Carbon tax win may be far away

Scott Moe has lost the carbon tax fight, although this may be a temporary setback as the Saskatchewan Premier suggests.

There will be similar court challenges in Manitoba and Ontario, culminating with a likely challenge before the Supreme Court of Canada that Moe feels confident will overturn the 3-2 Saskatchewan Court of Appeal.

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And even before any of that happens, there is a federal election this fall in where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government may be defeated by Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives.

The polls now suggest the tide has turned on the Trudeau government and not just in the West. It is certainly Moe’s fondest hope that the Liberals lose this fall; something that Moe has all but outright stated.

But what if that doesn’t happen?

The election is still five months away and a lot can happen between now and then. Given that what we are seeing now is only a few percentage point spread between the Liberals and Conservatives, a Scheer win is hardly a sure thing.

That leaves Moe with the notion of future victories in other courts. Unfortunately, contrary to Moe’s Stanley Cup analogy, court decisions in other provinces mean little. Moreover, given the strength in the majority ruling of the Saskatchewan court, there is little to suggest courts in other provinces will come to conclusions that are much different.

 “Neither level of government has exclusive authority over the environment,” the Saskatchewan court wrote, in its 155-page decision. “As a result, Parliament can legislate in relation to issues such as GHGs so long as it stays within the four corners of its prescribed subject matters and the provinces can do the same so long as they stay within their prescribed areas of authority.”

The Court of Appeal majority ruling went on to discount Saskatchewan’s argument that Ottawa can’t enact statutes in one province and not another or that it is overreaching by using the Constitution’s Peace, Order and Good Government (POGG) tenant of our Constitution to justify the tax or that the carbon tax is a “tax” and not a price on pollution.

“Parliament does have authority over a narrower POGG subject matter: the establishment of minimum national standards of price stringency for GHG emissions,” the majority opinion stated.

With all this, it’s also likely overly optimistic for Moe to think that there will a different outcome when the Supreme Court hears the same argument. And those arguments before the Supreme Court may not be heard for years, anyway.

That leaves a change in government as the most realistic way to end the carbon tax.

While this seems a distinct possibility, what happens if it doesn’t? Do all our issues go away?

Not really.

For starters, SaskPower has already made significant commitments to reducing GHG by 40 per cent by 2030, a move that means shuttering coal-fired electrical power generation at Boundary Dams 4 and 5.

And while SaskPower is not meeting those GHG reduction targets now, make no mistake things are changing with or without Trudeau’s carbon tax.

So even if we do see an end to the carbon tax, we may not see an end to this battle.