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.

Remember when SNC-Lavalin funnelled $100k to the Liberals?

A bombshell Globe and Mail report accuses key players in the Prime Minister’s Office of attempting to interfere in the prosecution of Montréal-based engineering firm SNC-Lavalin.

The report alleges the PMO tried to pressure former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to force the public prosecutor to settle, which is what SNC-Lavalin wants. When she refused, she was demoted to a less significant cabinet role.

The Prime Minister’s Office denies the allegations, and Wilson-Raybould is refusing to comment.

The ongoing case involves millions of dollars in alleged bribes to Libyan officials—including $160 million to Saadi Gaddafi. This is just one of several instances where SNC-Lavalin or its executives have faced prosecution for corruption, typically revolving around bribes.

The firm’s former CEO just last week pleaded guilty on a multimillion dollar bribery scheme involving a $1.3 billion contract for a Montréal superhospital.

Another key executive illegally funnelled a six-figure sum to the federal Liberals.

Last May, former SNC-Lavalin vice-president Normand Morin was charged with engineering a scheme to illegally donate more than $100,000 to the Liberal Party of Canada, as well as Liberal riding associations and leadership candidates.

These donations took place over a period of seven years, during which $8,000 was given to Conservatives through the same scheme.

Employees would donate in their names, but the company would cover the donation through reimbursements for “false refunds for personal expenses or payment of fictitious bonuses.” Corporate contributions have been illegal in Canada since 2006.

Despite the scale and significance of the scam, Morin was required to pay only $2,000 as punishment after pleading guilty in November. The media didn’t report on his plea until last month.

SNC-Lavalin admitted there were other executives involved, though they were never publicly identified and Morin was the only one charged.

Though this didn’t stop SNC-Lavalin from having high-level access to Justin Trudeau’s office.

Since 2017, the company’s representatives have met with senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office—including Trudeau’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts—on 14 occasions, purportedly to lobby for “justice,” which seems to be an odd topic for an engineering firm.

For optics alone, the PMO shouldn’t have been taking meetings with representatives of a company facing ongoing criminal prosecution.

I’m inclined to side with NDP member of parliament Charlie Angus in saying SNC-Lavalin shouldn’t even have access to federal contracts, given its track record of corruption.

If the Globe report is true, thank goodness Wilson-Raybould had the moral grounding to say no, despite it coming at a personal cost.

It’s clear the ties between the Liberals and SNC-Lavalin run deep.

The Liberals want to end fake news, but who decides what that is?

If you’re singing the fake news blues, the federal government wants you to believe it has the answer.

My Loonie Politics column this week tackles the announcement made by a panel of cabinet ministers laying out how the Justin Trudeau’s government plans to safeguard this year’s federal election.

You can read the full column here if you’re a Loonie Politics subscriber. (If not, use promo code ‘Lawton’ for a discounted subscription.)

Here’s an excerpt:

Canada’s long-awaited answer to foreign interference in elections has arrived, but it seems to create an opening for domestic meddling — by the government itself.

With nine months to go until this year’s federal election, a team of ministers from Justin Trudeau’s cabinet announced this week a “sweeping series” of measures aimed to safeguard Canadian democracy.

Whether intentionally or unintentionally I don’t know, but a glaring question remains after the government reiterated its commitment to purging misinformation from social media sites: who decides what misinformation really is?

Facts are black and white, but interpretations of them aren’t always so clear, especially when politics is concerned.

Most people would agree social media companies should spike content posted by Russian bots falsely linking politicians with criminality.  But what about content that isn’t as easy to parse?

Such as a claim that a carbon tax is nothing but a cash grab.  Or a study critical of the government’s track record on economics.  Or someone saying the Liberals have been dishonest about their balanced budget plans (or lack thereof.)

These all sound like critiques that fall within the boundaries of civilized debate, but they share something in common: all were called “fake news” by high-ranking government officials.

Trudeau attacks immigration “fear mongering” day after CBSA exposes human smuggling network

Justin Trudeau once again employed his favorite trope by calling out “fear mongering” about Canada’s border security and immigration system.

It took a special kind of ignorance, considering only one day earlier Canada’s border protection agency exposed a network of cross-border migrant smugglers.

Hours before Trudeau’s remarks, two males in Kingston were arrested over what the RCMP call “national security” concerns. At least one of them is a Syrian refugee.

