Court rules Ford government acted illegally in scrapping cap-and-trade without public consultation
|Toronto Star 11 Oct 2019 at 12:56|
An Ontario court has ruled that Premier Doug Ford scrapped the province’s cap-and-trade system without the legally required public consultation, but is not ordering the Progressive Conservative government to reinstate the program aimed at fighting greenhouse gas emissions that are blamed for climate change.
In a split decision Friday, two of three Divisional Court judges concluded the government was “obliged” under the province’s Environmental Bill of Rights to consult the public before terminating the system launched by the previous Liberal government, even though Ford campaigned in the 2018 election to axe cap-and-trade.
“The government’s recent election did not relieve it from its obligation to follow the requirements set out in ... a valid Ontario law,” said the 30-page ruling.
It also found the government placed “unlawful reliance” on an exemption clause in the Environmental Bill of Rights.
Opposition parties said the court decision shows the Progressive Conservatives ran roughshod over legal protections for the environment.
“The Divisional Court has found that Doug Ford, in his very first act as premier, broke the law and violated the rights of Ontarians,” said New Democrat MPP Peter Tabuns, his party’s environment critic.
“The people of Ontario had the legal right to be heard before the government chose to ignore the climate crisis and scrap Ontario’s carbon pricing system. Instead, Doug Ford and his cabinet put themselves above the law.”
The lawsuit was launched last year by Greenpeace Canada to seek restoration of cap-and-trade.
“Although we did not receive the precise outcome we were hoping for, the majority of the court agreed that what Premier Ford’s government did was illegal,” said Ian Miron, a lawyer for Ecojustice, which represented Greenpeace in the court proceedings.
Miron said he was pleased “a majority of judges also rejected the government’s arguments that an election is a substitute for the legal obligations under the Environmental Bill of Rights.”
Environment Minister Jeff Yurek applauded the court decision and noted “the government campaigned on a clear commitment to eliminate the cap-and-trade program that made life costly for Ontario’s families and businesses.”
The government promised that ending the cap-and-trade “carbon price” would save the average family an estimated $260 a year.
Yurek said the Ford administration’s new environment plan commits to reducing emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 without a carbon tax.
But Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said the government’s reaction shows blatant disregard for the ruling’s criticism of bypassing public consultations mandated by the bill of rights.
“The premier believed that his election victory exempted him from following the law. I am glad the courts reminded Ford that in a democracy, you don’t get to rule by decree,” said Schreiner.
“The public has the right, enshrined in law, to be consulted on changes that will affect the air we breathe and the water we drink.”
Interim Liberal leader John Fraser called climate change “the greatest challenge facing our generation.”
“Now we know that Doug Ford broke the law and Ontarians deserve an explanation,” he added.
Greenpeace said it considers the court ruling a partial victory.
“We are pleased that the majority of the court found that the Ford government acted illegally in its haste to cancel carbon pricing in this province, even if it declined to make a formal declaration” that would restore the program, senior energy strategist Keith Stewart said in a written statement.
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“Ontarians are marching in the streets demanding real action in response to the climate emergency and we call on the Ford government to listen to the people this time, starting with an abandonment of its challenge to the federal carbon tax,” Stewart added in a reference to last week’s “climate strike” that saw thousands of people march on Queen’s Park and parade through downtown streets.
In seeking the judicial review, Greenpeace argued the Environmental Bill of Rights states Ontario residents are entitled to a 30-day consultation process on environmentally significant regulations and legislation.
Greenpeace described the decision to bypass mandatory notice and consultation was “unreasonable and incorrect, procedurally unfair, and therefore unlawful.”