‘Greatest existential threat of our time:’ Ottawa makes carbon tax case in court

‘Greatest existential threat of our time:’ Ottawa makes carbon tax case in court

EDMONTON — 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.

“The treaties matter,” Telles-Langdon said.

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.”

In Calgary, federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the Liberal government believes the tax will stand.

“The federal government remains confident that our arguments are very much valid and that we are well within our constitutional parameters to ensure that pollution from coast to coast to coast is priced.

“We fully expect to prevail in the Supreme Court.”

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.

Lawyers for attorneys-general in Ontario and Saskatchewan have already presented arguments in support of Alberta’s challenge.

Those representing New Brunswick and British Columbia are also to speak during the hearing. Eight First Nations, non-governmental groups and Crown corporations have been granted intervener status as well.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 17, 2019.

— With files from Lauren Krugel in Calgary

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

(File photo by Advocate staff)
37-year-old from Red Deer dies in highway crash

An individual from Red Deer has died after a collision on Highway… Continue reading

Grade one teacher Heidi Dimou arranges the desks in line with physical distancing policy in her class in preparation for the new school year at the Willingdon Elementary School in Montreal, on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta students expected to return to in-person learning next week

Kids can anticipate a return to the classroom next week in Alberta.… Continue reading

This grizzly bear had been hanging out near Aurum Lodge and the Cline River area and was later killed by Fish and Wildlife, says an area resident. (Contributed photo)
Grizzly sniffing for human food west of Nordegg killed

Lodge owner reminds campers to keep all food away from wildlife

Coal mining in Rockies. CP photo
Alberta gov’t releases preliminary results from coal mining survey

The provincial government has released the initial results from its coal policy… Continue reading

(Black Press file photo.)
Wildfire advisory lifted for Rocky area

The wildfire danger in the Rocky Mountain House Forest Area is now… Continue reading

Red Deer musician Curtis Phagoo is glad the Alberta government is investing $2 million to help the province’s live music industry, but he would have liked the criteria to be expanded, so the money could be used as relief to cover revenue shortfalls. (Contributed photo by Cory Michaud)
Red Deer musicians welcome $2M in grants to help live music, but would have preferred relief program

The money is for future projects and can’t be used for retroactive expenses

(CPAC)
Trudeau says he knew about investigation into general overseeing vaccines weeks ago

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he learned weeks ago that… Continue reading

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada-USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. Canadian residents are allowed to head to the United States for a COVID-19 vaccine and avoid quarantine on return if they meet some straightforward conditions, the Public Health Agency of Canada confirms.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
Canadians can drive to U.S. for COVID-19 vax and avoid quarantine, Ottawa confirms

TORONTO — Canadian residents are allowed to head to the United States… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Quebec can modify part of the Canadian Constitution unilaterally: Trudeau

MONTREAL — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Quebec can unilaterally modify part… Continue reading

In this Thursday, April 29, 2021, file photo, giant bucket-wheel excavators extract coal at the controversial Garzweiler surface coal mine near Jackerath, West Germany. Canadian environmentalists are welcoming a report from the International Energy Agency that says new fossil fuel investment must end if the world is to meet its climate goals. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP -Martin Meissner
Canadian environmentalists happy with International Energy Agency report

Environmentalists say a report from the International Energy Agency that concludes investment… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Ceasefire needed in Israeli-Palestinian conflict to avoid loss of more civilians: PM

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada is calling for a… Continue reading

A forest fire burns late into the evening northeast of Prince Albert, Sask., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kayle Neis
Saskatchewan wildfire grows, forcing evacuations in the area to expand

PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. — Dry conditions and strong winds caused a large… Continue reading

A man makes his way past signage to a mass COVID-19 vaccination centre at the University of Toronto's Mississauga campus during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday, May 17, 2021.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Tam hopeful for summer even as Canada hits grim death milestone in COVID-19 pandemic

OTTAWA — Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam says she expects… Continue reading

Sheffield United’s Daniel Jebbison celebrates after scoring his side’s opening goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Everton and Sheffield United at Goodison Park in Liverpool, England, Sunday, May 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Alex Pantling/Pool via AP
Canadian teenager Daniel Jebbison turns heads with Premier League goal

Jebbison, 17, is the youngest player in Premier League history to score on his first start in England’s top tier

Most Read