Carbon pricing schemes form an essential part of fighting climate change and must be part of Manitoba's plan, a new coalition argues.

The Manitoba Carbon Pricing Coalition launched on the steps of the Legislative Building on Thursday morning. The group plans to push the provincial government to put a price on carbon.

The coalition is made up of climate activists and public policy experts from groups including the Green Action Centre and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Manitoba's Progressive Conservative government is one of two provincial holdouts on the federal government's emission-cutting scheme, under which provinces must use cap-and-trade, carbon taxes or a combination of both to combat climate change. Saskatchewan is the other.

Opponents argue that any government-imposed carbon pricing scheme will hurt the economy.

Coalition member Curt Hull, project manager of Climate Change Connection, disagrees.

"We don't think that that's necessarily true. It's going to be a pinch, but that pinch is part of the reason for it. It's intended to drive change," he said in an interview on CBC's Information Radio.

The group's launch comes less than a month after the launch of another coalition that opposes a carbon-pricing scheme.

The Manitobans Against Carbon Taxes Coalition, made up of members of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, joined forces with a national group called AxeTheCarbonTax.ca to fight any carbon-reduction scheme that involves taxing commodities such as fuel.

Manitobans Against Carbon Taxes Coalition

The Manitobans Against Carbon Taxes Coalition, which launched in July, opposes any carbon-reduction scheme that involves taxing commodities such as fuel. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

"We're opposed because we really don't see it being an effective way to combat climate change and actually, we don't even think that carbon dioxide is necessarily a pollutant," said Gunter Jochum, Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association director and a farmer near St. François Xavier.

"Don't get me wrong, I believe in climate change. It's just we're not sure that necessarily a carbon tax would help climate change in any way."

According to NASA, there is a "greater than 95 per cent probability" that the current warming trend is "the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over decades to millennia."

Hidden costs of climate change

Climate change has hidden costs, Hull said. People notice worsening floods and wildfires, but might not make the connection between those events and climate change, which is driven largely by carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels, he said.

Both the federal and provincial governments have assured agricultural producers that there will be exemptions from some carbon taxes, but Jochum said increased fuel costs and the energy needed to produce fertilizer would still cut into farmers' bottom lines.

Instead of a punitive system like a carbon tax, Jochum would like to see incentives offered for farmers and businesses that reduce their emissions.

"We don't seem to get any credit for the good that we do towards reducing our carbon footprint," Jochum said.

In June, federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Manitoba and Saskatchewan have until the end of the year to sign on to the federal agreement or the provinces will lose out on millions of dollars to help cut emissions.

The Manitoba Carbon Pricing Coalition supports a national carbon pricing strategy because it argues that is the most effective and fair way to reduce emissions, although Hull acknowledged members of the coalition have disagreements over the details, such as pricing schedules and revenue recycling options.

"But that's where the discussion is needed, and that discussion needs to be well-informed and involve a broad spectrum of people and organizations," he said.

Hull said a report by the Ecofiscal Commission — a coalition of economists focused on the economic impacts of pollution — states only about four per cent of Manitoba's gross domestic product derives from industries deemed "emissions intensive" and "trade exposed," meaning the vast majority of the economy is in a good position with respect to a carbon tax or cap-and-trade.

A recent Angus Reid poll suggested a majority of Manitobans oppose the federal government's plan.

Legal expert to provide opinion on Manitoba plan 

The Manitoba government said Thursday it would seek a legal opinion from a University of Manitoba law scholar on a series of questions related to whether the federal government's approach is constitutional.

Bryan Schwartz U of M

The provincial government has tapped U of M law scholar Bryan Schwartz to provide a legal opinion on whether the federal government has the authority to impose its carbon-pricing wishes on Manitoba. (University of Manitoba )

"In order for Manitoba to finalize its made-in-Manitoba approach to climate change and carbon pricing, it requires clarity as to the legal applicability of the federal proposals to Manitoba," Justice Minister Heather Stefanson said in a statement. 

Bryan Schwartz is a renowned scholar and expert in constitutional law, trade law and labour law, the province said. He'll also look at the province's authority to put its own, Manitoba-made, plan in place, the statement said. 

Schwartz's report will be made public in the fall, said Stefanson. 

"Our government looks forward to receiving his assessment as we seek clarity in this fundamentally important matter," Stefanson said.