Made-in-Manitoba solution to climate change possible but must be fair: Justin Trudeau

Manitobans can and should come up with their own way to combat climate change, but that solution must be fair to the rest of Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says.

Prime minister says he and Premier Brian Pallister have a good working relationship

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a town hall event at Western University in London, Ont., on Jan. 11. He hosts another town hall in Winnipeg on Wednesday. (Geoff Robins/Canadian Press)

Manitobans can and should come up with their own way to combat climate change, but that solution must be fair to the rest of Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says.

"Indeed, the core of our pan-Canadian framework is leadership from the provinces, is ensuring the provinces create an approach that works for them," Trudeau told CBC News on Wednesday.

"We're continuing to work with the premier on that, but I think everyone understands we have to be fair right across the country and we have to have real targets that are going to reach our carbon emissions."

Manitoba and Saskatchewan are the only provinces that have not signed on to the pan-Canadian framework on clean growth and climate change, a carbon-reduction plan that would see carbon emissions taxed at $10 per tonne to start, rising to $50 a tonne by 2022.

Instead, the Pallister government revealed a plan in October that would set the carbon tax in the province at $25 a tonne with no plans to increase the tax, and said it would not sign the pan-Canadian framework.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has said the provinces have until Feb. 28 to ratify the framework. If they don't, the federal government will impose their carbon tax plan on provinces whose guidelines don't meet or exceed theirs. For Manitoba, that would come in 2020.

"We don't want to have to bring in the carbon backstop," Trudeau said. "We want there to be a locally made plan that is right for them, but it has to be fair to all Canadians and it has to do its part."

The prime minister spoke to CBC Manitoba's Information Radio on Wednesday morning, ahead of a trip to Winnipeg as part of his town-hall tour. Trudeau will be at the University of Manitoba Wednesday evening to take questions from voters. 

Despite the disagreement over carbon taxes and saying he couldn't fit in a sit-down meeting with the Manitoba premier while in Winnipeg, Trudeau said he has a good working relationship with Pallister.

High hopes for Churchill

The prime minister also briefly weighed in on Churchill and expressed hope for its future as an international shipping port.

"I'm very confident Churchill is going to have a great future. It's an important place in our trade networks," said Trudeau.

He's spoken to Churchill Mayor Mike Spence numerous times as the town struggles without a rail line, he said.

"I'm very excited about the interest that a number of people, particularly a consortium, has in restoring that rail line. There's no question that Omnitrax has been really, really unhelpful and dragging their feet and not living up to their responsibilities on a whole bunch of levels."

The town has been without a rail line since May, when widespread flooding washed the line out in several places. The federal government and the owner of the line, Omnitrax, are suing each other over who is responsible for restoring the line.

In the meantime, a consortium that includes First Nations has expressed interest in buying and running the rail line.

"We're very much optimistic that a new owner and operator will do a much better job than [Omnitrax] have, taking seriously the needs of the people of Churchill and the economic opportunities for Manitoba and the country."

Town hall and NAFTA

The economy is expected to be the top question at Winnipeg's town hall Wednesday, said Trudeau, even though the country is currently experiencing economic growth and low unemployment.

"But we know that people are still very alert to the challenges on the horizons, whether it's the uncertainty around NAFTA" or tax issues, Trudeau said. "That's always top of mind for an awful lot of people."

Trudeau said he believes President Donald Trump will ultimately decide to stay in the North American Free Trade Agreement, despite bluster south of the border that the U.S. will pull out.

"The numbers and the facts are that NAFTA has been very good for the United States. It's been very good for workers in the United States, like it's been, obviously, really good for Canada," Trudeau said.

"Terminating it, cancelling it, will harm the very workers and folks Donald Trump focuses so much on trying to help."

Should Trump try to pull out, the plan is to put pressure on the U.S. Congress and the governors whose states rely on NAFTA for their economic well-being.

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With files from Information Radio and The Canadian Press