Recapping day three of Ontario’s carbon tax hearing

The Ontario government is challenging Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax in court, with a four-day constitutional hearing taking place this week at the Court of Appeal for Ontario. Thanks to the support of donors to our crowdfunding campaign, True North fellow Andrew Lawton is covering the hearing live from Toronto.

We’re all going to die, and only a carbon tax will save us.

Certainly if you believe a few of the arguments put forward in court Wednesday afternoon, that’s the case.

There was a strangely alarmist tone Wednesday afternoon as two of the intervenors in the ongoing constitutional challenge of the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act laid out their positions.

The David Suzuki Foundation and the Intergenerational Climate Coalition (ICC) both charge that Justin Trudeau’s carbon pricing scheme should be upheld as constitutional because the federal government has the license to sidestep the separation of powers in order to legislate on things constituting a national “emergency.”

The David Suzuki Foundation’s lawyer opened his intervention by characterizing global warming as a “crisis more dire than any that has come before,” stating we’re nearing a “point of no return” if drastic action isn’t taken.

The rhetoric was matched by the ICC’s lawyer, who literally said we need to “think of the children.”

On a side note, I congratulate Helen Lovejoy on her acceptance to the Ontario bar.

The possibility of classing greenhouse gas emissions as an emergency wasn’t even raised by the federal government before Suzuki’s legal team suggested it. Though Canada’s lawyer did cede that if the judges find it compelling enough, the government will adopt it as a position. I believe they call that arguing in the alternatives you hadn’t even thought of.

An interesting argument championed by the Assembly of First Nations, as well as the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising, was how Indigenous Canadians are disproportionately affected by climate change (particularly those living in the north). Given their culture’s embrace of living off the land—hunting, fishing, trapping, and the like—it violates their constitution rights if greenhouse gas emissions are not dealt with, they contend. It was a fairly linear argument, even if it had to go through many steps.

What I found noteworthy about it was more the issue of how aboriginal communities are not really covered by provincial legislation. While these communities exist within provincial borders, they don’t within provincial jurisdiction. It would seem they may have their own argument against the federal government for that, though they’ve opted to take aim at the provincial positions.

The real star of the day was the lawyer representing Saskatchewan, who admittedly had a lengthy warm-up a few weeks back when presenting his own province’s case in Saskatchewan’s constitutional challenge.

He adequately argued against employing national concern doctrine, but also noted something Ontario didn’t in its submission—that imposing a carbon price effectively means the federal government is regulating the Ontario private sector, which impacts prices of goods and services in local markets.

He also pointed out that there is an eerily political undertone to the federal government’s mandate of a carbon tax in just four provinces—all with conservative governments.

Recapping day two of Ontario’s carbon tax hearing

The Ontario government is challenging Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax in court, with a four-day constitutional hearing taking place this week at the Court of Appeal for Ontario. Thanks to the support of donors to our crowdfunding campaign, True North fellow Andrew Lawton is covering the hearing live from Toronto.

As the carbon tax trial continues, Tuesday was the federal government’s turn to defend the constitutionality of Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act.

Federal justice department lawyer Sharlene Telles-Langdon drove the position that because greenhouse gas emissions don’t respect provincial boundaries, it’s an issue of “national concern,” as designated by peace, order and good government (POGG) doctrine, and thus an area in which the federal government is licensed to encroach on what might seem to be provincial turf.

Even so, Telles-Langdon argued such an encroachment is minimal given how “unintrusive” the federal government’s carbon pricing scheme is, as evidenced by Climate Action Incentive tax rebates distributed by the feds.

“We know that climate change is an urgent threat to humanity,” she said.

It’s worth noting that the federal government isn’t claiming authority under emergency provisions, but rather general issues of national concern that can be invoked in areas where provinces are unable to effectively regulate things on their own. (Though the David Suzuki Foundation, in its intervention, suggested the emergency branch is entirely valid—the federal government in reply said it would be open to such an interpretation, should the court decide such.)

Tuesday’s session was far more spirited than Mondays, with numerous probative interjections from the justices. None more than Justice Grant Huscroft, who was fairly silent on Monday. He pushed, at times somewhat aggressively, for an answer to where federal latitude ends if the Canadian government’s position is accepted.

This was the slippery slope argument advanced Monday by Ontario’s lawyer, as I noted then. Three of the five Court of Appeal justices put it to Telles-Langdon, at various points of Tuesday’s session, in an attempt to get a clear answer.

The closest they got to one was when the federal government lawyer said any law would have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. This hardly satisfied Huscroft, who noted that the federal government was ultimately asking the court to “change the constitutional balance of power.”

