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Anti carbon tax sticker law unconstitutional, Ontario court finds

027001Ontario’s government had no right to “stick it to” the federal Liberals by forcing gas stations to display anti- carbon tax stickers, a Superior Court judge said Friday as he struck down the law as unconstitutional.

Justice Edward Morgan said Premier Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservative government overstepped in mandating the stickers, saying the Federal Carbon Tax Transparency Act could not be justified under the charter.

“A government or political party can, in the words of Ontario’s Minister of Energy, ‘stick it to’ another tier of government or political party as a matter of free speech in an election campaign or otherwise. But a government cannot legislate a requirement that private retailers post a sticker designed to accomplish that task,” Morgan wrote.

“The mandatory fuel pump sticker is an unconstitutional attempt to do just that.”

Under the law, gas stations that didn’t display the stickers would initially face fines of up to $10,000 per day, though a judge later lowered the daily penalty to $150. Morgan said in his ruling that the companies can now choose to leave them up or tear them down.

The stickers show the federal carbon tax adding 4.4 cents per litre to the price of gas now, rising to 11 cents a litre in 2022. They do not include information about rebates available to residents.

Morgan said in the decision that the message was “blatantly advantage-seeking by a political party and a misuse of a governing party’s legislative power.”

He pointed to a statement Energy Minister Greg Rickford made in April 2019 in which he said the province would “stick it to the Liberals and remind the people of Ontario how much this job-killing, regressive carbon tax costs.” That, said Morgan, shows the true purpose of the sticker was partisan.

Rickford said he respects the court decision, “but our government will always stand up for the people of Ontario when it comes to matters that make everyday life more expensive for hardworking families.”

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which brought the challenge a year ago, is extremely pleased with the ruling, according to the director of its fundamental freedoms program.

“This was very clearly a partisan political message that the government was putting forward _ something that they’re completely entitled to do on their own, and when when they’re campaigning in their own advertising, but something that they’re not allowed to force others to do,” Cara Zwibel said. “Hopefully that’s a precedent that will carry forward and that governments will be mindful of.”

But she noted that while the CCLA won in court, the province was still able to achieve its goal. The stickers have been displayed at gas pumps across the province for well over a year.

A spokesman for the Ministry of the Attorney General declined to comment, saying the department is reviewing the decision.

“As this matter is still in the appeal period, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further,” Brian Gray said.

But the Official Opposition urged Ford and his government not to appeal.

“He has already wasted enough of people’s money on his anti-carbon price stickers that don’t stick _ a partisan and dishonest propaganda campaign,” NDP Energy and Climate Crisis Critic Peter Tabuns said in a written statement.

Ontario has challenged Ottawa’s right to impose a carbon tax, and the Supreme Court is set to hear that case in September.


Ontario’s anti-carbon tax stickers here to stay

Screen Shot 2019-10-29 at 10.32.57 AMAnti-carbon tax stickers will stay up on gas pumps as “a matter of transparency” while Ontario continues its court fight against the federal levy, the province’s energy minister said.

Greg Rickford defended the Progressive Conservative government’s controversial decal as a way to provide people with important information on the carbon price, a measure he referred to as “job-killing.”

A government law forcing gas station owners to post the stickers came into effect at the end of August, weeks before the start of the federal election, and they will stay up even now that the vote is over, Rickford said.

“The sticker campaign will certainly remain,” he said. “We believe that as a matter of transparency consumers have the right to know where those cost pressures are. Look, over the course of time, retailers … have not hesitated in many instances to put a pie chart on their gas pumps to let people know where those costs are.”

The Progressive Conservative government has been waging a legal and public relations battle against the carbon tax since taking power last summer. Their efforts include the new legislation, which threatens to impose a fine of $150 against gas station operators who fail to display the stickers.

Rickford said no gas station owners have yet been fined, and inspectors are currently only issuing warnings.

The stickers have been criticized as forced speech by opposition politicians and Ontario’s Chamber of Commerce, who have called on the government to stop the program.

Meanwhile, Premier Doug Ford said in August that voters would determine the fate of the legal challenge on the Oct. 21 federal election. But last week, following the federal Liberals’ re-election, the Tories said they would proceed with the court challenge of the tax. Rickford reiterated that commitment this week.

The government has earmarked $30 million for its fight against the carbon tax, which includes the legal case it is taking to the country’s top court and the sticker campaign.

A spokeswoman for federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Canadians sent a clear message in last week’s election that they expect their leaders to work together on issues like affordability and cutting pollution.

“Canadians know that protecting the environment, growing the economy and making life more affordable go together,” Sabrina Kim said in a statement. “That’s what they expect, and we will continue to deliver on our commitments.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the government should drop both the sticker campaign and the legal challenge immediately.

“It’s a waste of money. It’s a waste of time. It’s a waste of resources all so that the premier can fight against any kind of commitment to deal with climate change,” she said.

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said Ford promised to let voters decide and they didn’t give him the answer he wanted.

“He killed a plan for climate change and he’s trying to kill another one and he has no plan,” he said. “That’s not helpful to Ontarians.”

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said the Ford government “should just essentially drop this politically motivated lawsuit that he has no hope of winning anyway.”

The stickers show the federal carbon tax adding 4.4 cents per litre to the price of gas now, rising to 11 cents a litre in 2022. They do not include information about rebates available to residents.

The carbon tax is expected to cost a typical household $258 this year and $648 by 2022. Residents of provinces with the tax will be getting rebates on their income tax returns that start at $128 annually and increase for people with spouses or dependents at home.