Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe speaks to the media at the First Ministers conference in Montreal on December 7, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

‘Are provinces sovereign?:’ Saskatchewan meets Ottawa in carbon tax challenge

Province argues its constitutional challenge of a federal carbon levy is about divisions of power

Lawyers for Saskatchewan and its allies warn that Ottawa’s justification for imposing a carbon price on consumers will erode provincial sovereignty under the Constitution.

“Giving Canada this degree of regulatory authority over (greenhouse gas emissions) will result in the limitless, intrusive federal regulatory capability over provincial affairs,” William Gould, for New Brunswick’s attorney general’s office, an intervener in the case, said Wednesday. “It only begins here.”

Saskatchewan’s legal counsel opened a two-day Appeal Court hearing by arguing that the province’s constitutional challenge of a federal carbon levy is not about climate change, but the divisions of power.

“This is not a case about whether climate change is real or not,” Mitch McAdam said. “The government of Saskatchewan is not made up of a bunch of climate change deniers.”

He said the question is whether provinces are “sovereign and autonomous within the areas of their jurisdiction” under the Constitution Act.

“Or under our Constitution can the federal government step in whenever it thinks provinces aren’t … exercising their jurisdiction appropriately and act for them?

“That’s really what this case is about.”

READ MORE: Smaller companies worry they can’t pass carbon tax costs to customers, poll says

Evidence presented that speaks to the gravity of climate change and effectiveness of carbon pricing is irrelevant, McAdam said.

“The fact that climate change is a serious issue does not override the Constitution.”

Ottawa’s legal position is that climate change is a national concern and the federal government has the power to impose a carbon tax under the Constitution, which states laws can be made “for the peace, order and good government of Canada.”

Alan Jacobson, a lawyer for Saskatchewan, argued that Ottawa does not meet the constitutional test to use the rationale of a “national concern.”

“How does an Ottawa policy turn into a national concern?” he asked.

Jacobson said ”of peace, order and good government of Canada” has sweeping implications and should be approached by the court with caution.

“It’s radical and intrusive. It’s absolute and exclusive,” he said. “It wishes to displace provincial space that today exists over these areas.”

Arguments that Canada is in the right because it has international obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions should be dismissed, Jacobson added.

“Ottawa is not a big brother jurisdiction over the provinces even when it makes international commitments.”

A panel of five judges is hearing arguments from both sides as well as from interveners such as the provinces of New Brunswick and Ontario, which are also fighting the federal carbon tax.

In total, there are 16 groups intervening in the case.

Ottawa is to get its turn to present its side Thursday. Saskatchewan will have a chance to respond. Interveners in favour of a carbon tax will also speak, including Indigenous groups and environmentalists.

The Saskatchewan Party government argues a federal carbon levy is unconstitutional because it’s not applied evenly across Canada and intrudes on provincial jurisdiction. Provinces that already have their own carbon-pricing plan are not subject to the federal tax.

Saskatchewan is one of four provinces without a plan that will be subject to Ottawa’s fuel charge starting in April. New Brunswick, Ontario and Manitoba are the others.

The federal government’s carbon price starts at a minimum at $20 a tonne and rises $10 each year until 2022.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

More B.C. ambulance service needed in the North: Hospital chief of staff

Fort St. James physicians talk about the need for easier access to healthcare

Broken axle caused New Hazelton train derailment: TSB

It could happen again without a different way to inspect trains

Cullen remains uncertain about political future

Says he’ll make decision in early March

Terrace resident’s bill banning single-use plastics introduced in Ottawa

MP Nathan Cullen’s presented Ben Korving’s private member’s bill Wednesday

B.C. BUDGET: Surplus $374 million after bailouts of BC Hydro, ICBC

Growth projected stronger in 2020, Finance Minister Carole James says

National Energy Board approves Trans Mountain pipeline again

Next step includes cabinet voting on the controversial expansion

Girl heard saying ‘Help my Dad’ in suspicious radio message on Vancouver Island

Police asking for help following mysterious signals from somewhere between Comox and Sayward

Reports of rashes prompt closure of all Harrison Hot Springs pools

Public pool available after Fraser Health shut down all five mineral pools until further notice

No treatment for highly infectious measles, says doctor

10 cases of measles confirmed in Vancouver as of Friday

Two more measles cases confirmed in Vancouver

It brings the number of total cases within the city connected to the outbreak to ten

B.C. Special Olympics officially underway in Vernon

Athlete’s Oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

Vancouver Aquarium wants your help to name a baby killer whale

The public helped name Springer’s first calf, Spirit, and is being asked to help with the second

Guards protest firing of fellow officers charged with assault at B.C. prison

Corrections officers demonstrated in Maple Ridge on Friday afternoon

Skier dies at Revelstoke Mountain Resort

Cause of death for young man has not been released

Most Read