Farmers stand their ground against climate change in Saskatchewan court challenge

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Saskatchewan legislature building. Photo: Eric Brochu/Flickr

In 2018 some provincial governments, Saskatchewan and Ontario in particular, questioned the federal government's climate plan, which calls for phased-in taxes on greenhouse gas emissions. Implementation of the federal plan means the provinces need to apply the program through a tax or through the cap-and-trade system.

The Saskatchewan government has decided to challenge the federal government's mandatory program and its jurisdictional authority on climate change programs. In April 2018, the province requested that a provincial court provide its opinion on whether the federal government has the jurisdiction to mandatorily apply the carbon tax to provinces.

The question is: does the federal government have jurisdiction to regulate greenhouse gas emissions?

Several environmental and climate change activists are intervening in the court case which will be heard in Regina on February 13 and 14. A decision is likely not to come down for several months.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) is on the list of 10 interveners that also includes Climate Change Saskatoon, the Council of Canadians, and the Saskatchewan Council for International Cooperation. And while the interveners are provincial, the ramifications of this case will not only be local, but also national and international.

If Saskatchewan's action succeeds, it could well be impossible for Canada to implement an effective national greenhouse gas reduction program, or perhaps any national climate change mitigation policy. For that reason, in November of 2018, the NFU filed for intervener status.

As explained in a recent statement from the NFU:

"The NFU's intervention in support of federal jurisdiction is not an endorsement of the current federal government's greenhouse gas emission pricing measures. Rather, the NFU recognizes that a national framework needs to be created through the principles of co-operative federalism, and this requires federal leadership and enforcement powers."

For more than 15 years, the NFU has been calling for fair and effective national and international action to address climate change and for policies to help farmers manage and adapt to the impact of a changing climate.

"As farmers, we depend on the climate to make our living. No sector of the economy is more vulnerable to climate change than agriculture," said grain farmer Cam Goff, NFU 1st Vice President (Policy), in filing for intervener status last November.

"Our crops and animals require a predictable range of temperatures and precipitation to survive and thrive. Our buildings, equipment and infrastructure are exposed to the elements and are at risk when severe weather hits. As individuals, we can do our best to limit our emissions and minimize our risks, but alone we cannot prevent climate change. This is why our members voted overwhelmingly in favour of this court intervention to support federal jurisdiction over climate change policy."

Goff adds:

"The implementation of an effective national climate change policy is the challenge of our generation. With climate change we require co-operation to extend to the international arena too. Canada has committed to the Paris Accord, which requires us to act and do our part in global efforts to prevent climate catastrophe."

Included as part of the NFU's application is an affidavit detailing a startling reality for the farming community and all of us who depend on it. That statement also includes the benefits to agriculture and community of a low-emission food system.

A few key points are:

  • Farmers will be hit hard in terms of water security, infrastructure damage, drought, erosion, wild fires, and other weather-related events caused by climate change.
  • Farming is a source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but also has practices that can sequester GHGs. Reducing emissions is not about rewarding industry for the status quo, it's about changing best practices to facilitate new reductions in GHG emissions.
  • A strategic price on pollution could have farmers pay fees based on emissions related to their operation, and receive refunds based on the relative size and production of their farms, rewarding farmers with below-average emissions and inducing those with above-average emissions for their farm size to change their practices.
  • A low-emission food system will be a low-input food system, which can increase net incomes.
  • A national strategy is needed to tackle the mitigation of climate change and the federal Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act is an important part of that strategy.

Many will be watching as this case unfolds this week.

Lois Ross is a communications specialist, writer, and editor, living in Ottawa. Her column "At the farm gate" discusses issues that are key to food production here in Canada as well as internationally.

Photo: Eric Brochu/Flickr

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