Province, Ottawa trade barbs over climate plan

Climate activists unmoved by made-in-Manitoba carbon tax scheme

The Pan-Canadian framework aims to reduce emissions from all sectors of the economy by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Premier Brian Pallister plans to introduce a $25 per tonne carbon tax starting in 2018 over the next four years, defying Ottawa’s directive.

The federal government has demanded that provinces establish a carbon tax that would start at $10 per tonne in 2018 and steadily increase to $50 per tonne by 2022. Under this framework, all revenues collected by the federal government will be redistributed to the provinces and used as they see fit.

The national framework aims to reduce carbon emissions by setting a minimum price on carbon and tackling climate change through emissions reduction across all sectors of the economy by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The federal framework also aims to ensure that Canada remains competitive in the global low-carbon economy by investing in green energy.

The proposed federal tax would cost Manitobans about five cents a litre on the price of gasoline, and also increase the cost of natural gas.

“Our Climate and Green Plan is realistic, practical, measurable, and will exceed the emissions reductions the federal backstop would achieve,” said Rochelle Squires, Manitoba’s minister of sustainable development, adding that the plan deserves recognition for it’s focus on reducing emissions instead of fixating tax levels onto the provinces.

Pallister refused to sign onto the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change in December 2016. Manitoba is the only province other than Saskatchewan that did not sign onto the national climate change framework.

The PC’s released their five-year climate plan last month after the government concluded consultations from environmental advocates and businesses in March this year, and argue that their scheme, A Made in Manitoba Climate and Green Plan, will cost Manitobans less and will result in greater reduction in emissions than Ottawa’s plan.

Catherine McKenna, federal minister of environment and climate change, commended the provincial government on taking the initial steps to curb emissions, calling it a step in the right direction.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the details of Manitoba’s plan,” she wrote in a post to Facebook. “But I also want to be very clear: We’ve laid out the price schedule we need to see, which reaches $50 per tonne by 2022 – well beyond the $25 per tonne carbon price Manitoba is proposing.”

Insisting that the province will ultimately have to follow the guidelines set out in the national framework, McKenna said, “We’ll be assessing each province and territory each year on whether their approach to pricing pollution meets the standard we’ve set.

“So when Manitoba moves forward with this proposal, they’ll be in good shape for the first year and the second year. After that, they’ll need to up their game. The details matter. But today’s plan is a step forward towards a cleaner economy in Canada.”

Squires expressed her concerns regarding McKenna’s comments, saying that the province is a national leader in clean energy and produces 98 per cent of its energy through renewable resources, which can be attributed to early investments in hydroelectricity.

“To hear that we need to ‘up our game’ is misguided and focuses solely on taxation, as opposed to the more important goal of reducing carbon emissions,” Squires said.

Pallister also expressed his discontent with McKenna’s comments and said that the federal government should use some “foresight” to avoid a costly legal challenge as the provincial plan is as good as the federal plan.

Pallister argued that the proposed carbon tax at $25 per tonne is more just and fair. Speaking to reporters on Oct. 31, he said, “We are ready to be measured on our green plan.”

“And if I am right, and our plan works better than theirs, they would have no right to come in and arbitrarily introduce a higher tax,” he added.

Environmental group says PC plan merely “another consultation document”

Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition (MEJC), a grassroots organization working toward environmental and social justice, said in a written response, “Despite calling it ‘A Made in Manitoba Climate and Green Plan,’ it’s really another consultation document, with a lot of statements about what ‘could’ be done.

“The document is a sort of grab bag of potentially positive environmental actions, but without actual commitments from the government, we can’t know whether it will be effective.”

MEJC said that the Manitoba government’s suggested flat rate of $25 per tonne will produce some additional revenue in the short term but in the long term it would result in the province receiving less funding, which would be helpful in “preventing catastrophic climate change,” through investments in clean energy.

The coalition also claims the Manitoba plan does not meet the stringency test, a test that sets benchmarks for increasing the price per tonne set out in the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.

MEJC said that Manitoba’s refusal to sign on to the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change means that the province “will likely be left out of our $66 million share of additional federal funding.”

It also fails to encourage carbon emitters to alter their behaviour and reduce emissions.

“Without a predictable, increasing price on carbon it is a real risk that consumers will just absorb the cost of the initial price increase and then continue on polluting,” MEJC said.

The MEJC said the provincial plan “all but ensures that the federal government will still step in to impose an additional carbon tax to get to $50 per tonne by 2022, and we will likely get costly court battles as the province continues pick a fight with Ottawa.”

Wab Kinew, Leader of the Opposition in Manitoba, said the plan fails to explain how the carbon tax will be used to invest in making the province more climate change resistant and critiqued Manitoba Hydro’s requested price hikes.

“Particularly with the Hydro rate increases that are happening under Pallister’s watch, families in Manitoba could get the worst of both worlds,” Kinew told CBC News.

“They could get skyrocketing home heating costs, not just on the natural gas side but also on the hydroelectric side.”