Fighting to uphold federal authority to lead unified, national action on the climate emergency

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Program area – Climate Status: Victory
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To effectively combat the climate emergency, we need to take unified, urgent, and ambitious climate action to reach net-zero by 2050.

That’s why the federal government introduced the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act in 2018 — the law is a backstop aimed at provinces that fail to implement a comparable emissions reduction strategy of their own.

In response, Alberta, Ontario, and Saskatchewan all launched separate constitutional challenges of the Act, claiming that it was an overreach of federal powers into provincial affairs.

Courts in Saskatchewan and Ontario 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. Meanwhile, Alberta’s court delivered a split (4-1) outlier decision that sided with the province.

All three provinces appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC).

Ecojustice lawyers represented the David Suzuki Foundation and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation as interveners in all three lower court proceedings and again before the Supreme Court of Canada in Fall 2020.

The three-year battle over the federal backstop culminated with the SCC handing down a landmark climate decision in March 2021, ruling that the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act is constitutionally-sound and essential in the fight against the climate crisis.

As we’ve seen so far, significant emissions reductions in some provinces have been undermined by inadequate climate plans and increased emissions in provinces that refused to take part in the cooperative, pan-Canadian approach. We need to look no further than Ontario scrapping its previous climate programs and ambitions, and steady emission increases in Alberta and Saskatchewan since 2005, as examples.

Ecojustice took part in all three lower court proceedings and intervened again before the SCC because we know the climate emergency requires a collective approach. It’s going to require every level of government working together to reduce emissions and get Canada to net-zero by 2050. The health and well-being of future generations depend on it.


What does this victory mean?

The SCC’s precedent-setting decision confirms that the federal government has the authority to take national, coordinated action to price carbon. In other words, when provinces attempt to impede climate progress being made in other parts of the country, the federal government has the power to step in.

The Court’s ruling contains some of the strongest language we have seen about the climate emergency from any court in Canada or around the world. The Court confirmed the reality of the climate emergency (along with the grave threat it poses to the future of humanity) and solidifies carbon pricing as an integral solution to this crisis.

Now that the legal debate about whether it is constitutional for the federal government to take national, coordinated action to price carbon is over, it will be up to the provinces and their premiers to get on board — or the federal backstop will force them onto the right path.

Key developments


Supreme Court decision means it’s time the premiers stopped politicking about climate action

This was originally published by the Ottawa Citizen. In a striking 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled last week that the Gre...

April 1, 2021


Here’s what you need to know about the Supreme Court of Canada’s landmark climate decision

Less than a week after Conservative party members voted to deny the reality of climate change, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) handed down...

March 30, 2021

Press release

Ecojustice celebrates Supreme Court of Canada carbon pricing decision

OTTAWA/TRADITIONAL, UNCEDED TERRITORY OF THE ALGONQUIN ANISHNAABEG PEOPLE – Ecojustice lawyers welcome today’s Supreme Court of Canada d...

March 25, 2021

Press release

Climate emergency demands unified government response, groups to argue at Supreme Court of Canada

OTTAWA — Ecojustice lawyers and their client, the David Suzuki Foundation, are confident that the Supreme Court of Canada will uphold the ...

September 22, 2020


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

Canada’s highest court to make final ruling in legal battle over carbon pricing Next Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada will release...

September 7, 2020

Press release

David Suzuki Foundation and Ecojustice: Confident Supreme Court of Canada will uphold federal right to price carbon pollution despite setback from Alberta court

EDMONTON: Today’s split decision by the Alberta Court of Appeal on the federal government’s right to implement a national climate policy...

February 24, 2020


Why we’re continuing to fight to uphold federal jurisdiction over climate action

Every sitting government faces a choice when it comes to climate change action. They can choose to do the right thing and increase their cli...

December 18, 2019

Press release

Court confirms Canada’s ability to tackle national climate “emergency”

REGINA – The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruled today that the federal government has the power to take national action to tackle climate ...

May 3, 2019

Press release

Carbon price essential for fair and effective national climate plan, Regina court hears

REGINA — Ecojustice lawyers, representing the David Suzuki Foundation, argued in court today that the risks of climate change, and our ab...

February 14, 2019


Fair and effective: A price on carbon is the right thing for all Canadians

This op-ed by Stephen Cornish and Devon Page was originally published in the Regina Leader-Post on February 12, 2019.  From gender equity ...

February 14, 2019

Press release

David Suzuki Foundation, Ecojustice enter legal fight to support carbon pricing

OTTAWA — The David Suzuki Foundation and Ecojustice announced today that they will enter the legal battle over carbon pricing. Carbon pric...

November 30, 2018

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