Though Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, chief Trudeau advisor Gerald Butts, and Trudeau himself have all accused critics of “fear mongering” in recent months, this instance is perhaps the most tone deaf.

At a town hall in Miramachi, New Brunswick Thursday night, a young Syrian refugee rose to thank Trudeau for bringing her family to Canada.

After a bit of chest thumping about his government’s resettlement of Syrian refugees, Trudeau made an unprompted pivot to the broader immigration discussion in Canada.

“There are people trying to create fears around the country around immigration…. The kind of fear-mongering, the kind of intolerance, the kind of misinformation that unfortunately is going on across the country and around the world is something that all of us have a responsibility to engage with in a positive and thoughtful way,” he said.

The “fear” about which is speaks is actually concern from large swaths of Canadians that there are people abusing the country’s immigration system, lawlessly traipsing across the border, and making false asylum claims. All of this is happening.

Trudeau should be more concerned with the problem itself than he is with those speaking up about it.

But his government wants to pretend there is no problem, that the border “crisis” is a right wing concoction.

Even so, on Wednesday the Canada Border Services Agency charged Olayinka Celestina Opaleye with allegedly smuggling 10 or more asylum claimants into Canada in exchange for compensation.

CBSA alleges Opaleye was operating as part of a “network of smugglers” utilizing Roxham Rd. in Quebec. If convicted, Opaleye could face a $1 million fine or life in prison.

The law understands the seriousness of illegal immigration more than Trudeau does.

This charge doesn’t reflect an isolated incident, either.

A Cornwall man was sentenced in 2017 for smuggling foreign nationals facing deportation from the United States into Canada for money. A Regina couple was sentenced last year for bringing nine illegal immigrants into Canada.

While illegal border crossing between Canada and the United States has always been an issue, American authorities say the smugglers are now more sophisticated and better organized than ever before.

In the United States, that means taking it more seriously. In Canada, it somehow means the opposite.

The charges against Opaleye prove what critics of the pipeline of illegal immigrants into Canada have been warning—that not all of the tens of thousands of asylum seekers who’ve come to Canada in the last two years have done so with pure intentions.

Located south of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Roxham Rd. is supposed to be a dead end street, but is now a de facto freeway for illegal immigrants.

As many as 96 per cent of illegal immigrants into Canada last year came in that way. Instead of stopping it, the CBSA has set up a processing centre on site to stream line asylum applications. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have been known to help illegal immigrants with their luggage.

It makes the human smuggling business particularly easy when Canadian authorities are doing the heavy lifting (literally and figuratively). All the smugglers have to do is get people to the border and Trudeau’s government does the rest of the work.

What a great industry to be in. Cross-border human smuggling may well be the only growth area of Canada’s economy under Justin Trudeau.

The government may wish to whitewash the problem by calling it “irregular” immigration, but it’s illegal. That’s why a woman was charged with facilitating and organizing it.

Our border is seen as irrelevant and our immigration system is abused. Yet Trudeau says “fear mongering” is the real problem.

Andrew Lawton is a fellow at True North. You can support his and his colleagues’ work with a small monthly contribution by joining the Heritage Club.

Liberal’s identity politics may aid Singh in BC byelection

Byelections are always exciting as national energy, issues and campaigns condense themselves into disparate ridings across the country.

British Columbia’s Burnaby South byelection, one of three in Canada slated for next month, is shaping up to be no disappointment.

Karen Wang resigned as the Liberal candidate (and is now trying to withdraw her resignation) over a WeChat message identifying her NDP opponent (also the party’s leader) by his Indian race.

I tackle this in my Loonie Politics column this week, which you can check out with a discounted subscription by using the promotional code “Lawton.”

Here’s an excerpt of the piece:

It should serve as a cautionary tale to politicians who find themselves tempted to adjust their message based on whichever audience is in front of them.

I experienced what everyone running for office must feel at some point when someone asks you a question in a way that makes it clear one answer will get you their vote and another won’t.  If your view is at odds with theirs, you have to decide whether the vote or your moral compass is more important.

Of course, if a lack of votes equates to a plethora of principles I’m in good moral standing.

Wang may have gotten carried away by that same spirit, feeling in that moment like a throwaway line about Singh’s Indian background would help win people over.

Morality aside, Wang’s case proves that those who go down this road are likely to be caught.  If you privately make a promise or a claim you wouldn’t publicly, someone is going to demand accountability at some point.