The Supreme Court of Canada recently heard arguments in a case with profound implications for the nation’s ability to reduce carbon dioxide by the amount required in its commitments under the Paris climate agreement.
In 2016, the federal government, under the leadership of Justin Trudeau, developed a plan, in consultation with the provinces, to cut Canada’s carbon dioxide emissions. The plan directed each provincial government to impose a price or tax on carbon dioxide emissions on various sectors of the economy and large emitters of carbon dioxide. The goal is reduce emissions by a minimum amount established by the federal government, consistent with its national commitments under the Paris climate agreement. Should a province fail to enact a carbon pricing plan, or offer a plan the national government considers insufficiently stringent, the federal government will impose its Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act which, Watts Up With That reports,
operates as a backstop—a national safety net—with two parts. The first imposes a charge on a broad range of greenhouse gas emitting fuels. The second establishes an “output-based performance system” that requires industrial facilities to pay for the emissions that exceed an annual limit. The backstop only applies in provinces or territories that request it or that have failed to price emissions through a direct price or cap-and-trade system at the minimum benchmark level established by Ottawa.
The provincial government of Saskatchewan rejected the national framework from the outset. After the plan was adopted, the governments of Alberta and Ontario joined with Saskatchewan to fight the required greenhouse gas emission reductions on jurisdictional grounds. They claim the federal government does not have the authority to dictate energy policy to the provinces. The government of each province asked its respective court of appeals to issue an advisory opinion on whether the national government has jurisdiction over greenhouse gas emissions. Saskatchewan’s and Ontario’s courts of appeals ruled the federal government did have the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions within and among the provinces “under the ‘national concern branch’ of the federal government’s constitutional ‘peace, order, and good government’ power,” as Watts Up With That reports. Alberta’s court of appeals concluded the federal government lacked jurisdiction to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, creating a split in the courts that the Supreme Court of Canada has now decided to settle.
On appeal, the provinces are arguing granting Ottawa’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions would violate provincial sovereignty on an issue best left to each province under Canada’s constitutional principle of subsidiarity, under which public policy issues are to be addressed at the most effective level of government closest to the citizens affected. If the Supreme Court upholds the federal government’s presumed power to impose, or force the provinces to impose, carbon dioxide restrictions, it could jeopardize the constitutionally designed balance of power within the Canadian federation and open the door to many other incursions on legitimate provincial authority in the future, the provinces argue.
This case bears close attention because if the Supreme Court decides the federal government lacks the authority to impose greenhouse gas restrictions on unwilling provinces, Canada will probably be unable to meet its Paris climate commitments. If it is unable to impose restrictions on unwilling provinces, it will have to impose stricter emission limits on the remaining provinces or reduce its national backstop limits. Higher costs will result, which could encourage other provinces to withdraw from the carbon dioxide taxing scheme.
SOURCE: Watts Up With That
OCTOBER 9, 2020