Ontario court upholds validity of Trudeau's federal carbon tax

TORONTO (Reuters) - Ontario’s Court of Appeal ruled on Friday that Canada’s federal carbon tax is constitutional after a challenge from the province’s Conservative government, in a blow to efforts to strike down Justin Trudeau’s environmental policies.

FILE PHOTO: Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference at the Canadian Embassy, in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Al Drago

In April, Canada’s federal government imposed a carbon tax on provinces without a carbon pricing system, which was opposed by several provinces including Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.

Ontario said in August 2018 it would challenge the carbon tax, calling it an unconstitutional overstepping on provincial authority.

Chief Justice George R. Strathy said in the 4-1 split decision that the carbon tax was within Parliament’s jurisdiction to legislate in matters of “national concern,” citing the accumulation of greenhouse gas emissions as an existential threat to human civilization. He said the tax leaves ample scope for provincial legislation.

In a joint statement, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Environment, Conservation and Parks Minister Jeff Yurek said the province was “disappointed” with the ruling and would appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Saskatchewan provincial government took to the courts on the carbon tax in February. The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal similarly ruled in favor of the federal government by a 3-2 decision in May, prompting an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Nathalie Chalifour, an associate professor of law at the University of Ottawa, said the two Court of Appeal rulings show if the matter was appealed to the Supreme Court, “chances are almost certain it will be upheld again.”

Chalifour was a co-counsel in the Ontario case, representing the United Chiefs and Councils of the Mnidoo Mnising, an indigenous group which supports the federal position.

Alberta ended its carbon tax in May, fulfilling a promise by then newly elected Premier Jason Kenney to scrap its provincial carbon tax imposed in November 2015.

The carbon tax is said to be one of the critical topics of the federal election in October, with the Conservatives calling it a “cash grab” that should be struck down, and being an issue that could swing the election to either the Conservatives or Liberals.

A spokeswoman for Environment and Climate Change Canada said the ruling was “good news for Canada and the ability of the federal government to tackle carbon pollution which knows no borders.”

“The court rejected the Conservatives’ latest attempt to splinter our country and stop the federal government from protecting the environment on behalf of Canadians,” she added.

Matthew Hoffman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said the legal challenge from Ontario was “not about winning in court, but secondary to making this a political issue”.

He said the carbon tax, climate change and pipelines will likely remain high profile issues for the October election, and play a role in what the electorate wants out of those issues.