‘Greatest existential threat of our time:’ Ottawa makes carbon tax case in court

Alberta argues it has its own power to address carbon emissions and Ottawa should butt out

A campaign worker steams the wrinkles from a large Alberta flag at the venue where United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney was set to address supporters in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, April 16, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

A campaign worker steams the wrinkles from a large Alberta flag at the venue where United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney was set to address supporters in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, April 16, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

The climate crisis is a national and global issue that can’t be fought entirely by the provinces, a lawyer for the federal government argued Tuesday.

“The context of this case is the greatest existential threat of our time,” said Sharlene Telles-Langdon in her opening arguments in support of Ottawa’s carbon tax.

The law that brought in the tax is being challenged this week by Alberta in the province’s Court of Appeal.

Ontario and Saskatchewan have also gone to their top courts to oppose the tax, but lost. They are appealing to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Ottawa argues its authority for the tax comes from the Constitution’s peace, order and good government clause. Establishing minimum national standards on greenhouse gas emissions “is a matter of national concern that only Parliament can address.”

Telles-Langdon argued in court that the circumstances surrounding climate change have developed enough to make it a national concern. Much more is known about it, she said, and the severity of the threat has greatly increased.

“There has been a constitutionally important transformation,” she said. “We’re now in a situation where the dimensions of the problem are international and global.”

The carbon tax flows from the federal government’s right to sign international treaties, she added, and is part of living up to climate change accords such as the Paris Agreement.

She told the five-judge panel that the carbon tax grew out of co-operation between the federal government and the provinces that began in 2016 after a first ministers meeting in Vancouver. The provinces agreed at that time that carbon pricing shouldn’t make businesses in one province less competitive in comparison with others.

Several provinces already had carbon-pricing schemes at that time, she said.

“When this was signed, part of the agreement was that other provinces be brought on board.”

She argued that the tax still gives provinces the flexibility to meet a minimum standard in their own way. She pointed to Alberta’s recently approved levy on industrial emitters.

The federal lawyer faced repeated questions from judges about the scope of the legislation and how it would be implemented. In response to a question on whether Ottawa could simply ignore competitive pressures on Canadian businesses, Telles-Langdon pleaded with the court “to be reasonable about what Parliament does.”

“The federal government has to be very cognizant of the economy of the country as a whole.”

READ MORE: ‘You can call anything a national concern’: Alberta questions federal carbon tax

On Monday, a lawyer for the Alberta government argued that allowing the tax law to stand would give the federal government a tool it could use to repeatedly chip away at provincial powers.

Peter Gall said issues of “national concern” are rare. Greenhouse gases don’t meet the test, he said, and upholding the tax law would open the door to Parliament stepping into provincial matters whenever it wanted.

The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital took in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health as part of a provincial agreement. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria hospital takes in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health

Royal Jubilee Hospital takes patients as part of provincial transport network

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared on Nov. 19. (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
52 positive COVID-19 cases now associated with LNG Canada site outbreak

Eight cases still active, 44 considered recovered

The Kitimat River in July. (Clare Rayment photo)
Good News, Kitimat!

Bringing some local good news to your week

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross has been named critic for Environment and Climate Change Strategy for the BC Liberals. (Peter Versteege photo)
Skeena MLA Ellis Ross named critic for Environment and Climate Change Strategy

Previously, Ross was the critic for LNG, Resource Opportunities, and Responsible Development

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation at the legislature, Nov. 30, 2020. (B.C. government)
Hockey team brought COVID-19 back from Alberta, B.C. doctor says

Dr. Bonnie Henry pleads for out-of-province travel to stop

B.C. Premier John Horgan on a conference call with religious leaders from his B.C. legislature office, Nov. 18, 2020, informing them in-person church services are off until further notice. (B.C. government)
B.C. tourism relief coming soon, Premier John Horgan says

Industry leaders to report on their urgent needs next week

An RCMP cruiser looks on as a military search and rescue helicopter winds down near Bridesville, B.C. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey
B.C. Mountie, suspect airlifted by Canadian Armed Forces from ravine after foot chase

Military aircraft were dispatched from Comox, B.C., say RCMP

An 18-year old male southern resident killer whale, J34, is stranded near Sechelt in 2016. A postmortem examination suggests he died from trauma consistent with a vessel strike. (Photo supplied by Paul Cottrell, Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
“We can do better” — humans the leading cause of orca deaths: study

B.C. research reveals multitude of human and environmental threats affecting killer whales

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

BIG SALMON ranch in Washington State. (Center for Whale Research handout)
Non-profit buys Chinook ranch in hopes of increasing feed for southern resident killer whales

The ranch, which borders both sides of Washington State’s Elwha River, is a hotspot for chinook salmon

Gaming content was big on YouTube in 2020. (Black Press Media files)
What did Canadians watch on Youtube during isolation? Workouts, bird feeders

Whether it was getting fit or ‘speaking moistly,’ Canadians had time to spare this year

Most Read