Battle lines drawn for looming carbon tax court fight

More reinforcements are arriving to support both the Saskatchewan government and its federal counterpart as they prepare to battle over a proposed carbon pricing scheme in a Regina courtroom early next year.

The New Brunswick government and the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS) are expected to join Ontario in supporting Saskatchewan’s opposition to the federal government’s plan.

The David Suzuki Foundation, Ecojustice and an Alberta First Nation, meanwhile, are seeking to intervene on behalf of Ottawa in the constitutional reference case, which will be heard in Regina on Feb. 13 and 14.

Saskatchewan Justice Minister Don Morgan said it’s “healthy” to test arguments on both sides of the controversial proposal, but acknowledged the end result is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

In the meantime, Morgan told reporters the provincial government has asked Ottawa to push its plan to implement carbon pricing from April until after the courts can render their decisions and settle the matter.

Absolutely nothing productive came out of it,” Morgan said of the request.

Caroline Theriault, communications director for federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, said Friday in an email: “There will be a price on carbon pollution in Saskatchewan in April 2019.”

Speaking with reporters in Saskatoon, Morgan added that an application for an injunction to halt the federal plan until Saskatchewan’s top court delivers a decision is unlikely, and “not likely a good remedy.”

“Likely, the courts would say, ‘No, it’s going to be resolved relatively soon,’ and would say, ‘No, we’re not going to have one province applying for an injunction and getting an injunction that would … apply here and not elsewhere.”

The Saskatchewan government, which has long opposed Ottawa’s plan to implement a $20-per-tonne price on carbon next year that would rise to $50 per tonne by 2022, filed its constitutional reference case in April.

Provincial lawyers are expected to argue the law is unconstitutional because Ottawa is applying the carbon pricing scheme unevenly based on its assessment of the various provinces’ climate change plans.

Ottawa will argue that carbon pricing and emissions reduction fall under federal jurisdiction because pollution is a matter of national concern, and one province’s failure will damage the rest of the country.

That view was echoed by Ecojustice lawyer Joshua Ginsberg, who said climate change is a national emergency posing serious risks to human health and the environment across the country, which means Ottawa has jurisdiction to impose carbon prices.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs told the Canadian Press this week that he expects “four or five” provinces lining up against the federal government’s proposal is likely to improve the Saskatchewan government’s case.

The chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, which indicated Friday that it hopes to intervene in the case, said Canada will never be able to address climate change if the court rules in Saskatchewan’s favour.

“Future generations will view (Premier Scott) Moe’s actions as a catastrophe,” Allan Adam said.

—With files from The Canadian Press

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