TORONTO — Ontario will not appeal a court ruling against its anti-carbon tax stickers, the government said Thursday, putting an end to an 18-month political and legal battle between Ottawa and the province.
Last month, a Superior Court judge struck down a law that forced Ontario gas stations to display the stickers, calling it unconstitutional. Energy Minister Greg Rickford said the province will abide by that decision.
"We stand by our position that Ontarians deserve to know the true cost of the federal carbon tax," Rickford said in a statement. "Right now, however, our sole focus is protecting the health and well-being of the people of Ontario as we continue to battle COVID-19."
Justice Edward Morgan ruled in early September that 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," Morgan wrote. "But a government cannot legislate a requirement that private retailers post a sticker designed to accomplish that task."
Under the law, gas stations that didn't display the stickers faced 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 the stickers 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.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which brought the challenge a year ago, welcomed news of the province's decision not to appeal the ruling.
"Not forcing businesses to convey their own political messages is a good call" by the Tory government, the CCLA said in a tweet.
Ontario Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said the anti-carbon tax stickers belong in the "dustbin of history.
"I still cannot believe the Premier thought he could get away with this ridiculous stunt," Schreiner said in a statement. "The Premier has given up on this embarrassing scheme, but it doesn't change his total inaction on the climate crisis."
Ford has defended his "Made in Ontario" climate change plan, saying in late 2019 that the province was on track to meet its emissions reduction targets for 2030 — a claim the province's auditor general has said is not based on sound evidence.
The New Democrats on Thursday called on the government to release the full cost of the "stickers that didn't stick," including design and legal fees.
"We are relieved that Ford will not challenge this decision. We remain horrified that it happened in the first place," NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns said in a statement.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2020.
Adam Burns, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly said the ruling occurred earlier this month.