'It's a very big deal': carbon tax revenue to be put in conservation fund, though details unclear

Green projects in Manitoba will get a roughly $5 million annual boost through the province’s newly-announced trust fund, although how the money will be spent and when it will begin to flow is still unclear.

Province announced Conservation Trust Fund in 2018 budget as part of Manitoba climate plan

Tim Sopuck, of the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation, says the money will go towards things like preserving wetlands, woodlands and grasslands. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

A new fund, paid for with carbon-tax revenue, will yield a roughly $5 million for green projects, although how the money will be spent and when it will begin to flow is still unclear.

The 2018-19 budget tabled Monday earmarked a one-time $102 million endowment for the creation of a Conservation Trust Fund which will be managed by the Winnipeg Foundation and administered by the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation — a non-profit Crown corporation.

The corporation will get the income from the foundation's investments and direct them to programs around the province, with a focus on opportunities to match funding.

"It's a very big deal," said Tim Sopuck, CEO of the Crown corporation.

Budget materials call the fund the "largest-ever fund for natural infrastructure that is protected from future governments," and Sopuck said he's not aware of any other government across the country contributing such a large lump sum for environmental conservation.

Largest single gift we have ever received in our history.- Rick Frost, CEO of the Winnipeg Foundation

But detail of how and when the funds will flow hasn't yet been ironed out, Sopuck said.

"I would expect that a significant number of organizations would be able to benefit from these funds," he said.

"But honestly there's a lot of details we're still working on."

When money is ready to move, the corporation will make a call for proposals, Sopuck said. The calls will be made regularly — either annually or semi-annually — and submissions will be subject to a "scoring and vetting process," he added.

The trust was first outlined in the province's Made-in-Manitoba Climate and Green Plan, and Sopuck said his organization first met with government about this endeavour early this year.

The climate plan envisions a number of strategies to reduce carbon emissions, including converting transit buses to electricity and retrofitting heavy-duty trucks, but Sopuck said the trust won't be used for that kind of initiative.

"Basically, this is dealing with climate change and other related environmental issues using natural landscape features," he said.

"So wetlands, woodlands, grasslands — they all have a series of benefits to the well-being of society, including cleaner water and reducing floods, storing carbon. There's a climate change benefit to having all those natural areas remaining and actually expanding on the landscape."

'Largest single gift ever': Winnipeg Foundation

Sopuck said the corporation still needs to finalize its funding agreement between the province and Winnipeg Foundation before money can flow, which will happen soon, he said.

"I'm hopeful that, you know, people don't have to wait too long on this," he said.

"But … we also have to wait for the Winnipeg Foundation to do its good work in starting to generate revenue from the endowment fund."

Rick Frost, CEO of the Winnipeg Foundation, described the announcement as the "largest single gift we have ever received in our history."

He said the money will be invested and generate about $5 million each year that the foundation will, in turn, give to the MHHC to be spent on "green" projects.

"It is very exciting, it obviously means sustainable revenue going into these projects for many years to come," said Frost.

When asked how long that $5 million will be doled out to the corporation, he replied, "forever."

The Winnipeg Foundation is a public charitable organization which takes money gifted to the foundation each year, pools it and invests it.

The interest earned then goes to local charitable projects. Last year, it received about $42.4 million in gifts, according to its website.

'You take the politicians out of it': Pallister

Pallister described the fund as unique, because it takes the decision making out of the hands of legislature.

"It is better because you take the politicians out of it," Pallister said after the budget was tabled.

"I don't think doing it politically is doing it right."

According to MHHC's website, the Crown corporation is governed by a "board of Directors appointed by the Province of Manitoba."

Premier Brian Pallister says Manitobans will save on their taxes next year, because his government is raising the basic exemption on personal income tax. Pallister says that will save the average person one thousand dollars. He admits in the short term Manitobans will be paying more tax, but the benefit will come over the next few years. 1:10