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

Dawson Road Maintenance crews have been working on road base failures on Highway 20. (Dawson Road Maintenance Facebook photo)
ROAD REPORT: Dawson Road Maintenance provides update on Cariboo Chilcotin road conditions

Road bases still soft, saturated at multiple locations in Cariboo Chilcotin due to spring freshet

The Central Coast snowpack is now sitting at 146 percent (Felicia Harris photo)
Central Coast snowpack now 46 per cent above normal

The risk of spring flooding is elevated due to the above normal snowpack across the entire province

Residents line up socially distanced at the Seedy Saturday event, held at the Lobelco Hall parking lot from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 3 with strict COVID-19 restrictions and precautions in place. (Nicole Kaechele photo)
Seedlings, plants and seeds offered at Seedy Saturday

“It was a fairly good turnout,” noted Elizabeth Howard

The Bella Coola Valley Arts Council (BCVAC) has recently received two awards totaling $40,000 from the province-wide British Columbia Arts Council, part of the StrongerBC: BC’s Economic Recovery Plan. The grants are to be used to stimulate local arts communities and to help them cope with impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo submitted)
Bella Coola Valley Arts Council receives $40,000 for local projects

The grants will be used to stimulte local arts communities and help them cope with the pandemic

Nuxalk Sputc Crew technician Scmlh (Jason Moody) walks in Bella Coola River towards sputc holding tank with cinematographer Louvens Remy (photo submitted)
Documentary to highlight importance of sputc for Nuxalk Nation

Sputc: We Shall Eat When the River is Full is a cinematic tale of wealth, loss and recovery

A large crowd protested against COVID-19 measures at Sunset Beach in Vancouver on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Snapchat)
VIDEO: Large, police-patrolled crowds gather at Vancouver beach for COVID protests

Vancouver police said they patrolled the area and monitored all gatherings

Ocean Legacy Foundation members conduct a shoreline pollution cleanup in Vancouver. (OLP)
It’s time to end ‘suffocating’ plastic pollution along B.C. shorelines, advocates urge

This Earth Day, Ocean Legacy Foundation is launching a free educational platform to educate the public about plastic pollution

A teacher-librarian in Nanaimo was fired in 2019 for checking out an age-inappropriate graphic novel to a student. The discipline agreement was published Wednesday, April 21. (News Bulletin file photo)
B.C. teacher-librarian fired for checking out too-graphic graphic novel to student

Teacher had been previously disciplined and suspended on two occasions

Former University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. university rowing coach ‘deeply sorry’ after complaints

Barney Williams says he’s been committed to ensuring no other member of the roster had a similar experience

Aria Pendak Jefferson cuddles ChiChi, the family cat that ran away two years ago in Ucluelet. The feline was missing until Courtney Johnson and Barry Edge discovered her in the parking lot of the Canadian Princess earlier this month. Aria and her parents were reunited with ChiChi in a parking lot in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
B.C. girl’s wish granted as her cat came back, two years later

Courtenay family reunited with cat that went missing in Ucluelet in 2019

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

FILE – The Instagram app is shown on an iPhone in Toronto on Monday, March 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Judge acquits B.C. teen boy ‘set up’ on sex assault charge based on Instagram messages

The girl and her friends did not have ‘good intentions’ towards the accused, judge says

Kai Palkeinen recently helped a car stuck on the riverbed near the Big Eddy Bridge. While the car could not be saved, some of the driver’s belongings were. It’s common for vehicles to get stuck in the area due to significantly changing river levels from Revelstoke Dam. (Photo by Kai Palkeinen)
“I just sank a car’: Revelstoke resident wants Columbia River better protected

Although it’s not permitted, the riverbed near the city is popular for off roading

Most Read