'The devil's in the details': Local leaders still have questions about Manitoba climate plan

Business, municipal and environmental leaders say questions remain about how a proposed Manitoba carbon tax will work for people in the province.

Progressive Conservative government announced plan on Friday, including $25-per-tonne carbon price

Premier Brian Pallister announced a 'made-in-Manitoba' climate plan on Friday. (CBC)

Business, municipal and environmental leaders say questions remain about how a proposed Manitoba carbon tax will work for people in the province.

On Friday, Premier Brian Pallister unveiled a new, "made-in-Manitoba" climate plan proposal, including a $25-per-tonne carbon price — half of the federal government's 2022 target of $50 per tonne under a national climate strategy.

The plan is Pallister's response to the national framework, which he refused to sign on to in December. The Manitoba strategy hasn't been voted on in the legislature yet, and the province has requested input from residents before anything is set in stone.

Curt Hull, project manager at Manitoba-based Climate Change Connection, said the initial approach laid out on Friday is a good start, but the impact it will have on provincial greenhouse gas emissions won't be clear until specifics about policies to make green alternatives more attractive are filled in.

"They're saying that they're constructing an overall policy framework for this, and the devil's in the details when it comes to that plan," Hull said.

"But that is ultimately what's necessary, is an overall framework of policy."

Curt Hull of Climate Change Connection said the Manitoba plan announced Friday is a good step. (Samuel Rancourt/CBC)

Questions about revenue

Details about where dollars generated by a Manitoba carbon tax will be directed within the province are eagerly awaited by business and city leaders.

"The question I'm going to be looking for, of course, to be answered is the revenue that's generated," said Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman.

"Will the City of Winnipeg … have a fair share of the revenue that's being collected in the city of Winnipeg, and a full say of how those dollars are spent on climate change mitigation?"

"Going to a $25 [per] tonne carbon tax is going to have an impact. There's no question about that. We want to make sure that it's not going to negatively impact businesses in Manitoba," said Chuck Davidson, president of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce. He said he applauds the government's intention to ask for input on the plan from residents.

There are also questions about funding for green projects suggested in the plan, including the replacement of 100 City of Winnipeg diesel buses with electric ones, and new restrictions on landfill materials.

"We do not want to see any of these costs downloaded to municipalities," said Chris Goertzen, head of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities.

Mayor Brian Bowman says the province cut funding to Winnipeg's transit initiatives this year, despite a plan to see 100 diesel buses replaced with electric ones. (John Einarson/CBC)

The province cut transit funding to Winnipeg earlier this year, Bowman said. He's looking to see whether any of that money will come back through a carbon price.

"Certainly getting clarity on, do we have a strong provincial partner on transit or not, is what I'll be looking for. Because right now, we're dealing with a transit cut while we're also hearing about investments in partnership in transit," he said.

Rising Hydro pricetag 'contradicts the whole point' of carbon tax: NDP

Manitoba NDP leader Wab Kinew said any revenue from the project should go to green projects or ways to make environmentally-friendly options more attainable for Manitobans.

"We don't even know yet whether or not all the money that's collected from this new carbon price is going to be spent on fighting global warming. For all we know, it could go to pay for some of Pallister's pet projects," Kinew said. "For the money that does get spent on trying to mitigate climate change, where are the investments going to be? We don't yet know."

Kinew said Manitoba Hydro's request to continue with a nearly eight per cent rate hike for the next two years "contradicts the whole point of having a carbon price."

"Under this supposed plan, what we're seeing is that fossil fuels will stay constant but clean energy will get more and more expensive. So in a situation like that there's less incentive for Manitobans to green their habits. And that's a real concern."

Dougald Lamont, leader of the Manitoba Liberals, called the plan "timid" and "laden with conditions."

He said consultation with Manitobans won't mean much if it's done the same way as the government's pre-budget consultation, which he has previously criticized for lacking measures to ensure respondents are Manitoban or only answering once.

"This is basically saying, 'Hey world, you get to vote on what Manitoba's benchmarks for the environment are going to be, and you can vote as many times as you want,'" Lamont said in a written press release on Friday.

"This is not democratic consultation with Manitobans, this is handing over Manitoba's environmental policy to the Internet and it is ripe for abuse."

In the release of the pre-budget surveys on Tuesday, Pallister promised to make improvements in the climate survey to address any issues.

Agricultural Producers favour plan, Truckers Association critical

Dan Mazier, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, said overall, he is pleased with the proposal so far. 

He said exemptions on farm fuels and an output-based pricing system for fertilizer producers were among the recommendations the group passed on to the province when it was developing the plan.

"Today was very good to see that the government did listen to us," said Mazier. "Until you actually see it, it was always a concern. We didn't know how much was going to be exempt or if it was going to be a part." 

Mazier said the next step is to discuss the proposal with producers and gather more input.

"We've got, finally, something to talk about and some hard numbers," he said. "The timing is good for us ... we're coming into the winter season where we'll be able to have a very robust discussion."

Costs will be passed on to consumers 

But the executive director of the Manitoba Trucking Association, Terry Shaw, said a $25-per-tonne carbon price is a smaller blow to the industry than the federal $50 price, but increases to the price of fuel will inevitably be passed on to the consumer.

"The higher cost burden we see, the higher cost burden everybody sees," Shaw said. "We are a critical service provider to agriculture, to manufacturing, to construction, to retail trades. So as our costs go up, so do theirs."

The association has advocated for a green plan involving a low-level carbon tax "for years," Shaw said, and hopes to see revenue recycling that benefits truckers hurt by the levy, including subsidies for retrofitting trucks with greener technology and changes to policies that prevent truckers from using that technology.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation panned the carbon tax altogether, calling on the province to withdraw the proposal and oppose any sort of carbon tax, federal or provincial.

"Premier Brian Pallister says Ottawa is forcing him to impose a carbon tax, but he's done nothing to fight the federal policy," said Todd MacKay, the federation's Prairie director, in a news release.

"A majority of Manitobans oppose a carbon tax, and their provincial government should be standing with them instead of pre-emptively acquiescing to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau."

Manitoba meets federal government halfway on carbon tax

6 years ago
Duration 6:47
'We have a solid record on being good stewards of this land,' says Sustainable Development Min. Rochelle Squires.

With files from Sean Kavanagh, Bartley Kives, Karen Pauls, Riley Laychuk and Aidan Geary