Why we're intervening in the Sask. carbon pricing case

Climate Justice Saskatoon and the Council of Canadians Saskatoon Chapter at a vigil for Indigenous rights and climate justice in 2016.

As part of a collective of seven other social and environmental justice organizations and two of our SK chapters, we are set to intervene in Saskatchewan’s case against the federal carbon pricing plan, the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act (GGPPA), arguing that it must be upheld as constitutional. We filed our final affidavits to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeals earlier this week.

We’re excited to be working on this effort alongside:

  • Climate Justice Saskatoon,
  • National Farmers’ Union,
  • Saskatchewan Coalition for Sustainable Development,
  • Saskatchewan Council of International Cooperation,
  • SaskEV (Saskatoon Electric Vehicle),
  • the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance,
  • Youth of the Earth
  • the Council of Canadians Regina Chapter, and
  • the Council of Canadians Saskatoon Chapter.

If you have been paying attention to the federal Liberals’ climate policies and what’s needed for Canada to do its fair share to keep warming well below 2 degrees Celsius, you will know we at the Council of Canadians are less than impressed at their efforts.

So while Trudeau’s carbon pricing policy, and wider climate plan, fall well below what is needed we are intervening because we believe governments at all levels need to coordinate to pursue ambitious and equitable climate policy. A ruling allowing a provincial government to opt out of a federal climate plan would set a legal precedent we cannot afford.

Our collective intervention argues that inadequate climate action is a violation of Canadian Charter rights and international law, and that the federal government has clear responsibility and jurisdiction to act.

Other allies joining this fight as separate intervenors include the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and the David Suzuki Foundation.

The case is expected to be heard in February 2019. The Supreme Court of Canada has repeatedly affirmed environmental protection as a matter of shared federal and provincial jurisdiction, and we will urge them to do so again if it reaches the higher court.

For more analysis on the political and practical limitations of Trudeau’s carbon pricing policy, see:

  • This recent report from Stand.Earth and Environmental Defence showing that intensive lobbying from the oil and gas industry has meant 80% of their emissions will be exempt. 
  • This op-ed from Simon Fraser University professor Marc Jaccard where he notes that "while carbon pricing gets all the media attention," other regulations have historically tended to do all the heavy lifting in reducing emissions. 
  • This Briarpatch essay from journalist James Wilt, where he notes debates around carbon pricing "often serve to create resentment for – and siphon energy from – far more ambitious climate policy that would rapidly cut emissions, guarantee jobs, and improve public services for all."

Fighting in the courts and in the streets

Outside of this legal intervention, we will be doubling down on our work to build a movement for climate justice in Saskatchewan.

Premier Moe’s Saskatchewan Party government recently released a new climate plan, called “Prairie Resilience,” which falls well short of what is needed for Saskatchewan to do its fair share. The Saskatchewan Environmental Society has detailed the plan’s flaws in a report called “’Prairie Resilience’ is not Enough.”

A December 15th "Yellow Vest" protest in Regina, from the CBC

In recent weeks, we have seen France’s “Yellow Vest” movement skip across the Atlantic in a distorted and frightening manner, and their presence has perhaps been the strongest in the Prairies. Where the yellow vests in France primarily represent a popular movement interested in addressing systemic inequality and austerity that's grown out of control, the Canadian iteration is largely focused on climate denial and anti-migrant sentiment. The protests have served as a new platform for coalitions of populist right-wing groups, far-right anti-immigrant groups, and white nationalists

As Jim Elliott of the Regina Chapter of the Council of Canadians wrote in a letter to the Regina Leader-Post: “The December 8th and 15th Prairie Freedom Movement protests put on under the guise of the “Yellow Jacket” protests from France are an attempt to channel the public’s fears about the growing threats to our survival and economic inequality towards hateful and false “solutions”. Attacking the carbon tax and the global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration is simply xenophobic, racist and climate change-denying.” 

This latest upsurge from the far right underscores the need not just for legal action to defend climate action, but for stronger local movements, in Saskatchewan and across the country, fighting for anti-racist, equitable climate plans that protect workers and upholds Indigenous rights. And as the research above about Trudeau’s carbon pricing plan suggest, we need to make sure we pass climate plans that actually show they are for the people, or we risk not passing them at all.