OTTAWA — Saskatchewan has asked its highest court to test the constitutionality of Ottawa implementing a carbon tax, weeks after Premier Brian Pallister said he’d consider his own lawsuit.

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This article was published 25/4/2018 (1319 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Saskatchewan has asked its highest court to test the constitutionality of Ottawa implementing a carbon tax, weeks after Premier Brian Pallister said he’d consider his own lawsuit.

In a Wednesday letter to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, that province’s justice minister asks the court to decide whether the federal carbon levy will be "unconstitutional, in whole or in part."

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said she’s perplexed by the move.

"It’s disappointing, but certainly we’re very clear that we have the legal authority to do this, and we will stand behind that," she told reporters Wednesday.

If successful, the Saskatchewan case could bolster Manitoba’s request to keep a flat carbon tax, while making it easier for other provinces to weaken their climate-change plans.

In its budget bill, Ottawa outlined its plan for imposing a carbon tax on the provinces, which escalates over time and will rise above Manitoba’s flat $25-per-tonne levy.

The federal plan calls for a $10-per-tonne levy starting this fall, which jumps to $20 at the start of 2019, and another $10 for each of the following three years, ending with a $50 levy for all of 2022.

That means Manitoba’s $25 levy will fall short of the federal $30 target on Jan. 1, 2020.

Earlier this month, the Free Press revealed that Ottawa would collect its share of the carbon tax through a parallel top-up, starting with $5 in 2020 and rising in subsequent years.

That day, Pallister called a press conference to threaten legal action if the federal government proceeded that way. "I have a simple message for Ottawa today: back off or we’ll see you in court," the premier said.

Last fall, Pallister obtained a legal opinion from constitutional expert Bryan Schwartz, who said Manitoba might win a court case if it argued its flat $25-a-tonne levy achieved Ottawa’s emissions-reduction goals.

But Schwartz’s opinion also concluded Ottawa ultimately had right to set a carbon target and impose a tax on provinces to achieve that target.

McKenna referenced the Pallister government’s legal opinion to reporters Wednesday. "They realized that the federal government had jurisdiction, and they decided it made sense to make a made-in-Manitoba plan."

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe told reporters Ottawa was trampling provincial sovereignty, and said Ottawa gave too much leeway to other provinces. The Liberals are implementing a tax on provinces that already have cap-and-trade systems which meet federal carbon targets.

"It’s a question of fairness," McKenna rebutted. "We want to have a price on pollution across the country and every province has an opportunity to design a system that makes sense for them."

On Wednesday, Manitoba Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires wrote that she would "review the court documents to determine our next steps," in an email. She did not specify whether Saskatchewan’s move could bolster Pallister’s case in a possible suit.

"Manitoba will be closely monitoring the court case, especially since it involves our western neighbour."

In February, Squires ended a 14-month standoff and endorsed Ottawa’s climate-change framework.

Last December, Saskatchewan rolled out a climate plan focused on generating more clean energy, but also touts its uranium exports on the grounds that it helps run nuclear plants in Asia that reduce global carbon emissions from coal.

Meanwhile, McKenna is under pressure to release costing estimates bureaucrats have prepared that would reveal how much Canadians can expect to pay under the federal tax. The Conservatives requested that data in a freedom-of-information request, but it was redacted.

Ottawa has said its escalating carbon tax would increase the per-litre cost of gasoline by roughly 2.3 cents in each of the five years, meaning 11.6 cents by 2022. But the more recent analysis by bureaucrats is newer, and likely includes more details.

Before tabling its flat $25-per-tonne tax, the Manitoba government outlined how much its expected costs on households. The Manitoba plan will likely increase gas by 5.5 cents, but stay consistent through those five years.

The provincial plan is set to kick in on Dec. 1, and will cost a couple with two children about $300 a year.

Provincial Finance Minister Cameron Friesen declined to weigh in Ottawa’s decision to withhold the data. "We included annual household cost estimates… because we believe it is the responsible thing to do," he wrote in a statement this week.

McKenna says she’ll release more information "shortly," but refused to say when, nor what’s preventing her from doing so.

Dylan Robertson

Dylan Robertson
Parliamentary bureau chief

In Ottawa, Dylan enjoys snooping through freedom-of-information requests and asking politicians: "What about Manitoba?"