Made-in-Manitoba carbon tax falls short, says Arctic climate change expert

Manitoba's proposed carbon tax scheme doesn't go far enough to deter fossil fuel consumption — that's the view of renowned Arctic sea-ice researcher and University of Manitoba professor David Barber.

Sea-ice researcher David Barber argues provincial $25-per-tonne tax a good start but not aggressive enough

On Monday, University of Manitoba Arctic sea-ice researcher David Barber gave a presentation at the United Nations climate conference on the impact of warming in the Arctic. He believes the Manitoba government's proposed carbon tax isn't aggressive enough. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Manitoba's proposed carbon tax scheme doesn't go far enough to deter fossil fuel consumption.

That's the view of renowned Arctic sea-ice researcher and University of Manitoba professor David Barber.

"There has to be a true cost of what the impact of this carbon [is] on the environment," said Barber, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Arctic System Science and has been studying changes in the North for nearly four decades.

"The time for us to rely on fossil fuels is very quickly coming to a close and we need to move our economy off these fossil fuels on to alternative technologies. They already exist today."

Barber spoke with CBC News from the United Nations climate change conference in Bonn, Germany, where the UN's climate agency revealed 2017 is set to be the hottest year on record (apart from years influenced by El Nino occurrences).

The agency also stated the key contributors to climate change — like rising carbon dioxide emissions — "continue unabated."

Barber was invited to speak to some of the 25,000 international policy makers, activists, scientists and others at the conference about the immediacy of climate change in the Arctic, including the challenges and economic opportunities it presents to nations bordering the polar region.

This past Friday, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister unveiled his government's plan to combat climate change in the province through a $25-per-tonne carbon tax.

That proposal has yet to be voted through but is likely to pass, as the current administration holds a majority in the Manitoba Legislature.

Saskatchewan and Manitoba are the only provinces that haven't signed on to a federal government tax that would set a tax on carbon of $10 per tonne in 2018 and increase to $50 by 2022.

Barber applauded the province for developing a carbon tax — something he says should've happened 20 years ago — but said it isn't aggressive enough, a criticism he also levelled at the federal plan.

But Barber said where the federal plan gets it right, in contrast to Manitoba, is that it gradually hikes the cost up over time — something the flat-rate provincial plan doesn't do. 

Don't use hydro as excuse to do less: Barber

Pallister has maintained the Manitoba tax will achieve twice the emission reductions of the Liberal plan by 2022, which he argued places an "intolerable financial burden on Manitoba families and businesses." 

"While the federal government remains fixated on taxation, we are focused on actually reducing emissions," Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires said in a statement emailed to CBC Tuesday.

"Manitoba is a national leader in clean energy. Our province produces 98 per cent of its energy through renewable resources, which is a direct result of early and significant investments in hydroelectricity. We believe Manitobans deserve credit for this and our Made-in-Manitoba Climate and Green Plan provides that recognition," the provincial minister's statement said.

Barber disagrees with that rationale.

"This idea that we're going to completely eradicate our economic potential [with a carbon tax] is overblown," he said, adding Manitoba's hydroelectric infrastructure shouldn't be used as an excuse to do less to fight climate change.

"I would put the argument around from what Pallister is saying to say we have a lot to benefit from seeing an increased use of hydroelectric energy. We should be promoting it as much as possible," and boosting electric rail and vehicle infrastructure to take advantage of hydroelectric power, Barber said.

'We used to complain about sewage tax'

He said it appears that in "trying to find a balance," Pallister is playing to some in his conservative base that either don't believe humans are significantly responsible for global warming or are against the notion of a tax in principle.

"You'd have to talk to those people as to why they feel they should be able to pollute the atmosphere and not have to pay for the cost of that pollution," he said.

"If you look back historically, we used to complain about sewage tax. The idea was that we could just put sewage directly in the street, and then we realized that sewage causes health problems, and therefore we had to charge people to properly get rid of that sewage in a way that was not impacting the health of people," Barber said. 

"That is a very similar situation to carbon in our atmosphere. It is causing problems globally and there is a true cost for that pollution, and we should be paying for that pollution as an incentive to get people off that reliance [on fossil fuels]."


Bryce Hoye


Bryce Hoye is a multi-platform Manitoba journalist covering news, science, justice, health, 2SLGBTQ issues and other community stories. He has a background in wildlife biology and occasionally works for CBC's Quirks & Quarks and Front Burner. He won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award for a 2017 feature on the history of the fur trade. He is also Prairie rep for outCBC.

With files from Sean Kavanagh and The Associated Press