The statue representing justice looks out from the Supreme Court of Canada over the Parliamentary precinct in Ottawa, Thursday March 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

The statue representing justice looks out from the Supreme Court of Canada over the Parliamentary precinct in Ottawa, Thursday March 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

In split decision, Supreme Court says the federal carbon price is constitutional

Chief Justice Richard Wagner says in the written ruling that climate change is a real danger

The Supreme Court of Canada says the federal carbon price is entirely constitutional.

The split decision upholds a pivotal part of the Liberal climate-change plan, accounting for at least one-third of the emissions Canada aims to cut over the next decade.

Chief Justice Richard Wagner says in the written ruling that climate change is a real danger and evidence shows a price on pollution is a critical element in addressing it.

“It is a threat of the highest order to the country, and indeed to the world,” Wagner wrote for six of the nine judges.

Given that, said Wagner, Canada’s evidence that this is a matter of national concern, is sound.

“The undisputed existence of a threat to the future of humanity cannot be ignored,” he wrote.

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson issued an immediate statement lauding the decision as “a win for the millions of Canadians who believe we must build a prosperous economy that fights climate change.”

“The question is whether this decision will put an end to the efforts of Conservative politicians fighting climate action in court, and whether they will join Canadians in fighting climate change.”

The onus was on the federal government to prove to the court that this is an issue of national concern that would allow it to take control of the matter rather than leaving it to the provinces.

The majority of the court found the federal government did that, noting all parties, including the provinces challenging the law, agreed climate change is “an existential challenge.”

“This context, on its own, provides some assurance that in the case at bar, Canada is not seeking to invoke the national concern doctrine too lightly,” Wagner wrote.

Wagner also wrote provinces can’t set minimum national standards on their own and if even one province fails to reduce its emissions, that could have an inordinate impact on other provinces.

He noted that the three provinces that challenged the ruling also withdrew from the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. That agreement, signed in 2016, agreed to set a national carbon price.

“When provinces that are collectively responsible for more than two-thirds of Canada’s total GHG emissions opt out of a cooperative scheme, this illustrates the stark limitations of a non-binding cooperative approach,” he wrote.

That left the remaining provinces, responsible for only one-third of Canada’s total emissions, “vulnerable to the consequences of the lion’s share of the emissions being generated by the non-participating provinces.”

He also said climate change in Canada is having a disproportionate impact on the Canadian Arctic, coastal communities and Indigenous territories.

Justice Suzanne Côté dissented in part, agreeing climate change is an issue of national concern but taking issue with the power the federal cabinet gave itself to adjust the law’s scope, including which fuels the price would apply to.

Justices Malcolm Rowe and Russell Brown dissented with the entire decision, arguing Canada had not shown that climate change reaches the level of national concern. They objected that the precedent the majority’s decision sets would allow Ottawa to set minimum national standards in all areas of provincial jurisdiction.

Wagner pushed back, finding there is a limited scope for national standards that is unchanged by this ruling.

Canada implemented the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act in 2019, setting a minimum price on carbon emissions in provinces that don’t have equivalent provincial prices, a law that was challenged by Saskatchewan, Ontario and Alberta.

The program applies a price per tonne to fuel purchases by individuals and businesses with lower emissions, and on part of the actual emissions produced by entities with large emissions, such as pipelines, manufacturing plants and coal-fired power plants.

The federal fuel-input charge applies in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, while the federal charge for big emitters currently covers only Manitoba and Prince Edward Island.

All other provinces have systems that meet the federal threshold.

The territories adopted the federal fuel charge.

READ MORE: Conservative Party members vote down resolution to enshrine reality of climate change

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

carbon pricingSupreme Court

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

Just Posted

Shannon Claypool, president of the Cloverdale Rodeo & Exhibition Association, stands outside the Cloverdale Rec. Centre. The rec. centre has been set up as a mass vaccination site by Fraser Health and the Association has decided to cancel the rodeo in order to offer the fairgrounds for public parking. (Submitted)
Cloverdale Rodeo cancelled

Fairgrounds to be used as public parking for mass vaccination site at Cloverdale Rec. Centre

Surrey city council chambers. (File photo)
Surrey drugstores seeking relaxation of spacing rules ‘a challenge,’ councillor says

‘Obviously we need pharmacies but it seems to me that we are getting an awful lot of applications,’ Brenda Locke says

News Bulletin file photo
Surrey waives outdoor patio fees for pubs, restaurants

Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, praised the move

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media file)
Man charged after pushing pregnant woman to the ground in Surrey, police say

Surrey RCMP say it appeared to be an ‘unprovoked assault’

A sign posted to a tree in Maccaud Park urges people to email White Rock City Council and oppose the construction of pickleball courts in the park. (Contributed photo)
White Rock council deems Maccaud Park pickleball courts out of bounds

Unanimous vote against constructing courts follows public feedback

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

In Ontario, COVID-19 vaccine clinics have been set up at local mosques. (Submitted photo: Rufaida Mohammed)
Getting the vaccine does not break your fast, says Muslim COVID-19 task force

Muslim community ‘strongly’ encouraging people to get their shot, whether or not during Ramadan

A plane is seen through the window on the tarmac of Vancouver International Airport as the waiting room is empty. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
100+ international travellers who landed in B.C. refused to quarantine

The Public Health Agency of Canada says it issued $3,000 violation tickets to each

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A health-care worker holds up a vial of the AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Montreal, Thursday, March 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
PHAC receives first report of blood clot linked to AstraZeneca

The federal agency says the person is now recovering at home

A real estate sign is pictured in Vancouver, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS Jonathan Hayward
1 in 3 young Canadians have given up on owning a home: poll

Data released Monday says 36% of adults younger than 40 have given up on home ownership entirely

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. urges people to stay in their neighbourhoods, discourages out-of-household meet-ups

Dr. Bonnie Henry says there should be no travel, even to the next city over

Looking east at the Cascade Range with the potential Alpine Village site in the foreground. Mt. Archibald rises on the left.
Ambitious all-season mountain resort proposed near Chilliwack

Proponents say Bridal Veil Mountain Resort could cover 11,500 acres bring in $252 million a year

Dr. E. Kwok administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a recipient at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Most Canadians plan to get COVID-19 vaccine, but safety fears drive hesitancy: poll

This comes as confidence in governments is plummeting in provinces being hit hardest by the pandemic

Most Read