British Columbia will support the federal government’s carbon pricing by intervening in court actions in the Saskatchewan and Ontario courts of appeal.
Both Saskatchewan and Ontario have challenged the federal government’s legal authority to impose a carbon price on provinces through the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act.
“We believe the only way for Canadian provinces to fight climate change is to fight climate change together,” said B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman. “Greenhouse gases do not protect provincial boundaries or international boundaries, for that matter.”
British Columbia already has a carbon price in place that, as of April 1, is $35 per tonne of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions.
Ottawa plans on imposing a carbon tax in January on jurisdictions that don’t have a climate plan that meets its standards.
Saskatchewan and Ontario launched their challenges on the basis of questioning the constitutional power to levy a federal tax against one province and not others.
As an intervenor, British Columbia will argue in both the Ontario and Saskatchewan cases that the federal government has the right and responsibility to put a price on carbon pollution while providing flexibility for the provinces to design pricing plans that are equivalent to the federal requirement.
There are also concerns from B.C. that businesses in the province will be hurt if other provinces do not pay a carbon tax.
“If B.C. is the only province with a price on carbon, or one of the only provinces, then British Columbians are working on a playing field that is not even,” said Attorney General David Eby.
“Relatively speaking, the cost of intervening on this is a fraction of a fraction of the potential costs of the federal government not being successful in putting a backstop so all the provinces work together.”
The Supreme Court of Canada has repeatedly said environmental protection is a matter of shared federal and provincial jurisdiction. The Saskatchewan case is expected to be heard in February 2019, and the Ontario case is expected to be heard in April 2019.
British Columbia is concerned that resisting a carbon price will make it near impossible for Canada to hit international commitments on carbon emissions.
“The significance of British Columbia’s appearing in support of many aspects of the federal government’s argument is we may be the only province standing in support of what the federal government is doing and we think the court should hear a provincial perspective in support of the federal government,” Eby said.
British Columbia is in the midst of its own legal battle with the federal government over the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The B.C. government is asking the courts to determine whether it can pass legislation that would require companies to get permits from the provincial government before increasing the flow of bitumen through B.C.
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