‘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

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

Better COVID-19 testing results needed in the north

Former senior Northern Health official also wants work camps shut down

Social media a blessing and a curse during time of crisis: B.C. communication expert

‘In moments of crisis, fear is very real and palpable,’ says SFU’s Peter Chow-White

Northern Health preparing ‘for a changing situation’ in response to COVID-19

The health authority is taking a number of measures to free up hospital capacity where possible

COVID-19: Coast Mountain College cancels, postpones programs on Haida Gwaii

General interest and workforce training courses cancelled, field school postponed

UPDATE: Mother of missing Indigenous woman pleads for her safe return

23-year-old Shaylanna Lewis, who also uses the surname Brown, was last seen on March 21

Canada expands 75% wage subsidy to COVID-19 affected businesses of all sizes: Trudeau

Program will provide up to $847 per week for each worker

Canadian COVID-19 update: Cases spike in Quebec & Ontario; Nine O’Clock Gun salutes health workers

Comprehensive Canadian news update as of 12:30 p.m., Monday, March 30.

Cruise ships, one with COVID-19 on board, carry Canadians covertly through Panama Canal

Zaandam, Rotterdam pass through canal under cover of darkness in face of local protests

’The energy sector is destroyed beyond repair’: expert on COVID-19’s impact on economy

‘That’s never been heard of before; no one sells oil for $4 a barrel.’ – Dan McTeague

LifeLabs reducing public hours as it assists with COVID-19 testing

Coronavirus tests not done at B.C. patient centres, referrals only

24,000 Canadian Forces members ready for COVID-19 response: Defence Minister

No direct requests made by premiers yet, national defence minister says

IN DEPTH: How B.C. emptied its hospitals to prepare for COVID-19

Thousands of beds have been freed up, but patients and seniors have had to sacrifice

‘Nothing concrete’: Tenants, landlords lack details after B.C. unveils COVID-19 rental aid

Single mom in Golden says she’s already going to the food bank after being laid off

B.C. is seeing the highest rate of COVID-19 recovery in Canada, and there’s a few reasons why

British Columbia was one of the first to see rise in COVID-19 cases, and has also switched up testing

Most Read