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Doug Ford says he’ll reconsider carbon tax challenge if federal Conservatives lose election
August 26, 2019
Rob Ferguson

Ontario’s court challenge of the federal carbon tax could be dropped if Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives lose the Oct. 21 federal election, says Premier Doug Ford.

A Liberal victory by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or another party that supports the carbon tax would put Ontario’s case in a different light, Ford suggested Friday.

The premier said he would first consult with Attorney General Doug Downey on legal options in the event of a loss by Scheer, who has been campaigning heavily against the carbon tax of 4.4 cents per litre of gasoline imposed on provinces not levying their own fee.

“We’ll be consulting with cabinet and we’ll move forward from there, but I do respect democracy,” Ford told reporters at the Toronto Police College in Etobicoke.

“The people are going to decide when the election’s over. Once the people decide, I believe in democracy.”

Trudeau promised a national carbon pricing strategy in the Liberals’ come-from-behind 2015 election campaign that brought him to power.

Ford called the carbon levy a “terrible tax” that makes gasoline more expensive, but his government has drawn criticism in some quarters for setting aside $30 million to finance the court challenge -- particularly after losing a first round at the Ontario Court of Appeal in June.

“It is shameful to see Conservatives continue to play politics with climate change on the taxpayers’ dime,” said Sabrina Kim, press secretary to federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, urging Ford to “do the right thing” and abandon an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Ford’s comments come as federal Conservatives have been privately expressing concerns that the stumbles his government has made on a number of issues including autism, a cronyism scandal, sex education and class sizes will hurt their chances of defeating Trudeau in the vote two months from now.

The premier now appears to be laying the groundwork for a court challenge escape in the face of tough odds, said Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner.

“Putting himself on the side of polluters and climate denial was a losing strategy from the outset and I’m not surprised the premier is already eyeing up an exit plan,” Schreiner said.

“This lawsuit was political theatre from the get-go, with the vast majority of legal experts predicting it to fail. No one wants a premier who will waste tax dollars sabotaging solutions when the local and global impacts of climate change are becoming more and more dire.”

Greenpeace said Ford shouldn’t wait to drop the court challenge of the federal act, which requires all provinces to set their own carbon price through an emissions tax or cap-and-trade system. Ford axed the previous Liberal government’s cap-and-trade regime.

“This was never a case they were going to win, but lying about the carbon tax was seen as clever politics on the campaign trail,” senior energy strategist Keith Stewart told the Star.

“If Premier Ford wants to stop wasting our tax money on efforts to stop other governments from filling the hole he has created in Canada’s response to the climate crisis, then he should cut his losses and do it now.”

The Ontario Court of Appeal released a decision June 28 rejecting Ontario’s bid to quash a law upholding the federal carbon price. It ruled that Ottawa has the power to set a minimum standard to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the country.

Four of five judges on Ontario’s highest court determined the federal Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act is constitutional and falls within Parliament’s authority to legislate on matters of “national concern” under the Constitution. Saskatchewan’s top court made a similar ruling in May in a case brought by that province’s government.

Ford’s administration is also requiring gas stations to post stickers about the federal carbon price starting Aug. 30 under threat of fines if they do not comply.

“We will enforce them if gas stations are not putting them up,” Ford added, saying initial fines would be “less than $500” and not the maximum $10,000 under legislation his Progressive Conservative majority passed earlier this year.

But senior government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Star’s Robert Benzie earlier this week that only written warnings would be issued.

“The premier’s comments today add more confusion about the enforcement of his foolish carbon tax stickers,” said Schreiner. “Is Ford just making this all up as he goes along?”

Fuel industry insiders say the provincial Technical Standards Safety Authority, with just 400 staff, doesn’t have the time to police gas pump stickers in addition to conducting important inspections of amusement park rides, elevators, fuel depots, ski lifts, boilers, and stuffed toys.

The stickers have been criticized for providing incomplete information because they do not mention federal carbon rebates for consumers to offset higher gas prices.