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Saskatchewan: Fighting to uphold federal jurisdiction over climate change action

Reference re Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act

November 30, 2018

In February 2019, Ecojustice intervened in the Saskatchewan reference case at the province’s Court of Appeal. The question posed to the court was on the federal government’s Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act, and asked, If enacted, will this Act be unconstitutional in whole or in part? If the Court were to decide that the legislation is constitutional, it would confirm Ottawa can tax fuels and substances leading to carbon emissions. If the Court were to find that a significant portion is unconstitutional, it probably means Ottawa’s approach to curbing emissions is not valid.

Ecojustice was given leave to intervene in Saskatchewan case in support of the federal government, representing both the David Suzuki Foundation and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. Ecojustice was the sole group to advance an argument on behalf of its clients that the law could be supported under Parliament’s power to deal with a national emergency.

In May 2019, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal released their decision, which upheld the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act — a result that means the federal government has the power to take national action to tackle climate change. It also means that Parliament will be able to enact time-limited measures to respond to climate change in the future.

While the Court found that the law was not sufficiently temporary to qualify as emergency legislation, it agreed that “climate change is doubtless an emergency in the sense that it presents a genuine threat to Canada.” This is a judicial first. (Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan: Reference re Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act. CACV3239.)

Climate change is a national emergency that requires an urgent response. Ecojustice is fighting to ensure the federal government has the ability to respond to that emergency.

Protecting the environment is a shared federal and provincial responsibility. Provinces across Canada should be required to work towards implementing a fair system that holds polluters to account for putting communities and the climate at risk by increasing greenhouse gas pollution in our atmosphere.

Canada will not be able to meet its international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions if provinces are allowed to opt out of taking action.

What does this victory mean?

A victory means that the federal government will have the ability to respond to climate change, a national emergency. Climate change will affect the health and security of all Canadians, and only a short window of time remains to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Everyone in Canada deserves the security of safe climate, and no province should be allowed to put that at risk through their inaction.

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