Climate Action Network Canada Reacts to Supreme Court Ruling on Carbon Pricing

Unceded Algonquin Anishinaabe Territories [OTTAWA], 25 March 2021 :

Today’s ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada on the Government of Canada’s Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act (GGPPA) confirms the constitutionality of the federal carbon pricing backstop. 

  • Enacted on April 1 2018, the GGPPA established a federal backstop for pricing greenhouse gas emissions. The backstop became effective in any Canadian province or territory that had not implemented its own compliant carbon pricing regime as of January 2019.
  • In April of 2018, the Province of Saskatchewan filed a reference case with the Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan, asking whether the GGPPA was an unconstitutional intrusion into provincial jurisdiction. The provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario also had challenged the constitutionality of the GGPPA; the province of Quebec intervened in the Supreme Court case.

This ruling confirms that climate change is a matter of national concern and sets a precedent for the federal government to set nation-wide minimum standards when it comes to climate action. The 130 member organizations of Climate Action Network Canada are enthusiastic about the precedent this decision establishes for ambitious climate policy going forward. 


“The Supreme Court of Canada dropped a love letter to the planet with today’s favourable ruling on the constitutionality of Canada’s carbon pricing law. This historic ruling sends a clear message that the Canadian Constitution cannot be used by laggards to delay and deny climate action. The climate crisis is a matter of national concern: it’s time for every order of Canadian government to stop partisan politicking and come together in a spirit of cooperative federalism on this critical issue. Carbon pricing is an essential element of any climate plan that will finally get Canada to our fair share of the global effort; I look forward to seeing today’s decision reflected in the new climate target Canada is set to bring to Biden’s earth day summit.” – Catherine Abreu, Executive Director, Climate Action Network Canada 

“Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions is essential to enable healthy people and a healthy planet, and putting a price on pollution is one of the most effective tools the government has to make this reduction happen. We are glad to see the price on pollution upheld, and support innovation at all levels of government to address the climate crisis and ensure the health of all people in Canada.” – Dr. Anjali Helferty, Interim Executive Director, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE)

“This decision ensures that the federal and provincial and territorial carbon pricing regimes work together harmoniously. It is also a victory for Quebec and British-Columbia, as all legislation will now be able to move in the same direction, thus guaranteeing the success of the system. Nevertheless, we must remember that minimum carbon pricing is an important tool in the fight against the climate crisis, and that it is now up to the provinces and territories to show more ambition and leadership.” Émile Boisseau-Bouvier, Équiterre’s climate policy analyst.

“The climate crisis poses immense threats to our rights to water, food, health and other human rights. Canada’s obligations under international human rights law must guide its commitments to climate action. In our submission to the court, we argued that constitutional debates or ambiguities with respect to division of powers between provincial and federal governments need to be resolved in a way that maximizes Canada’s compliance with its international human rights and environmental obligations, both at the federal and provincial level. Amnesty International Canada is pleased that today’s Supreme Court decision has confirmed that it is within the federal government’s jurisdiction to identify nation-wide standards when it comes to climate action, which it must do to uphold international human rights obligations.” Fiona Koza, Campaigner, Amnesty International Canada

This is great news for public health. Climate change is already harming the mental and physical health of people across Canada. Over the last few decades, millions have been exposed to extremely high levels of toxic wildfire smoke and extreme heat, hundreds of thousands have been forced to evacuate their homes due to floods and wildfires, and hundreds of thousands have been left without electricity for extended periods. Carbon pricing is a pivotal tool needed to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels.” Kim Perrotta, Executive Director, Canadian Health Association for Sustainability and Equity (CHASE).

“This is a small but important win for the planet, one that will allow Canada to move more aggressively to deal with the climate emergency upon us. This entire court case has been an unfortunate distraction, as even a first year law student knows the federal government has shared jurisdiction over issues like environmental pollution. Voters and taxpayers of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario should be asking their provincial politicians what the millions spent on political grandstanding has bought them today.” Andy Blair, Vice-President, Canadian Unitarians for Social Justice

In order for the federal government to make good on the solemn commitment to emissions reduction it made in Paris in 2015, multiple measures are required, but the broad applicability of carbon pricing makes it a vital part of that toolkit.  We are relieved that our provincial government in Saskatchewan has been unsuccessful in a move which could have had the effect of sabotaging Canada’s ability to meet even the inadequate 2030 target the Trudeau government has set.  We call on both provincial and federal governments to work constructively in rapidly building a prosperous and inclusive economy, based on clean, climate-friendly renewable energy options and respecting natural limits. Mark Bigland-Pritchard, co-organizer, Climate Justice Saskatoon

