Declaring Trudeau’s carbon tax an unconstitutional, wholesale takeover of provincial rights, the Court of Appeal of Alberta struck down the controversial law in a 4-1 decision. The carbon tax (formally, the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act) mandates minimum national standards for carbon pricing of commodities and activities that produce greenhouse gasses.

In the 2017-2018 school year, this law cost one school district in Canada $3.3 million, forcing them to kick nearly 400 students off buses. The Calgary Herald reported

“… fewer buses have meant fewer stops, longer commutes and more difficult schedules for families. Many students have also been transferred to public transit.

Busing has been such a challenge for families, adjusting to schedules. It’s a bit challenging that we’re in a situation where we’ve had to remove almost 400 students from buses in order to pay for the carbon tax in addition to the other impacts on the organization.”

Trudeau’s government defended the constitutionality of the law on one basis only: “It falls within the national concern doctrine of Parliament’s peace, order and good government (POGG) power.” 

The POGG doctrine, or the national concern doctrine, allows Parliament “to make Laws for the Peace, Order and good Government of Canada, in relation to all Matters not coming within the Classes of Subjects by this Act assigned exclusively to the Legislatures of the Provinces.” 

This doctrine has only been invoked six times in the country’s history—three times successfully. In this case, even with the arbitrary nature of that specific passage, the court found that the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act violates that passage and others, as it is a “wholesale takeover of a collection of clear provincial jurisdictions and rights.”

The Constitution Acts of Canada specifically says that each province may exclusively make laws in relation to…

(a) exploration for non-renewable natural resources in the province;

(b) development, conservation and management of non-renewable natural resources and forestry resources in the province, including laws in relation to the rate of primary production therefrom; and;

(c) development, conservation and management of sites and facilities in the province for the generation and production of electrical energy.

In this way, the Constitution Acts appear to clearly prohibit a federal mandate on provinces regarding laws that only the legislatures of the provinces have the authority to pass. 

This brings up an interesting aspect of the carbon tax debate in the United States that often goes undiscussed. A national carbon tax would have severe impacts on states themselves. The CBO estimated that a carbon tax would increase direct and indirect energy costs to federal, state, and local governments by 13 to 14%. This covers compliance costs, not even accounting for the inevitable costs of revenue and growth shrinkage. According to the Institute for Energy Research, this puts a huge burden on the states to pay for the federal government’s mistake: they would likely have to raise taxes, cut spending, or demand revenue sharing from the federal government. 

Though carbon tax supporters have spent years claiming sizable and growing public support for a carbon tax, voters have regularly rejected the policy. Once the real, dire implications of a carbon tax start to settle in voters’ minds, surface-level support for such a policy crumbles.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, explains it this way:

“A carbon tax raises the cost of gasoline for your car, your home heating and conditioning and hikes the cost of living. Voters throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, and France have sent the same message: NO to any energy tax/carbon tax. Rarely has any policy proposal been so thoroughly tested and rejected over time and by voters around the world.”

This kind of policy has intrusive, anti-federalist implications no matter where it is implemented.

The Court of Appeal of Alberta described Trudeau’s national carbon tax this way: 

“The Act is a constitutional Trojan horse. Buried within it are wide ranging discretionary powers the federal government has reserved unto itself. Their final shape, substance and outer limits have not yet been revealed.”