Manitoba will not sign onto national climate change plan

Manitoba's premier says he will not sign onto the national climate change plan.

Province will develop its own 'made in Manitoba' climate change plan, says Premier Brian Pallister

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister listens to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's opening remarks at the Meeting of First Ministers in Ottawa on Friday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Manitoba's premier says he will not sign onto the national climate change plan.

Premiers from across the country met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today in Ottawa. Manitoba and Saskatchewan were the only two provinces who chose not to sign onto the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.

Core to the plan is placing a price on carbon which both Prairie provinces had made previous objections to.

Pallister congratulated his counterparts on the framework but said Manitoba faces "monumental challenges" with respect to health care and he wants to see that addressed first.

"We have the largest percentage of any Canadian jurisdiction of Indigenous people. We have chronic disease. We have mental health issues," he said.

"We want to build a partnership with our partners across the country on securing sustainable healthcare, just as we are anxious about sustainable environmental management. That is our rationale and I am encouraged by the prime minister's commitment to further the dialogue later tonight and I expect thereafter. So I look forward to those discussions."

'Made in Manitoba' plan in the works, premier says

Throughout the day, Pallister pivoted to talk of more health care funding when asked about his willingness to sign the climate deal.

"As they rise, through demographic realities, we have to face that as team members and partners, as we have demonstrated we can do today," Pallister told a group news conference late Friday.

"I have an obligation, because that's the first concern of the people of my province, to raise the issue, and I will continue to raise the issue."

Pallister said his government is working to develop a "made in Manitoba plan" instead of signing onto the federal framework.

"Manitoba is Canada's greenest province and we have been, and remain, consistent in our commitment to addressing climate change," Pallister said in an emailed statement, adding that the province's version of a climate plan would target Manitoba's specific environmental issues and economic realities.

The first ministers planned to discuss health dollars over dinner at Trudeau's residence Friday evening. The Prime Minister's Office told CBC News that the two sides are unlikely to reach a consensus on that file today.

Pallister said Manitoba intends to release its climate change plan in the first quarter of 2017. 

Holdout concerning, advocate says

Alex Paterson of the Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition criticized the federal Liberals for opening the door to "political horse-trading" in the way it worked with British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, and by approving pipelines in Alberta and B.C.

Clark initially balked at the deal but said B.C. would sign on after receiving assurances the plan would ensure the provinces' various carbon-pricing plans were equitable.

Paterson also criticized Pallister for taking what he called an "obstructionist" approach, and said the premier's holdout was concerning.

"What we're seeing from Brian Pallister is that he's unwilling to be a team player in the federation and he's going to play politics with climate change that is completely unnecessary, that is completely immature," Paterson said Friday evening.

"Under the NDP, Manitoba spent 17 years announcing glorious plans and doing nothing in reality and practicality. This is just a continuation of Manitoba not pulling its weight on climate change."

Paterson said the province has an opportunity to be a leader on climate change in the country, but that will only come from collaboration with the federal government and other provinces.

Curt Hull of Winnipeg's Climate Change Connection said he was disappointed by the premier's decision but believes he will follow through on promises for a Manitoba-specific plan and thinks Pallister "left the door open" to national collaboration down the line.

"He's talking to the federal government, primarily, about something that he considers to be a more immediate priority," Hull said. 

"I can understand that, but I look forward to continued negotiations between Manitoba and the federal government on the climate change, and I hope that we can still join and come to an agreement."

David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Métis Federation, applauded the Prime Minister and provincial leaders who supported the national framework in a press release Friday evening.

"The Métis Nation is ready to be a part of a cleaner, healthier environment," he said. "We are ready to walk with the Prime Minister and the rest of Canada towards this goal."

with files from the Canadian Press