For far too long, the impacts of pollution on human and planetary health have been ignored. Pricing pollution is a critical step in the transition towards a fossil fuel free society and will help local government’s create 21st century communities centred in human and planetary health. From accessible active transportation options, electrified mass transit, local energy systems, and healthy affordable housing without fossil fuels, this decision will help Climate Caucus members drive the changes needed to respond to the interconnected crises at speed and scale. Our members celebrate this win for planetary and public health and are committed to ensuring no one is left behind in the transition to a resilient, equitable, and decarbonized future. Megan Curren, Steering Committee, Climate Caucus

“The Government of Saskatchewan chose to initiate this time-consuming, costly court case instead of crafting a carbon pricing policy that best fit this province’s needs. Evidence of the effectiveness of carbon pricing is extensive and was largely undisputed in this court case. We are happy to see that the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled in favour of a decision that enables the federal and provincial governments to act cooperatively on reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.” Allyson Brady, Executive Director, Saskatchewan Environmental Society

“Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada is an important win for Canada’s ability to combat the worst impacts of climate change. We can now take ambitious steps towards a just transition to a net-zero Canadian economy, with good jobs and thriving communities. All levels of government must take climate change seriously and carbon pricing is part of the solution. Canada’s unions are pleased with today’s decision.” Hassan Yussuff, President, Canadian Labour Congress

“Today’s decision is important. It’s a victory for women and girls and all Canadians. It ushers in an era of climate legislation and regulation unimpeded by the fossil fuel industry and its political surrogates. We congratulate the Government of Canada and thank our co-counsels and all those who intervened on behalf of climate justice.” Beatrice Olivastri, CEO, Friends of the Earth

“We are pleased Canada’s highest court has confirmed that the federal government has the legal authority to fight climate change through minimum national standards of price stringency to reduce GHG emissions. Now Canadians can rest assured that all provinces will do their fair share to tackle the climate crisis, getting Canada on the path to meeting our Paris commitments and net-zero emissions by 2050.” Josh Ginsberg, lawyer with Ecojustice’s law clinic at the University of Ottawa

“This is a tremendously important decision for our national and global fight against climate change, paving the way for the federal government to continue to introduce strong legislation that supports climate solutions. It is now clear that provincial governments can accelerate, but not impede, federal action to deal with the climate crisis.” Priyanka Vittal, Legal Counsel, Greenpeace Canada

“This is an important day for climate action. Carbon pricing is just one tool in the toolbox for meeting the climate crisis, but it remains an important one. We hope that today’s decision drives forward ambitious federal action to respond to the climate emergency and to ensure the transition to a low-carbon economy is a just one.” Larry Brown, President, National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE)

“With this ruling, there is no longer any credible reason for provinces who launched the legal challenge against carbon pricing – Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan – to delay the creation and implementation of strong provincial climate plans that drive down emissions in line with Canada’s 2030 and 2050 targets. Investors are increasingly aware the return on their investment is at risk without realistic strategies for dealing with climate change. Carbon pricing puts companies in a better position to compete for global capital. Along with a healthier environment, pricing carbon pollution can benefit Canadians financially as well. In provinces where the federal carbon pricing system is applied, all the money collected is returned to Canadians to put more money back in the pockets of individuals and families.” Isabelle Turcotte, Director Federal Policy, Pembina Institute.

The Supreme Court ruling is precedent setting, and a positive step forward for climate action in Canada. Carbon pricing is a critical tool to reducing our GHG emissions. Our path to a zero-emissions future is only achievable if all levels of the federal government and the provinces work together. No more delays- it’s time to move forward together, and get to work on addressing the climate emergency with every policy tool we have.” Maggy Burn, Executive Director, Ecology Action Centre

The Supreme Court ruling is a win for climate action. We call  on the federal government to now ensure it applies its carbon pricing backstop consistently across all jurisdictions and to no longer permit provinces like New Brunswick to undermine the effectiveness of carbon pricing through reductions in other taxes or low emissions standards for industry. It is time to decarbonize and electrify our economies over the next 10 years to stay within the reality of a rapidly declining global carbon budget.” Louise Comeau, Director Climate Change and Energy, Conservation Council of New Brunswick 


Catherine Abreu
Executive Director, Climate Action Network Canada
+1 902-412-8953

Canada’s farthest-reaching network of organizations working on climate change and energy issues, CAN-Rac is a coalition of more than 130 organizations operating from coast to coast to coast. Our membership brings environmental groups together with trade unions, First Nations, social justice, development, health and youth organizations, faith groups and local, grassroots initiatives.