Ford Govt. will not appeal court decision that found carbon tax sticker rules unconstitutional

Gas Pump carbon tax sticker

The Ford Government will not appeal a recent court decision that found the PCs controversial rules around its carbon tax stickers were unconstitutional. 

On September 4th, Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice ruled the government could not mandate private retailers to post them on their property and face fines for refusal, after a legal challenge by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. 

The decision was made following a cabinet meeting Wednesday.

"We stand by our position that Ontarians deserve to know the true cost of the federal carbon tax," Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines Greg Rickford said in a statement. "Right now, however, our sole focus is protecting the health and wellbeing of the people of Ontario as we continue to battle COVID-19."

"Our government will always stand up for the people of Ontario and hold the federal government accountable on this tax that continues to make life more expensive for hardworking families and business owners across this province.”​

About a week after the court decision, Rickford said while the government respected the ruling, it disagreed with it.

“We think Ontarians deserve to know where those additional costs are coming,” he said on September 10th.

The decision on the appeal had been delayed this month at earlier cabinet meetings, as COVID-19 response took priority. 

In his 17-page decision, Justice Ed Morgan wrote a government or party could use such a sticker in an election campaign or otherwise, "but a government cannot legislate a requirement that private retailers post a Sticker designed to accomplish that task." 

"The mandatory fuel pump Sticker is an unconstitutional attempt to do just that." 

The provincial government brought in the stickers in the spring of 2019, showing what the added cost of gasoline would be because of the federal carbon tax, but not mentioning the return Canadians get as part of the levy. 

But the most controversial part of the move was mandating fines for individuals and businesses that failed to post them, which then Environment Minister (now Finance) Rod Phillips defended at the time. 

The CCLA decided to take the government to court over the stickers, arguing they were compelled speech. Director of the Fundamental Freedoms Program Kara Zwibel with the CCLA said while there wasn't a lot of case law regarding that sort of expression, they felt confident in the challenge from the beginning. 

"If the government wants to convey a political message, they can do that, but they shouldn't be allowed to force other people to convey that message for them and so it's really satisfying to see that the court agreed with us on that," she said this month. "That's the real take home point from this case."

Morgan ruled retailers are at liberty to keep the stickers if they choose to or not, while also using the government's own words against them.

He cited what Rickford said in the legislature last April, when he stated "we're going to stick it to the Liberals and remind the people of Ontario how much this job-killing, regressive carbon tax costs."

"Could the Ontario government, speaking in its own voice, require a gas pump sticker that says explicitly what the Minister of Energy says it means implicitly? To ask this rhetorical questions is to answer it," Morgan wrote. "The message would be blatantly advantage-seeking by a political party and a misuse of the governing party's legislative power." ​