‘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

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

Francina Mettes and Thomas Schouten with the 200-page document they submitted in December of 2018. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
Dutch 94-year-old in Saanich earns permanent Canadian residency

Couple of 45 years to stay together in Cadboro Bay

Ron MacDonnell leans over the railing on Beacon Wharf Tuesday afternoon. The Town of City is currently looking into the future of the aging structure. It could make way for a concrete pontoon once part of the floating bridge over Hood Canal in Washington State. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Sidney explores public-private partnership for iconic Beacon Wharf

Wharf committee recommends town invite pontoon company to submit proposal

Perrin Beatty, president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, is shown during a news conference in Ottawa in 2015. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
Isolating provinces is a bad idea, says Canadian Chamber of Commerce

National business organization calls for cohesive approach to COVID-19 measures

SD62 bus driver Kerry Zado said it’s common to see drivers lose their patience and pass by his bus while he’s picking up students during the morning commute. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
School bus driver laments motorists who pass while red lights are flashing

All buses in Sooke School District outfitted with stop sign cameras

Metchosin Coun. Kyara Kahakauwila is stepping down as deputy mayor following controversy over her decision to travel to Mexico in December. (Black Press Media file photo)
Councillor steps down as deputy mayor of Metchosin after controversial trip to Mexico

Mayor hopeful mediation will help council get back to the business of community

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

(Black Press Media file photo)
From arts to environment, nominate your West Shore hero

Nominations for the Goldstream Gazetteā€™s Local Hero awards are open

Vancouver Canucks’ Travis Hamonic grabs Montreal Canadiens’ Josh Anderson by the face during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horvat scores winner as Canucks dump Habs 6-5 in shootout thriller

Vancouver and Montreal clash again Thursday night

Rod Bitten of Union Bay won $500,000 in the Lotto Max draw on Jan. 15. Photo supplied
Vancouver Island electrician gets shocking surprise with $500K Extra win

Rod Bitten has been hard at work with home renovations, which is… Continue reading

Oyster River Fire Rescue members were called out to a suspicious fire in Black Creek. Two vehicles parked at a private residence were destroyed by fire. Photo courtesy Oyster River Fire Rescue
Suspicious fire destroys two vehicles at Vancouver Island residence

Oyster River Fire Rescue personnel were dispatched to a fire at a… Continue reading

Southern resident killer whales in B.C. waters. Research shows the population’s females are more negatively influenced by vessel traffic than males. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Female orcas less likely to feed in presence of vessel traffic: study

Research the southern resident population raises concerns over reproduction capacity

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

A suspect has been arrested in connection with fires at Drinkwater Elementary (pictured) and École Mount Prevost. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Arson suspect arrested after fires at Cowichan Valley schools

Drinkwater Elementary and Mount Prevost schools hit within a week

Most Read