Aeronautics: Who has the Power?

In Quebec (Attorney General) v. Lacombe, the Supreme Court of Canada protected Parliament’s jurisdiction over aeronautics by reading down a municipal bylaw that was found to be ultra vires the jurisdiction of the municipality and province. The issue considered by the court was the validity of the municipal zoning laws insofar as they impact the federal jurisdiction over the field of aeronautics.

In this case, a company that was operating an air excursion business from Gobeil Lake in Quebec was prevented from carrying out its business due to a municipal zoning bylaw that made the lake inconsistent with the aerodrome use.  The company had a business licence issued by Transport Canada and registered its aerodrome pursuant to the Canadian Aviation Regulations

Chief Justice McLachlin, writing for the majority of the Supreme Court of Canada, found that the pith and substance of the bylaw was about the regulation of aeronautics. It was clear on the evidence that the municipality was trying to stop float planes from using Gobeil Lake.

The by-law could not be saved by the ancillary powers doctrine since the general ban on aerodromes was not “rationally and functionally” connected to the zoning scheme. McLachlin concluded that the impugned portion of the provincial law is not sufficiently integrated within a valid legislative scheme to be saved under the ancillary powers doctrine and so the bylaw was read down so as to not affect aerodromes.

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