Ontario’s highest court has granted intervenor status to 14 advocacy groups and provinces in the Ford government’s legal challenge of the national carbon price.
The Ontario Court of Appeal on Tuesday approved all but one of the requests filed to intervene in the case, paving the way for environmental, health, Indigenous and spending watchdog groups, as well as the governments of Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and B.C., to participate in the hearings, Environment Canada confirmed to iPolitics.
Justice James MacPherson has promised to release a written decision for this ruling on Friday that will include submission dates and deadlines for the interveners. The non-provincial government interveners can file a 15-page factum to the court and deliver a 10-minute oral presentation.
Christine Van Geyn, Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF), told iPolitics her group was one of only two approved intervenors that opposed the implementation of a national carbon price. The other was the Jason Kenney-led United Conservative Party, which currently forms the official Opposition in the Alberta legislature.
The only intervenor request denied was the sole one filed by an individual.
Van Geyn said the CTF was first notified it had its intervenor application approved on Jan. 8, but only went public with the news on Wednesday because it “wanted to wait for the final details.”
She said the Ontario and federal governments have a right of reply to the decision on Thursday, which will “probably end in the morning.”
Ontario is challenging the federal government’s authority to establish a national tax on carbon pollution without the consent of the provinces, as dictated in the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act (GGPA) passed in 2018. The law stipulates that Ottawa could put in a place a “federal backstop” in provinces that had not established their own carbon pricing systems. Saskatchewan is also challenging the law in court, with that case set to begin later this year.
Under the terms of the program, the federal government is placing a tax on fuel and instituting a cap-and-trade system for large industrial emitters of greenhouse gases. It will go into effect this year in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick. The remaining provinces have either set up their own pricing systems or have been granted a waiver from the federal government.
A spokesperson for Ontario Attorney General Caroline Mulroney said the province would review the submissions of the intervenors and “reply in due course.”
Brian Gray said the Ontario government’s position is that the provinces, not Ottawa, have the “primary responsibility” to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions, and the charges promised by the GGPA are “unconstitutional disguised taxation.”
In a statement, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna welcomed the court decision and pledged to continue working with all Canadians to “protect the environment” and support economic growth.
“Carbon pollution has an impact on everyone — on our health, our jobs, and our homes,” she said. “It is by working together to tackle climate change across the country that we can make a real difference.”
McKenna called a price on carbon pollution a “practical, affordable way to reduce emissions” that would make Canadians better off, noting that residents captured by the federal backstop would receive hundreds of dollars in rebates to offset any cost increases.
However, Van Geyn argued the carbon tax would cost Canadians “a lot of money” without helping the environment.
“We’re going to make a compelling case on behalf of taxpayers in court,” she said in a statement, noting the CTF is also intervening in the Saskatchewan case.
Dr. Courtney Howard, president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, a member of the Intergenerational Climate Coalition which received intervenor status, called carbon pricing “a pivotal policy tool needed to fight climate change,” pointing to research projecting diminished health outcomes in the future if efforts aren’t made to reduce emissions.
“There is mounting evidence that the future for our children and grandchildren will be very bleak unless we take immediate steps to deeply reduce climate emissions,” she said in a statement.
“We are the last generation that will have the opportunity to prevent catastrophic climate change. We have to act.”
The court hearing for the case is scheduled to run from April 15 to 18. The Ontario Court of Appeal is located in Toronto’s historic Osgoode Hall.
Van Geyn said the court will hear arguments from the federal and Ontario attorney general offices over the first two days of the proceedings. The approved interveners and other provincial attorneys general will all be heard on April 17, she said.