The Battle of the Carbon Tax

For progressive climate thinkers, a victory has occurred in the battle over Canada’s federally-imposed carbon tax. On May 3, 2019, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the tax being constitutional. While being a 3-2 decision, the majority expressed a deep understanding on the gravity of climate change and asserted strong views towards Canada’s role in addressing “one of the great existential issues of our time”. 

There will be no surprise when this decision is granted leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. The tepid views of the dissenting judges and the large political fallout from several provincial governments having lost “the battle over the carbon tax” makes this reference question too important for the Supreme Court to overlook. Whether or not this issue should be framed as a game to be battled over is another question. Scott Moe, Premier of Saskatchewan, commented the Court of Appeal’s ruling was “only game one of the playoffs”. A jovial hockey reference that makes this debate more palatable for those opposed or indifferent to the tax. No matter the disingenuous nature of framing a dispute over the state of the climate as a game to be played, the second match at the Supreme Court level will in fact be the final one.

This issue holds too much national significance for the Supreme Court to not weigh in. Climate change is disproportionately affecting Canada, and a carbon tax is the most cost-effective measure to reduce emissions and meet targets. The fact that this issue has been politicized is disheartening to myself and the many other young Canadians who will be the generation to face the consequences. I have faith that the Court of Appeal’s ruling will be upheld, but am disappointed with the views of those opposed to the tax. Progressive, forward-thinking action is too often left for the courts to get right. In the American context, segregation of schools, abortion and gay marriage are three examples that come to mind. To be on the right side of history in taking action to prevent large disturbances to the climate, we will need the rely on the courts once again.

The logic of the conservative framing of this issue is sound. People are averse to costs, and when they can’t directly see where their money is going, they become more opposed. It is much more palatable for a person to hand over a dollar to their local municipality and witness a new tree be installed on their street than to hand over a dollar to counteract an emission they will never see. But costs need to be considered correctly. A present-day cost on emitting carbon as a means of deterrence is minuscule when compared to the costs that will be imposed on the world from drastic changes to the climate. Costs my generation will be forced to bear. Those who oppose a carbon tax for a commonly referred to reason like “food prices will increase” fail to understand how prices will skyrocket when the climate is no longer conductive to growing and harvesting crops. Saving a present-day buck is a short-sighted approach, and I encourage those with fiscal concerns over the tax to examine the work of the Ecofiscal Commission. In the next post or two, I will be discussing the work of the Commission and the void that will be left when it ceases its mandate this year.