Ecojustice Blog – Climate change Posted on September 7, 2020 (updated: September 22, 2020)

Carbon pricing fight heads to the Supreme Court of Canada — here’s what you need to know

Alan AndrewsLawyer
anti-slapp case goes to Supreme Court
Photo by Dennis Jarvis via Flickr

Canada’s highest court to make final ruling in legal battle royale

From launching another legal action against the Ford government, pushing ahead with our work to bring the Canadian Environmental Protection Act into the 21st century, and urging the federal government to introduce and pass climate accountability legislation, the team at Ecojustice has had our hands full. In the coming months, things don’t look to be slowing down.

Ecojustice lawyers will be at the Supreme Court of Canada on September 22 and 23 to urge the country’s highest court to uphold the federal government’s right to put a price on carbon and set minimum national standards to fight the climate emergency.

This is a monumental hearing that will determine whether the federal government can exercise its authority to compel the provinces to do their fair share to tackle the climate crisis.

Canadians should be able to depend on the federal government to take swift action when provinces fail to implement solutions to reduce carbon emissions.

Whether you’ve donated, shared our work with your friends, or sent us an encouraging message, supporters like you have demonstrated time and time again that you’ve got our back — thank you.

We remain confident that the Supreme Court of Canada will uphold the federal government’s legal authority to implement national measures to combat the climate emergency.

In advance of our upcoming court appearance, we want to make sure you’re up to speed on why this Supreme Court hearing is so important and what needs to happen next in the climate emergency fight.

Premiers take aim at the climate emergency

In the last year, we’ve gone toe-to-toe with premiers who’ve made a point to politicize the climate emergency.

From taking on Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who campaigned on a promise to gut the province’s cap and trade program and systematically dismantle any climate plan in the works, to challenging Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s repeated attempts to undercut laws put in place to safeguard the climate, we’ve had our work cut out for us.

Efforts by anti-environment governments to obstruct climate action hit boiling point when Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta all launched separate constitutional challenges of the federal government’s Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act — a federal backstop aimed at ensuring that every province and territory in Canada does its part to reduce emissions. Where provinces fail to implement a carbon price of their own, the Act sets a minimum price for the provinces.

Courts in Saskatchewan and Ontario have since upheld the constitutionality of the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act and confirmed the federal government has the power to step in when the province fails to effectively tackle climate change.

Saskatchewan’s court agreed that, “climate change is doubtless an emergency in the sense that it presents a genuine threat to Canada.” This is a judicial first. 

Meanwhile Ontario’s court went even further and found that the risk of non-participation by one or more province permits the federal government to adopt minimum national standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

While both provinces have appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, the lower court decisions point to an emerging legal consensus that the climate emergency requires a collective approach. Given that one or more provinces can too easily undermine national efforts to tackle climate change, the federal government must be permitted to enforce minimum national standards to reduce GHG emissions.

The lower courts in Ont and Sask confirmed the fed govt has the power to step in when provinces fail to tackle climate change. This points to an emerging legal consensus that the climate emergency requires a collective approach.

Where outcomes differed was in Alberta. The split decision out of the province was disappointing, but nonetheless remains an outlier among the positive precedents set in Ontario and Saskatchewan.

 

The final showdown: Why these cases before the Supreme Court of Canada are important

The stakes are always high on cases that go to the Supreme Court. That’s because as Canada’s highest court, it’s tasked with the responsibility of being the final judicial resort for legal cases and only hears cases of national importance.

This upcoming hearing is no different.

The science is unequivocal in asserting that climate threats will accelerate in the decades to come. This means young people and future generations are especially at risk and will bear the costs of the climate emergency, including widespread illness and death, more than previous generations.

With everything we know now, there is no excuse for inaction. A climate emergency is no time to play politics with our future — it’s a losing game that harms the health and well-being of Canadians, the environment, and the economy.

If the Supreme Court upholds the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act as constitutional, it will clear the way for the federal government to introduce stronger, more effective climate legislation that supports a green recovery and gets on track for cutting Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and to net-zero by 2050. These targets align with what the science demands we must do in order to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

 

Looking ahead: National climate action

As we have seen from opposition to the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act, governments who refuse (for whatever reason) to take urgent, ambitious climate action are a massive stumbling block to progress being made in other parts of the country.

The health and well-being of future generations depends on the governments of today putting aside party politics and pressure from lobbyists to do what the science and voters are calling for: Come together to combat climate change.

Thanks to your support, we’re optimistic that a positive outcome at the Supreme Court level will ensure this collaboration among different levels of government happens and benefits Canadians from coast to coast to coast. Thank you for standing with us in this critical fight.

Stand with us in our fight to ensure there’s a livable future for young people and future generations

Make a gift today to support Ecojustice’s efforts to keep Canada’s climate action on track and make a brighter environmental future a reality for all Canadians.

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