrusion on provincial jurisdiction for both taxes and resource development. The 6-3 Supreme Court decision concluded that addressing climate change through reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a matter of national concern under the Canadian Constitution.
In the current political climate in Canada where voters frequently consider themselves detached from the issues and decision-making processes at the federal and provincial levels of government, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Doug Ford have branded the federal carbon tax as a revenue measure that reaches into the pockets of Canadian taxpayers at a time when they can least afford it – and produces limited benefits.
Premier Moe has been highly blunt is his assessment, claiming a carbon tax kills jobs and penalizes the essential daily activities of families across his province. The Leader of the Saskatchewan NDP clearly broke solidarity with party members across Canada when he claimed a carbon charge takes far more from the people of Saskatchewan than they will get back.
In 2018, as Ontario voters went to the polls in a June election, Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservative Party campaigned heavily against a federal carbon tax. Most drivers in the province will recall the highly controversial stickers that appeared at gas pumps after Ford’s electoral victory, reminding them of the cost to their wallets.
The 2021 court decision is probably significant but proves this is a highly divisive issue that will be prominent the next time Canadian voters look for federal polling stations. This debate is far from any conclusions.
Written by Art Sinclair