The Ontario Superior Court has struck down Premier Doug Ford's mandatory anti-carbon tax stickers, calling them an "unconstitutional attempt" to legislate private retailers to "stick it to" another tier of government or political party.
In a ruling dated Friday, Justice Edward M. Morgan said gas stations are at liberty to keep the stickers on their fuel pumps or remove them as they see fit.
"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," the ruling said.
"The mandatory fuel pump sticker is an attempt to do just that."
The province brought in the measure in spring 2019 after Ottawa imposed a carbon tax levy in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, four provinces that opted not to impose their own pricing schemes on carbon emissions.
Province says it respects court's decision
The stickers — which Energy Minister Greg Rickford at the time called a transparency measure — signalled to customers at 3,200 gas stations across the province that the federal carbon tax had added 4.4 cents per litre to the price of gas and would increase to 11 cents per litre by 2022.
Service station owners that didn't display the stickers faced possible fines of up to $10,000 per day.
The court challenge was spearheaded by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), which argued the law violated free speech provisions.
"CCLA is very pleased that the court recognized these stickers for what they are: an attempt to compel private entities to convey a government's partisan political message," said Cara Zwibel, director of its fundamental freedoms program.
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."
Reacting to the decision Friday, Rickford said in an email to CBC News that "the federal carbon tax makes life more unaffordable and hits the wallets of Ontario families and small businesses hardest when it comes to gas prices and home-heating costs."
He said the government respects the court's decision but "will always stand up for the people of Ontario when it comes to matters that make everyday life more expensive for hardworking families."
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NDP says appeal would be 'waste of money'
Meanwhile, opponents have accused the provincial government of wasting tax dollars on the stickers and abusing legal tools to bolster its anti-carbon price campaign.
In a statement Friday afternoon, Ontario's official opposition party called the ruling "heartening" and demanded that Ford not appeal the ruling.
"The Official Opposition NDP is calling for an immediate commitment from Doug Ford that he will not waste another dollar of public money to appeal the Superior Court decision," said Energy and Climate Crisis critic Peter Tabuns.
"Appealing this Superior Court decision would be another waste of money, another attack on Ontario's environment and another attack on people's constitutional rights."
Ontario has challenged Ottawa's right to impose a carbon tax, and the Supreme Court is set to hear that case in September.