The Supreme Court of Canada has given some provincial governments a chance to exclude farmers in efforts to fight climate change.
In a 6-3 split decision on March 25, Canada’s highest court ruled the 2018 law putting a tax on carbon emissions is constitutional because climate change is an existential threat and a matter of national concern.
Prairie premiers upset with the decision will now have to implement carbon tax regimes in their own jurisdictions, or continue to abide by the backstop system put in by the federal government.
Despite some exemptions, farmers say the cost of heating barns and drying grain has increased significantly because of the carbon tax, and they are unable to pass along those added costs.
At the end of last year, the federal Liberal government said it would raise the carbon tax each year until 2030, when it would hit $170 per tonne. It was part of an ambitious strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
While most Canadians continue to favour the policy, producers, particularly those living on the Prairies, argue the tax, called carbon pricing, will increase costs of inputs, transport, heating and grain drying.
Such complaints about the policy are part of the reason why conservative governments continue to oppose carbon pricing.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney contended the Supreme Court’s ruling eroded provincial powers.
His Saskatchewan counterpart, Scott Moe, said the court’s decision won’t stop his opposition to a “costly and ineffective tax.”
But now the Supreme Court has rejected Kenney and Moe’s constitutional challenge and offered clarity.
Prairie premiers should now come up with their own plans rather than spending energy criticizing the Liberal plan to combat climate change.
Alberta and Saskatchewan can exempt agricultural activities from the carbon tax if they want, assuming they could appease the feds’ minimum requirements by finding equivalent ways to reduce or offset emissions.
Legislation working its way through the House of Commons would expand farm fuel exemptions to the federal plan, improving that policy for producers.
Its passage is not guaranteed, but Moe and Kenney can ensure the law won’t apply in their jurisdictions by simply designing their own policy that exempts farm fuels from carbon pricing.
This was always an option, but Alberta and Saskatchewan have let Ottawa dictate the rules by not introducing credible plans of their own.
They gambled, hoping the country’s highest court would say the rules don’t have to apply, but that gamble didn’t pay off.
In the immediate aftermath of the ruling, it wasn’t clear what Saskatchewan and Alberta would do. There are credible reasons to continue opposing the policy. A court ruling that the law is constitutional does not mean it is good policy.
Moe hinted Saskatchewan would aim to mimic New Brunswick’s climate strategy, while Kenney left reporters guessing.
Both premiers deserve criticism for not developing credible policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within their own jurisdictions. Their failure to do so is how they ended up with the federal backstop plan to begin with.
However, now that there is clarity on carbon pricing rules, provincial governments have an opportunity to do away with the frustrations of the federal system, and employ their own exemptions to help farmers thrive in a world that includes carbon pricing.
D.C. Fraser is Glacier Farm Media’s Ottawa correspondent. Reach out to him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.