Just before 8 a.m. this morning, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the federal Liberal Government's Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act is constitutional. Out of the nine judges, six were entirely in favour of the act, one was partially in dissent, and the other two dissented.
The Supreme Court heard two days of arguments on either side of the carbon tax debate in September, as Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Alberta each cast separate legal challenges.
The carbon tax came into effect in 2019 by Justin Trudeau's Liberal government. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe challenged its constitutionality, but the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruled that it was within the federal government’s rights to implement a federal carbon tax.
The tax is set to keep rising to reach $170 per tonne by 2030 for provinces without their own carbon-pricing plan that meets standards set by the federal government. The tax is rising at $10 per tonne yearly until 2022 (when it hits $50), then it will increase by $15 per tonne each year until 2030.
In May of 2019, the province of Saskatchewan filed notice of appeal with the Supreme Court. They asked the court two questions:
1. Is the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act is unconstitutional in whole or in part?
2. In particular, does Parliament have jurisdiction to establish minimum national standards for price stringency for greenhouse gas emissions under the national concern branch of the peace, order and good government power set out in the opening words of section 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867?
Premier Scott Moe will be addressing the decision this at noon today, and comments from Estevan MLA Lori Carr will come shortly after.
Chief Justice Richard Wagner wrote the majority decision, while Justice Malcolm Rowe and Justice Russell Brown dissented, and Suzanne Côté dissented in part.
The majority decision, as reported in the court's Case in Brief, said global warming's damage transcends provincial boundaires, and is therefore a matter of national concern under the "peace, order and good government" clause of the Constitution (Section 91). The ruling decision said the Act would only apply if pricing systems put in place by provinces or territories aren't strict enough to reduce global warming.
"National concern is a well-established but rarely applied doctrine of Canadian constitutional law," wrote Wagner said that "national concern" has been "well-established" as part of Canadian constitutional law, but isn't applied often. "Parliament has the authority to act in appropriate cases, where there is a matter of genuine national concern and where the recognition of that matter is consistent with the division of powers."
The Government's Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act is often referred to as a carbon tax, but the court ruled that it is not actually a tax. The majority noted that there is a connection between the pricing scheme in the Act, and the goal of influencing the public to pollute less, and therefore the "excess fuel and emission charges" are constitutionaly valid regulatory charges.