The Manitoba government plans to get a legal opinion on whether the federal government has the constitutional authority to impose a carbon reduction plan on the provinces.

Manitoba and Saskatchewan are the only provinces that haven't signed on to the federal government's national climate change agreement.

Premier Brian Pallister says the federal plan, by limiting options for reducing carbon emissions to either cap-and-trade or carbon tax systems, doesn't respect the long-term investments Manitoba has made in hydroelectricity and other green initiatives.

"We are Canada's greenest province," Pallister said at a news conference on Thursday.

hydro transmission lines

Premier Brian Pallister says Manitoba should get credit for long-term investments in hydroelectricity under the federal government's carbon pricing plan. (Colin Perkel/Canadian Press)

Pallister says the way the federal government is imposing their plan on the provinces doesn't reflect the co-operative federalism promised by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals.

Before the federal government brings forward its carbon pricing legislation, the province wants to get a legal opinion on whether they can develop their own "made-in-Manitoba" plan.

"In particular that legal opinion will focus on whether the federal government can limit the exercise of provincial jurisdictions to only two options, cap-and-trade and carbon tax, without accommodating other provincial measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said Pallister.

Speaking at a news conference in Charlottetown on Thursday, Trudeau didn't directly answer a question about whether he thinks the federal plan is constitutional, simply saying he looks forward to working with Pallister and all other premiers on climate change.

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

The plan includes a $1.4 billion per capita fund for the provinces and territories that have signed on to the Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. Each eligible province will receive a base of $30 million plus a per-capita share, which for Manitoba adds up to a total of $66 million.

'Serious misstep'

Manitoba NDP environment critic Rob Altemeyer said Pallister is gambling with tens of millions of dollars that could go towards helping Manitobans improve their energy efficiency.

"The feds have made it very clear that a carbon tax is coming. The question is, what do you do with it?"

Altemeyer said the latest move by the premier hurts the credibility on climate change of the Manitoba government, which originally wouldn't sign the agreement until it got a federal health deal.

"It's just another very serious misstep on the federal stage. I don't know who's going to want to keep working with this guy," said Altemeyer.

Pallister said the federal plan imposes a hardship on Manitobans, who are already facing Hydro rate increases of 46 per cent over the next five years.

Manitoba gets 98 per cent of its power from renewable hydroelectricity and accounts for less than three per cent of Canada's total carbon emissions, the province said in a news release.  

Pallister said the province would not release details about what a Manitoba carbon reduction plan might look like before getting the legal opinion.