On February 29, 2020, the Runnymede Society Conference 2020 featured a debate – “Is the Carbon Tax Institutional?” – as part of its two-day conference including multiple speakers on various legal topics on February 28 and 29 at the University of Toronto.

The debate panel focused on the constitutionality of the Green-House Gas Pollution Pricing Act. Panelists addressed the following topics: various arguments for and against the constitutionality of the statute, focusing particularly on the emergency and national concern branches of the peace, order, and good government clause; the criminal law power; the taxation power; and the trade and commerce power.

The moderator was Jesse Hartery, a lawyer at Fasken LLP. His practice focuses on commercial and constitutional litigation.

The debate panel featured the following participants:

  • Elizabeth May, the Green Party of Canada’s first elected Member of Parliament, representing Saanich-Gulf Islands in southern Vancouver Island.
  • Theresa McClenaghan, executive director of the Canadian Environmental Law Association.
  • Dwight Newman, a professor of Law and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Rights in Constitutional and International Law at the University of Saskatchewan.
  • Aaron Wudrick, who has served as the federal director and in-house counsel of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation since 2014.

McClenaghan made a compelling argument that the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act is a valid exercise of Canadian federal constitutional jurisdiction based on the criminal law power of the Constitution Act S 91(27). “The GHG pricing law includes mandatory requirements, prohibitions, and penalties, and seeks to induce change in behavior that will lead to GHG emission reductions in Canada.”

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She also recalled her experience as a child living on a Trans-Canada pipelines natural gas compressor station in southwest Saskatchewan. She had a debate with her father about the global oil shocks of the 1970s. “I was very concerned that grown-ups were going to use up all of the oil and gas and leave nothing for us kids when we were adults,” said McClenaghan. “Since then we’ve negotiated binational and international treaties on many critical issues affecting our planet’s health like acid rain, toxic pollution, and climate change. We’ve also found out that environmental issues, including climate change, affect the most vulnerable among us, whose homes and livelihoods are the most jeopardized with crop failures, melting permafrost, rising sea levels, horrific storms, spread of invasive species, pathogens, and insects, changes to natural cycles, and unheard-of heat events. We have collective interests in protecting our natural environment for our own well-being and for the rest of the planet’s ecosystem.”

McClenaghan concluded the debate with the following statement: “It is critical that we support all of our governments to act with meaningful, effective, binding legislation using all of the tools in our legal toolboxes to reduce GHG emissions. There is no doubt we collectively have the knowledge, the technology, the resources, and the ability to course correct. Law is essential to make sure we do it and the GHG pricing law is a legitimate federal exercise of criminal law power to that end.”

The Runnymede Society was founded as a national student membership organization dedicated to exploring the ideas and ideals of constitutionalism, liberty and the rule of law. 2015 marked the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, a document from which the concept of the rule of law is, in part, thought to originate. King John sealed the document in a meadow called Runnymede.

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For further information on the debate, click here.

For further information about the Runnyemede Society, click here.

Featured image from NSBA.


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