Manitoba premier fires back at Ottawa on climate plan, says provincial strategy will be just as effective

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says he's ready for his new climate change strategy to go head-to-head with Ottawa's pan-Canadian plan.

Premier Brian Pallister unveiled Manitoba plan Friday after refusing to sign federal framework in December

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said his government's plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change will be just as effective as its federal counterpart, despite a much-lower carbon tax. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says he's ready for his new climate change strategy to be measured up against Ottawa's pan-Canadian plan.

"We're ready to be measured on our green plan," Pallister told reporters in the legislature on Tuesday.

"And if I'm right, and our plan works better than theirs, they would have no right to come in and arbitrarily introduce a higher tax."

The premier unveiled his government's proposed five-year climate plan for Manitoba on Friday, including a flat $25-per-tonne carbon tax — half of the $50-per-tonne tax by 2022 the federal government has said laid out in its own plan.

Pallister refused to sign on to that pan-Canadian framework in December.

Since then, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he expects provinces to follow the "very clear benchmarks" set out the federal government, and pointed to "backstop" measures to impose the $50 tax "if any province doesn't move forward in an appropriate way."

In a Facebook post Friday, federal minister of environment and climate change Catherine McKenna said the province will need to "up their game" after the first two years of the plan, as carbon taxes rise across the country to exceed Manitoba's $25 pricetag.

Pallister fired back on Tuesday, saying he didn't find federal representatives' initial comments "thoughtful."

Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna said on Monday the Manitoba carbon tax "will have to go up." (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

"To suggest, as one federal minister did, that we have to up our game, or that somehow the federal government will arbitrarily increase the level of the carbon tax after a certain preordained time that they'll determine, makes this all about federal power and not about results," he said.

​Earlier this month, University of Manitoba professor Bryan Schwartz wrote in a report the federal government does have the right to impose the tax — but the province's plan could survive a legal challenge, provided the plan can be proven to be just as effective as the federal one.

That's what Pallister said he's counting on doing.

"We're not in court," Pallister said. "We won't need to go to court if the federal government's reasonable, thoughtful and has some foresight."

Court challenge costly, won't help climate: NDP leader

Leader of the Manitoba New Democrats, Wab Kinew, said the federal government has made its intentions on carbon pricing clear.

"I don't think that a court challenge is going to help reduce carbon emissions. I don't think a court challenge is going to help our environment," Kinew said. "We know that court challenges can be very costly, too."

Kinew said he'd rather see the province elaborate on portions still missing from the plan, including how money generated by a carbon tax will be directed, and firming up specific investments to make green lifestyles more attractive to residents.