Hence his desire for Telles-Langdon to stipulate “ascertainable limits” to that for which the federal government is arguing.

At another point, she insisted that limits can be built into the legislation itself, which she believes the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act does by specifically implementing a measurable pricing scheme and not doing what she called “alarmist hypotheticals” like regulating gas stoves and automobiles.

To her credit, she argued that when POGG’s national concern provision has been invoked in the past, the balance of federalism hasn’t been upset.

Though these discussions about federal limitations were no doubt significant, I found it equally so when the federal lawyer attempted to argue that Ontario isn’t being forced to have a price on carbon under the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act.

I don’t have an exact transcript yet, but to paraphrase, Canada’s lawyer argued—to the confusion of the justices—that Ontario isn’t forced to do anything because the federal government is administering the carbon tax should Ontario not have its own policy. Ontario isn’t taking issue with who has to administer the scheme, but rather that it has to, under the federal legislation, exist in the first place.

A tax by any other name is still a tax.

Because the federal government concluded its case ahead of schedule, the day ended with a head start on Wednesday’s docket, specifically the intervention from the province of New Brunswick, represented by William Gould.

New Brunswick’s position is virtually identical to Ontario’s, though it hasn’t fielded a constitutional challenge of its own against the legislation.

Recapping day one of Ontario’s carbon tax hearing

The Ontario government is challenging Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax in court, with a four-day constitutional hearing taking place this week at the Court of Appeal for Ontario. Thanks to the support of donors to our crowdfunding campaign, True North fellow Andrew Lawton is covering the hearing live from Toronto.

The much-awaited constitutional challenge of the federal government’s carbon tax kicked off Monday at Osgoode Hall, with lawyers for Ontario’s attorney general first up on the docket laying out their objections to the carbon pricing scheme.

It was made clear early on in the provincial government’s submission, as well as its opening argument, that climate change and global warming are not, themselves, on trial. Rather, the federal government’s one-size-fits-all approach to tackling it is.

Whether a carbon tax, a cap-and-trade system, an incentive program or some other penalty for big polluters is the best way to curb environmental issues is a “policy question, not a legal question,” one of Ontario’s lawyers, Joshua Hunter, argued.

Ontario’s legal approach appears, at least on the surface, to be rooted in separating the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act’s policy implications from its constitutionality, though a good chunk of the opening argument was nevertheless devoted to pointing out how the federal plan is, in fact, inefficient and ignores other actions undertaken by Ontario.

Hunter argued the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act, which imposes a carbon tax on provinces lacking their own pricing schemes meeting the federal government’s standards, focuses solely on the price governments put on emissions and not the broader picture of climate and environmental policy, even when such policy specifically reduces emissions.

One compelling example offered by Hunter is the decision by Ontario’s previous government under Kathleen Wynne to shutter its coal-powered electrical plants. Doing so reduced emissions by 22 per cent—arguably more than a carbon tax ever could—but amounts to nothing in the federal government’s view because it isn’t a pricing scheme.

Hunter also pointed out that the Climate Action Incentive, an income tax rebate given by the federal government to residents of provinces without carbon prices, redistributes carbon tax revenue indiscriminate of actual personal emissions and carbon output. For example, a long-haul truck driver based in Ottawa who burns thousands of dollars of fuel each year will receive the same amount as a Torontonian who walks to work every day.

While this observation speaks to the ridiculousness of Trudeau’s climate plan, it doesn’t appear to advance the idea of unconstitutionality, though I’m no lawyer.

Unfortunately, Canadian courts have opted to weigh in on policy questions in the past rather than taking a strict constitutional view of things, so I won’t dare predict an outcome this early.

Ontario raised a significant concern about where federal government’s claim of jurisdiction could lead on this matter. Hunter argued that if the federal government is able to regulate greenhouse gases per se, it would also give the government license to regulate anything that causes greenhouse gases. This would run the gamut of pretty much all human activity, letting the federal government trump provincial jurisdiction on whether cars are allowed, how people heat their homes, and virtually everything else.

In the afternoon the case got a bit into the weeds on subjects I’ll have to explore further before rendering an opinion. One of Ontario’s lawyers, Padraic Ryan, spent a considerable amount of his time on the semantics of whether Trudeau’s carbon tax is, in fact, a tax.

There’s a political question about whether a price on carbon is different from a tax on carbon. As it turns out, there’s also a constitutional question there. Ryan argued the federal government doesn’t explicitly refer to it as a tax in the legislation authorizing the price on carbon; ergo Parliament hasn’t yet authorized a tax in the eyes of the law. This would make it an unconstitutional tax because it has the practical effect of being a tax without the legal authorization to be one. It occupies a weird twilight zone in Ontario’s view because the price also doesn’t meet the legal threshold to be termed a regulatory charge.

