Carbon tax and TMX pipeline dominate top court’s winter session

The Supreme Court of Canada building, located in downtown Ottawa. Jan. 3, 2020. Jolson Lim/iPolitics

Just as it did when it ruled on Senate reform, prostitution and medically assisted death, the Supreme Court of Canada, as it begins its winter session, will take a leadership role on nation-building issues that could profoundly change Canada.

If dealing with climate change is the imminent crisis of the next decade, then three major cases are pivotal in determining how Canada manages emissions reduction and deals with the threat of a warming globe in the years to come.

Two of the cases, to be heard in March, are about the federal government’s carbon pricing scheme, a law that some say has already deeply divided the country.

Saskatchewan and Ontario are arguing that the federal government’s 2018 Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act is unconstitutional.

The top court will have to determine if the so-called carbon tax is such an issue of national concern that it falls under Parliament’s constitutional authority to ensure peace, order and good government.

Saskatchewan, in its brief to the top court, states its own plan — a provincial responsibility, it says — is based on reducing emissions from its largest industrial emitters. The federal law imposes a fuel surcharge on consumers and producers

Saskatchewan lost at court of appeal in a 3-2 decision that found the federal law didn’t impose taxes, but regulatory charges meant to regulate behaviour, not raise revenues.

Ontario also lost at the Ontario Court of Appeal. Alberta is waiting for its own appeal court’s decision.

“The provinces are fully capable of regulating greenhouse gas emissions themselves, have already done so, and continue to do so,” Ontario’s brief says.

The third case about the conflict between environmental regulation and federal-provincial jurisdiction is to be heard next week at the top court.

British Columbia is asking whether it can regulate aspects of the environmental impact of the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline extension, designed to transport oil from Alberta through B.C. to the coast for export to other countries.

A pipeline has existed for almost 40 years and has been pumping about 300,000 barrels of oil a day, an amount that will nearly triple with the expansion.

At the B.C. court of appeal, B.C. lost as that court unanimously ruled the proposed amendments by the B.C. government were aimed more at stopping the pipeline than regulating the environment. MORE

 

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