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Ontario called ‘alarmist’ about federal powers if carbon pricing law stands

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TORONTO — Ontario is being alarmist in fighting Ottawa’s carbon pricing law by suggesting the federal government is grabbing new powers that would allow it to regulate when people drive or where they live, the province’s top court heard on Tuesday.

In her submissions, a federal lawyer said the law aims to prompt people to change their ways to reduce potentially catastrophic global-warming pollution, which respects no provincial boundaries. The provinces, she said, simply can’t head off potentially catastrophic global warming on their own.

“There is a gap in Canada’s ability as a nation to meet the challenge as it now faces,” Sharlene Telles-Langdon told the Ontario Court of Appeal. “The federal power is directed toward a national measure.”

At issue is the constitutional validity of federal legislation that kicked in on April 1. The Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act, which levies a charge on gasoline, other fossil and on industrial polluters, only applies in provinces such as Ontario that have no carbon-pricing regime of their own that meets national standards.

On Monday, a provincial lawyer denounced the act as unconstitutional, saying it stomps on provincial turf and would undermine co-operative federalism. But Telles-Langdon told the five-justice panel on Day 2 of the four-day hearing that the complaint was wrong.

“The act itself intrudes minimally on provincial jurisdiction,” Telles-Langdon said. “What it does is ensure a national system.”

Justice James MacPherson pointed out that Ontario has already slashed its emissions over a 14-year period by 22 per cent — largely because the previous government shuttered coal-fired plants. “Why not just leave them alone?” MacPherson asked.

“It’s not just Ontario that we have to worry about. It’s Canada as a whole,” Telles-Langdon said, noting Saskatchewan’s emissions have gone up. “Ontario has had great results. Unfortunately, Ontario can do nothing about what is happening in other provinces.”

The justices pressed the lawyer to explain how allowing Ottawa to regulate any human activity that increases greenhouse gas emissions would stop it from encroaching further on provincial turf — such as banning wood-burning fireplaces or setting a maximum temperature for heating homes.

“You’re asking us to change the balance of power,” Justice Grant Huscroft said.

“This is a scheme that is directed toward controlling the total emissions at a national level,” Telles-Langdon replied. “It is the least intrusive and least-cost method of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There’s no displacement of provincial powers.”

“They didn’t want to do the thing you’re now making them do?” Huscroft responded.

Telles-Langdon said Canadians are in a new era in which climate change has become a national problem and may already amount to a state of “climactic emergency.” The provinces, she said, wanted a pan-Canadian system to address the issue while avoiding conflicts among themselves.

The act amounts to a “price signal” that will be effective in encouraging people and industries to change their behaviour, Telles-Langdon said. What it does not do, she said, is tell businesses and industries how to operate.

“The federal government hasn’t said you must do this and you must not do that.”

Ontario Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford has denounced the law as an illegal tax grab but Ottawa says the money collected will go back to those in the province in which it was paid.

As a result, the levy is a “regulatory charge” not a tax, Telles-Langdon told court, because its “dominant purpose” is to modify behaviour rather than raise revenue. If the court rejected that explanation, she said, then the charge can be characterized as a legitimately enacted tax.

William Gould, lawyer for the intervening province of New Brunswick, which sides with Ontario, warned of “scope creep” when it comes to federal authority. Chief Justice George Strathy said the province couldn’t address climate change on its own.

Gould agreed, but argued the federal law wasn’t the answer. He cautioned the court against expanding Ottawa’s powers.

The hearing resumes Wednesday with other interveners making their submissions.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

Environment

‘Grateful that we had stopped:’ Couple avoids fiery Alberta crash that killed 3

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oyen highway crash

CEREAL, Alta. — A Saskatchewan man says a well-timed pit stop may have helped him avoid getting caught in a fiery 10-vehicle crash in southeastern Alberta that killed three people.

Dore Germo and his wife left Kelowna, B.C., on Monday after a holiday visiting friends. After a night in Calgary, they were on their way home Tuesday to Warman, Sask.

They stopped for gas and a break in Hanna, Alta., about 80 kilometres from where seven passenger vehicles and three semi trucks collided on Highway 9.

“We were quite grateful that we had stopped,” Germo said in an interview Wednesday.

“It just makes you think, ‘Could that have been us further up the road?’ We just don’t know.”

The couple spotted smoke as they continued east but thought it was a grass fire.

Then they saw flashing lights and heard sirens. A police officer was running down the middle of the road waving his arms at stopped vehicles.

“I rolled down my window and he was just yelling, ‘Get out! Get out!'”

Germo said they were directed to a gravel road to get around the crash, and from there they could make out a tanker truck and burned vehicles amid the smoke.

“It kind of looked like a bomb had gone off because there were these burnt-out vehicles and it was very eerie,” he said.

“It was quite a sickening kind of empty feeling once you realized that — yes — those are people just going about their day and travelling somewhere.”

He said he’s praying for those involved.

“The first thing you think of is those poor families.”

RCMP confirmed Wednesday that three people were found dead at the crash scene between the small communities of Chinook and Cereal, about 300 kilometres east of Calgary. Ten people were injured, two critically.

One of the trucks that was carrying fuel ignited, causing several vehicles to catch fire, and another truck was carrying butane.

A stretch of Highway 9 was still closed on Wednesday afternoon, while crews cleared the area and recovered dangerous goods in one of the trucks.

RCMP Cpl. Laurel Scott said the crash happened in a construction zone.

