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Lawsuit says illegal to force gas stations to paste carbon-price stickers


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TORONTO — An Ontario law forcing gas stations to display stickers showing the cost of federal carbon pricing is illegal and should be thrown out, a new lawsuit asserts.

The unproven lawsuit from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association says the Federal Carbon Tax Transparency Act — dubbed the Sticker Act — violates free speech provisions of the Constitution.

“The sticker imposed by the Sticker Act constitutes compelled political speech,” the lawsuit asserts. “Under threat of significant fines, it legislatively requires gas station owners to express the (government’s) position.”

The liberties group says in its filing it was unable to find a gas station owner willing to fight the law despite its “diligent attempts.”

The Progressive Conservative government of Premier Doug Ford brought in the legislation as part of its failed legal battle with Ottawa over carbon pricing ahead of next month’s federal election. The federal scheme imposes a charge in those provinces that don’t have a carbon-pricing system of their own — currently 4.4 cents a litre in Ontario.

Ford has consistently denounced the federal legislation as a “tax grab” and has said it wants consumers to know what the federal charge will cost Ontario drivers.

“We’re going to stick it to the Liberals and remind the people of Ontario how much this job-killing, regressive carbon tax costs,” Energy Minister Greg Rickford, who is named in the suit, told the legislature in April.

The association, however, says the stickers are part of Ontario’s political campaign against Ottawa and there’s no good reason to force anyone to display them.

“The Sticker Act requirements do not relate to any technical standards or any concerns about safety,” the lawsuit states. “Comments Ontario has made about the Sticker Act in the Ontario legislature and to the public demonstrate that the content of the stickers are political in nature.”

Rickford, who said the province was reviewing the lawsuit and planned to respond, defended the act.

“Ontario’s government is standing up for the people by implementing transparency measures that reveal the hidden cost of the federal carbon tax on the price of gasoline,” Rickford said in a statement.

Critics have complained the taxpayer-funded stickers are misleading because they fail, among other things, to reflect a federal rebate the Liberal government says will put more money into consumer pockets than they are paying at the pump for the carbon levy. It also fails to mention other taxes or gasoline costs.

The act forcing gas stations to put up the stickers took effect on Aug. 30. Failure to do so can carry a fine of $5,000 a day for a first offence, rising to $10,000 a day for subsequent offences. The government has said it would initially issue only warnings rather than fines.

Late last month, the Ontario government asked the Supreme Court of Canada to weigh in on its carbon-pricing battle with Ottawa. The province argues that Ontario’s Court of Appeal was wrong to find the carbon price constitutional and within the federal government’s right to impose.

Ford has said voters will have the ultimate say on the issue when they cast ballots federally next month.

Greenpeace Canada welcomed the challenge, saying the stickers are misleading, partisan and unconstitutional.

“A government forcing businesses to mislead the public about climate change is a worrying development,” the organization’s Keith Stewart said.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

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Nature Conservancy of Canada releases action plan to protect Prairie grasslands

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Feds open to cutting plastic production but global agreement will be hard: Guilbeault

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Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault responds to a question during a news conference following meetings Friday May 26, 2023 in Ottawa. Guilbeault says he is not opposed to cutting back on how many plastic products are made as the world works towards a global treaty to eliminate plastic pollution.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — Canada is open to the idea of including a requirement to cut back on the production of plastic in a new global treaty to eliminate plastic pollution, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said Friday.

But he said that may become one of the biggest sticking points in the negotiations, which are supposed to conclude at the end of next year.

“The idea that we might have to commit to reducing the use of plastics will be something that’s going to be difficult for some countries to agree to,” said Guilbeault in an interview.

At the United Nations Environment Assembly in March 2022, 175 nations agreed to launch talks to create a global plastics treaty to eliminate plastic waste by the end of 2024.

The second round of those talks wrapped up in Paris Friday with an agreement to start drafting the treaty, which is supposed to be ready by the end of 2024.

There are three more rounds of talks guaranteed before then, and Guilbeault said Canada is going to host the next round about a year from now.

Plastic pollution has become a global scourge, choking marine life and contributing to biodiversity loss. Less than one-tenth of it is recycled, including in Canada, and scientists believe almost nine million tonnes ends up in the oceans each year. Canadians produce about 2.9 million tonnes of plastic waste each year that isn’t recycled or incinerated.

Canada has set a domestic goal to eliminate plastic waste by 2030.

Environment groups say the only true way to eliminate plastic pollution is to make less plastic in the first place.

“We need significant cuts to production and we need to ultimately phase out virgin production,” said Sarah King, the plastics campaign manager at Greenpeace Canada.

“And we need Canada to get to a place where they’re willing to to support that publicly and to champion that in treaty negotiations.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said at the outset of the Paris negotiations earlier this week that the talks should prioritize reducing the production of plastics.

King said Canada has been supportive of restraining production. But she said what the treaty needs is a direct cap on plastic production and a phase-down over time.

Guilbeault said he is “not opposed” to putting limits on production but is careful to say eliminating plastic pollution means using plastic more carefully, not eliminating its use altogether.

“So the idea of producing plastic and then using it for five minutes or an hour or a day or two weeks and then throwing it away will be something of the past,” he said. “Will it mean that we will consume less plastic? It’s hard to tell, but I think a reasonable answer would be yes.”

NDP MP Gord Johns, who successfully pushed a motion in Parliament five years ago calling for a national strategy to address plastic pollution, said Canada needs to be more clear about its position.

“Right now we hear President Macron take leadership, committing to cutting upstream production,” Johns said.

“And we need that same leadership from the prime minister here in Canada.”

Johns said Canada also needs to show leadership by living up to promises to stop exporting its plastic waste problem.

Following the embarrassment when Canadian plastic garbage was found rotting in the Philippines in 2019, Canada said it would work with the Canada Border Services Agency to halt exports of contaminated plastic. It also agreed to amendments to the United Nations Basel Convention that meant after Jan. 1, 2021, Canada must export plastic waste only to other convention members with consent and confirmation of how the waste would be disposed.

In the two years since, Canada’s exports of plastic garbage have increased — mainly to the United States, which is not part of the convention. That means Canada doesn’t know what happens to its plastic waste and that it could be shipped to the very developing countries Canada has committed to protecting.

The Basel Action Network said Canada’s plastic exports increased 13 per cent in 2021 to 170 million kilograms, and another eight per cent in 2022 to 183 million kilograms.

That’s about the combined weight of 30,000 elephants.

More than 90 per cent in both years was destined initially for the United States.

Guilbeault had said he would direct his department to end that practice more than a year ago. He said Friday an announcement is coming soon.

He also said he intends to launch another update of the Canada Environmental Protection Act that will include stronger powers to tackle that problem. That bill, known as CEPA, is in the final stages of debate in the Senate before it’s expected to pass.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2023.

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