Last week, as you’ve probably already heard, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the federal carbon tax was constitutional.
The case was in reference to recent appellate court rulings in Alberta, Ontario, and Saskatchewan regarding the constitutionality of the tax.
In all 3 cases, either the federal government or the respective provincial governments were unhappy with the appellate ruling. They hoped the higher court would rule in their favour.
The same day as the ruling, Alberta premier Jason Kenney posted a response to it on the government website.
There are a few points he raised that I wanted to address.
A strong majority of Albertans elected this government because of our commitment to repeal the previous government’s carbon tax.
This is demonstrably false.
The population of Alberta in 2019 was 4.36 million. In the 2019 election, 1.90 million people voted. Turnout was 67.5%. That means that total eligible voters was about 3.19 million, or 73.1% of the total population.
Of those who voted, 54.9% voted for the UCP.
Of the 4.36 million Albertans (remember: this is the word Kenney used) living here, only 73.1% were eligible to vote. Of those who could vote, only 67.5% actually voted. Of those who actually voted, only 54.9% voted for the UCP.
So, 54.9% of 67.5% of 73.1% is 27.1%. That means only 27.1% Albertans—again, to use Kenney’s phrasing—actually voted for his party. That’s hardly a strong majority.
Even if you define “Albertans” as those who showed up to vote, 54.9% still isn’t a strong majority.
Plus, people vote for parties for all sorts of reasons, and it’s presumptuous to claim that every one of the more than 1 million people who voted for the UCP did so because of their stance on the carbon tax.
We kept that commitment with our first law, the Carbon Tax Repeal Act, which we passed in May of 2019. The federal government then stepped in and imposed their carbon tax on Albertans on Jan. 1, 2020.
The federal carbon tax has been in place since June 2018. One of its components is that if provinces developed “their own carbon pollution pricing system”, the residents in those provinces wouldn’t need to pay the federal tax.
The federal carbon tax would kick in only for “provinces and territories that request it or do not have a carbon pollution pricing system that meets the federal benchmark.”
Kenney knew full well that if he cancelled the provincial carbon tax, the federal tax would kick in. He knew it when he cancelled it in May 2019. He knew it between May and January. He had plenty of time to change his mind.
This wasn’t a case of “imposing”. The provincial government cancelled their pricing system, which had made them exempt from the federal tax. Kenney accepted the federal carbon tax; it wasn’t imposed.
We committed to building a coalition of provinces opposed to this federal carbon tax, and to challenge its constitutionality in court.
We kept that commitment too. We had a coalition of Canadian provinces, representing 80 per cent of the Canadian population, who joined us in defending our taxpayers, and our province’s constitutional jurisdiction.
This is misleading. These provinces contained 80% of the Canadian population; they didn’t represent 80% of the Canadian population. At least not on this issue.
For example, a 2019 poll found that only 28% of those polled were opposed to using a federal carbon tax as a “policy measure to help reduce emissions and combat climate change”. Over 70% of respondents either supported it or were open to it. Even among respondents who voted Conservative, 50% weren’t opposed to it.
Just over a year ago, Alberta’s Court of Appeal rendered its 4-1 decision on our judicial reference, deciding clearly that the federal carbon tax is unconstitutional.
And the year before, Saskatchewan’s court of appeal ruled 3–2 that it is constitutional. A month after that, the Ontario Court of Appeal issued a similar ruling, voting 4–1 in favour.
If you add up all the votes from the 3 appellate courts, that’s 8–7 voting in favour of the federal tax being constitutional.
That should’ve been another sign for Kenney.
The Supreme Court ignored the Alberta Court of Appeal’s warning and discovered a new federal power that erodes provincial jurisdiction and undermines our constitutional system.
That’s not what the ruling said.
The ruling specifically indicated that given the cross-border nature of pollution (specifically greenhouse gas emissions), the federal government has the jurisdiction to implement policies to address this pollution.
Here are some quotes from the ruling:
- GHG emissions are also predominantly extraprovincial and international in their character and implications.
- It is a distinct form of regulation that does not amount to the regulation of GHG emissions generally or encompass regulatory mechanisms that do not involve pricing.
- If each province designed its own pricing system and all the provincial systems met the federal pricing standards, the GGPPA would achieve its purpose without operating to directly price GHG emissions anywhere in the country.
- If a province fails to meet the minimum national standards, the GGPPA imposes a backstop pricing system, but only to the extent necessary to remedy the deficiency.
- The provinces, acting alone or together, are constitutionally incapable of establishing minimum national standards of GHG price stringency to reduce GHG emissions.
- The provinces and territories are constitutionally incapable of establishing a binding outcome-based minimum legal standard — a national GHG pricing floor — that applies in all provinces and territories at all times.
- A failure to include one province in the scheme would jeopardize its success in the rest of Canada.
- A province’s failure to act or refusal to cooperate would have grave consequences for extraprovincial interests.
- Although the matter has a clear impact on provincial jurisdiction, its impact on the provinces’ freedom to legislate and on areas of life that would fall under provincial heads of power is qualified and limited.
We will do everything in our power to minimize costs on Albertans, and on our trade-exposed industries that must compete globally, while ensuring that we continue to responsibly reduce emissions in our province.
Except the costs were already minimized on Albertans.
The federal government returns 90% of the revenue collected to households via a rebate. In fact, all but 20% of Alberta households, the ones with the highest incomes, will receive more back on their rebates than they they paid out in the carbon tax.
The remaining 10% is retained by the federal government to spend in Alberta to support “schools, hospitals, small and medium-sized businesses, colleges and universities, municipalities, not for profit organizations, and Indigenous communities” as these sectors try to reduce emissions.
Also, Alberta’s oil and gas sector doesn’t compete globally. Nearly all their exports go to the United States. Of those that go to other countries, they make up such a tiny fraction of those countries’ imports.
For example, our oil made up only 0.4% of China’s oil imports in 2019. Equatorial Guinea, a Central African country with a population smaller than Calgary’s, shipped more oil to China in 2019 than we did.
The rest of Kenney’s statement is just random backpatting unrelated to the Supreme Court decision.