“Any time that traffic is moving through or travelling near a construction zone, there’s always a concern just generally about travelling safely.”

She said a collision analyst was at the site for several hours taking measurements, noting marks on the road and recording where debris had landed.

The investigation could take several weeks, she said, and will also take into account mechanical exams and witness statements. It’s too early to say whether any charges are possible, she added.

“We need the public to understand this does take some time.” 

The RCMP’s victim services unit was providing support to people involved in the crash. The unit set up at the legion in nearby Oyen on Tuesday night.

“They’re there to offer whatever help they can, even if it’s just to listen to somebody and give them a blanket,” Scott said.

— By Lauren Krugel in Calgary

The Canadian Press

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Politicians say elections law restricting partisan ads is ‘absurd,’ ‘lunacy’

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OTTAWA — The man whose position on climate change is at the centre of a controversy over partisan campaign rhetoric weighed in Monday, saying Elections Canada is stifling free speech if environmental groups can’t produce ads that describe global warming as a real crisis borne of human behaviour.

Maxime Bernier, leader of the nascent People’s Party of Canada and an outspoken climate-change denier, was responding on Twitter to the agency’s warning that ads that discuss the legitimacy of the phenomenon — including paid social media placements — could be considered partisan simply because of the position of the People’s Party.

In a word, Bernier summed up Elections Canada’s position as “absurd.”

“The law should only regulate real partisan advertising, which is when there is mention of a candidate or party by name,” he said.

The Canada Elections Act does indeed restrict any third-party advertising that either mentions a party or candidate by name, or promotes or disputes an issue or position taken by a party or candidate. Once the costs of such ads hit $500, the third party must register with Elections Canada, produce records and financial reports and limit the amount of advertising it undertakes.

“There are hundreds of potentially contentious issues that could be considered partisan if this rule were to be applied consistently,” Bernier said.

Natasha Gauthier, a spokeswoman for Elections Canada, said the climate-change warning was just an example of an ad that could be deemed partisan, and that any decision about specific activities would be decided on a case-by-case basis and only if there is a complaint. That decision also will be made by the commissioner of Canada elections.

Elections Canada does not know in advance what issues might come up during the campaign, Gauthier added, but said if a party or candidate takes a position on something, any organization that advertises or does work on that issue will need to make sure they comply with the law. For example, an association promoting the benefits of forestry jobs could find its ads offside if a party suddenly makes forestry jobs a campaign issue, she warned.

Third parties should “be careful, because it depends on the situation,” Gauthier said, adding that the rules around advertising are not new.

Even so, the agency’s decision to cite climate change as a specific example has left environment groups feeling muzzled, and others wondering how far partisan labels will go.

“This is lunacy,” said Green party Leader Elizabeth May. “Elections Canada is not a lunatic organization so I trust they will clarify and eliminate this ruling.”

If Bernier were to suddenly say he believes smoking is good for people, May wondered aloud, would any organization that promotes the health dangers of smoking suddenly be deemed partisan? Others on Twitter questioned whether the earth being round could suddenly become a partisan statement if a candidate were to publicly insist the earth is flat.

“It’s not partisan to discuss the single greatest threat faced by humanity,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said of climate change.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he will look very closely at what Elections Canada has said, but added that he trusts them to make independent decisions about the Canada Elections Act.

“We will always respect Elections Canada’s role and responsibility to independently apply electoral law,” Trudeau said.

“But I think the whole question highlights the fact that it is so frustrating that there are still conservative politicians in this country who don’t think climate change is real and certainly don’t think we should be doing anything to fight it.”

Several organizations say they now are planning to withdraw any advertising during the writ period that may discuss the scope of climate change, even though it doesn’t mention any party or politician by name.

“We’re screening everything we post or boost online,” said Keith Stewart, a senior energy strategist at Greenpeace Canada. “Greenpeace Canada will continue to talk about climate change but we won’t be paying to boost that online or take out ads in newspapers.”

Stewart said Greenpeace registered last time, but described the process as onerous and time consuming — not worth it in 2019 for the roughly $2,500 worth of ads they did in 2015.

Greenpeace is not a charity, but there is added pressure on environmental groups that are who fear a Canada Revenue Agency audit should Elections Canada suddenly deem their activities to be partisan, Stewart said. The CRA has rules on partisan behaviour, and even if charities believe they are in compliance, the cost and time associated with an audit could cause them to rethink their campaign activities, he said.

New rules in legislation passed by Parliament last year also created new limitations on third-party activities that are not related to advertising. Restrictions on partisan activities could prevent organizations from assessing party policies or platforms, for example, something that was often done in the past.

While the rules don’t bar such activities entirely, they do require an organization to decide when the cost exceeds $500, and trying to determine the staff costs and overhead associated with responding to a platform is difficult enough that many organizations simply might avoid it entirely.

Trevor Melanson, a communications manager at Clean Energy Canada, said under the new rules, his organization resisted issuing a statement when Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said he was going to get rid of the clean fuel standard being introduced by the Liberal government. Melanson said the standard is an issue his organization has spent years studying, and felt restrained from speaking out about it.

“It has a very real chilling effect on us,” he said.

Stewart said he has some sympathy for Elections Canada “trying to deal with growing concerns with third parties trying to manipulate elections.”

But turning facts into partisan fodder isn’t something the agency should tolerate, he added: “The aggravating thing here for me is science is not partisan.”

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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