There was a fair bit of attention given to how Ontario defines it, suggesting this will play heavily as the week progresses.

Aren’t you glad I’m sitting in on this and not you?

The court reconvenes Tuesday morning at 10:00 am with the federal government laying out its opening arguments.

Prayer isn’t useless. Just ask around.

People around the world are praying for the victims of the horrific terror attacks in New Zealand mosques, and their families.

How anyone finds that objectionable I don’t understand.

Regardless of specific religions or denominations, people of faith generally agree prayer is the most important thing to do in times of both celebration and tragedy.

Prayer often manifests as a request, but it can also be a message of gratitude, or even of anger. Regardless of a specific prayer, it’s about recognizing there is a power that exists above you, which is both true and comforting, especially when events like those in New Zealand force us to confront the very worst of humanity.

The relationship between man and God is often lost on those who lack it. This isn’t a judgment of those people. Except so often instead of merely not partaking in prayer, they mock those who do.

New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had stern words for those who prayed in the wake of the New Zealand massacre that claimed 49 lives.

“What good are your thoughts & prayers when they don’t even keep the pews safe?”, she tweeted.

Critics were quick to point out that Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet was particularly tone deaf given the the victims were gunned down praying in a house of worship that wouldn’t exist without prayer.

She attempted to walk back the comment by saying it was an attack against the National Rifle Association.

“‘Thoughts and prayers’ is reference to the NRA’s phrase used to deflect conversation away from policy change during tragedies,” she added later. “Not directed to PM Ardern, who I greatly admire.”

Her sentiment is one often expressed after mass shootings, when people chide politicians who offer prayers but not gun control in response to tragedy.

In this case, however, no one was talking about the NRA, which wields no political clout in New Zealand. Yet she still decided to mock those who find comfort in faith and prayer while politicizing another country’s horror.

I don’t fault people for not understanding the power of prayer if they’ve never experienced it. But I do take issue with those who refuse to recognize the tremendous role it plays in the lives of others, especially victims of tragedy.

On the two year anniversary of the 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting in January, I attended a screening of “Your Last Walk in the Mosque,” a documentary that is more about legacies of the six Muslim men killed that day than it is about the killings themselves. Even so, it was still an evocative account of a horrific episode.

Despite the grief and sadness in the victims’ widows, friends and families, it was moving to see how all had taken solace in their faith to get them through the pain.

It was through a negative event in my own life that I found my own faith and relationship with God as a Christian. Anyone who asks around will find that people of faith don’t pray in spite of tragedy—they pray because of it.

The act of prayer wields more power than any politician, white paper or rousing rendition of ‘Imagine’ ever will.

Of course this doesn’t mean prayer should exist in a vacuum without other action. I don’t believe praying for a cure replaces taking medication, nor do I believe praying for safety means you shouldn’t lock your doors at night. It’s prayer that gives the comfort, clarity, and even outcome to embolden these things.

I doubt the naysayers have ever asked people around them what prayer has done for them. The answers might just bear a lesson or two.

Tommy Robinson heading back to court

Less than five months after a United Kingdom judge referred Tommy Robinson’s contempt of court case to the attorney general, a new hearing has been ordered for the English activist.

United Kingdom Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said Thursday that there are “strong grounds” to bring new proceedings against Robinson. The case will be re-heard in London on March 22.

The question of whether Robinson was in contempt of court stems from a live stream he hosted last May outside the Leeds courthouse where a number of now-convicted sex groomers were appearing. Robinson, whose sentence on an earlier contempt finding was suspended, was arrested, charged, convicted and sentenced to 13 months behind bars within a matter of five hours. He was hauled off to prison that very day despite the administrative nature of his offense.

He appealed the conviction in August, prompting a judge to acknowledge numerous errors made by the Leeds judge who prosecuted him. A new hearing was ordered for October at the Old Bailey.

In October, Recorder of London Nicholas Hilliard found that Robinson’s statement raised enough doubts about the case that it should be referred to the attorney general, who has been tight-lipped on his plans until issuing his decision Thursday.

I was in the courthouse for that hearing, during which you may remember I overheard British Press Association journalists conspiring to manipulate their coverage of Robinson and his legal ordeal.

Robinson has long maintained that he will end up behind bars regardless, citing the prosecutorial witchhunt that he says has dogged him to this point.

If scheduling permits, I hope to be back in London to cover the case’s latest developments.