Supreme Court ruling closes the door

The legal argument has been settled.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/03/2021 (558 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The legal argument has been settled.

The bickering, badgering, wrangling and posturing on ideological, philosophical and partisan-political grounds, however, show no signs of abating any time soon.

With the Supreme Court of Canada’s delivery Thursday of a split-decision (6-3) ruling that the federal government has the right to impose minimum carbon-pricing requirements on the provinces, the constitutional challenge launched by three provinces — Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan (with Manitoba as a supportive intervener) — has been set aside and the court has affirmed the federal government’s right to impose measures in cases of urgent national concern.

Premier Brian Pallister presented his own plan before dropping it. (Kevin King / Pool files)

The majority ruling, written by Chief Justice Richard Wagner, declares climate change “a threat of the highest order to the country, and indeed the world,” adding that “Canada is not seeking to invoke the national concern doctrine too lightly. The undisputed existence of a threat to the future of humanity cannot be ignored.”

If nothing else, that description should serve as a reminder that before the coronavirus pandemic redirected the world’s attention and effort to the COVID-19 fight, the immediate and fast-escalating threat of a global climate calamity was a top-of-mind issue for the world’s scientific community and increasing numbers in the political and public spheres.

Climate change, it’s worth remembering, has not taken a few months off to let humanity deal with COVID-19. As evidenced by the numerous wildfires, record-breaking storms, ice-cap-melting temperatures and variously situated droughts and floods that have added horrific insult to global warming’s planetary injury, the crisis is intensifying with each passing month.

Canada’s answer to the clarion call for climate-change action has been the imposition of a carbon tax as a means of disincentivizing fossil-fuel use in pursuit of an energy transformation that will allow Canada to meet its Paris Accord commitments regarding greenhouse-gas emissions. The Supreme Court ruling endorses the critical need for such a plan.

The next step, one might imagine, would be for elected leaders to use the high court’s declaration as a rallying cry to get Canadians refocused on the gravely serious, painfully challenging and urgently necessary business of reducing this country’s contribution — relatively small though it may be — to global warming.

One might imagine … but one would be incorrect. Here in Manitoba — the home of the much-ballyhooed Climate and Green Plan, which once included a carbon tax but had that element stripped out of the document by Premier Brian Pallister, apparently in a fit of pique after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau informed him the Manitoba standard wasn’t sufficiently aggressive — news of the Supreme Court decision was met with an insistence by the premier that he intends to carry on his fight against the carbon tax because he thinks “we have a better plan.”

If “we” do, Mr. Pallister has yet to share it with Manitobans. One might be inclined to believe that the premier’s enthusiasm for another public dust-up with the federal government has eclipsed his ability to accept jurisprudential reality. He might be correct in asserting this province deserves a unique carbon-tax framework that recognizes its abundance of clean hydroelectric energy, but for all practical purposes, his window of opportunity to negotiate a made-in-Manitoba compromise on the federal carbon tax closed the moment the high court’s ruling landed.

It’s time for Mr. Pallister, and the other Conservative premiers who vowed to fight the carbon tax all the way to the Supreme Court, to abandon their contrarian crusade and redirect their energies toward real and meaningful climate-action change.

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