Ottawa slams Manitoba's 'flip flop' on carbon tax after Pallister pulls out of climate plan

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said today the federal government is disappointed that Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has pulled his province out of the national climate plan, calling it a "flip flop" on the carbon tax.

Liberal government committed to its plan to tackle the 'real threat of climate change'

Federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said he's disappointed Manitoba is pulling out of the national climate plan. (Matt Smith/Canadian Press)

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said today the federal government is disappointed that Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has pulled his province out of the national climate plan, calling it a "flip flop" on the carbon tax.

"We regret very much that the government of Manitoba has decided to pull out of the plan that they had previously submitted, which put a price on pollution. They obviously think that pollution should be free, but we don't agree with this flip flop from the government of Manitoba," LeBlanc said in question period Thursday, adding that Ottawa is committed to a "real climate plan" to deal with the "real threat of climate change."

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said she was "perplexed" by Manitoba's about-face.

"They had submitted a plan where they recognized there is a cost to pollution but, unfortunately, now they're with the federal Conservatives and conservative parties across the country who think that polluting should be free," she said.

"There is a cost to pollution. We're seeing the cost in extreme weather events across the country."

The comments came a day after Pallister announced he was abandoning his "made in Manitoba" plan to tax carbon dioxide emissions at a price of $25/tonne. Instead, Pallister said he will focus his energies — and his province's financial resources — on further developing clean hydroelectric power, phasing out coal and recycling "more and better."

Watch Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister explain his about-face on a carbon tax

'We're just asking for respect here in Manitoba," says Brian Pallister of his province's green record. 9:47

If LeBlanc and the Liberals were disappointed Thursday, the Conservative benches were celebrating the news that another province has given notice it will withdraw.

"I bring great news from my home province," Manitoba MP Candice Bergen said in the House of Commons. "Manitobans will not be subjected to the carbon tax ... after the prime minister's arrogance and Ottawa-knows-best attitude. A carbon tax doesn't work and costs Canadian families."

While he initially resisted federal demands to impose a tax or pursue a cap-and-trade plan, Pallister chose to implement a carbon tax after receiving a legal opinion that suggested Ottawa was well within its constitutional rights to impose a tax on provinces.

'Ill-advised, destructive policy'

Pallister and former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall were the lone holdouts when the pan-Canadian framework on climate was first negotiated.

Now, Pallister and Wall's replacement, Premier Scott Moe, have been joined by Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley in opposing the national climate plan.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says he is pulling his plan to levy a carbon tax and is joining a number of provinces opposed to the federal government's climate plan demands. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Notley pulled Alberta from the framework after the Federal Court of Appeal quashed approvals for the Trans Mountain expansion project. Ford has been steadfastly opposed to a carbon tax since launching his bid for the party's leadership.

Speaking to reporters after a joint meeting in Saskatchewan Thursday, Ford and Moe welcomed Manitoba to the fight, saying they are united in their opposition to Ottawa's plan to impose a tax on provinces that refuse to enact a carbon plan of their own — the so-called "backstop."

"It's clear opposition of this ill-advised, destructive policy is growing across the nation," Moe said.

Trudeau has said the federal government will levy a price on carbon dioxide pollution starting at a minimum of $10 a tonne in 2019, rising by $10 each year to $50 a tonne by 2022.

Trudeau has long insisted the plan will be revenue-neutral for the federal government — that any revenue raised by the measure will stay in the province or territory where it was generated. Those reassurances don't seem to be working on Ford.

"Justin Trudeau should stop holding the people of this country hostage, businesses hostage, families hostage. It's a job-killing carbon tax," Ford said. "We're trying to compete and we have one hand tied behind our backs ... we want a fair deal.

Premier of Ontario Doug Ford, left, shakes hands with Premier of Saskatchewan Scott Moe during a media event in Saskatoon, Thursday, October 4, 2018. Ford and Moe are opposed to the national climate plan. (Liam Richards/Canadian Press)

"They believe in one thing up in Ottawa — tax, tax, tax, spend, spend, spend."

Moe said he is confident a Saskatchewan-led legal challenge against the federal government's plan will succeed, even if other experts — including the ones who advised Manitoba — have said Ottawa can levy such a tax in the face of provincial opposition.

Canada signed on to ambitious emissions reduction targets at the Paris climate accord meeting in 2015, and a national pricing strategy is seen by Ottawa as the best way to accomplish their goal. However, the government has conceded a carbon price alone won't be enough to meet those targets.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna fields questions at a news conference as the G7 environment, oceans and energy ministers meet in Halifax. McKenna said she was 'perplexed' by Manitoba's decision to 'flip flop' on a carbon tax. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

(The Liberal government maintained the same targets set by the former Conservative government: 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 30 per cent below by 2030.)

Political uncertainty in New Brunswick could spell further trouble for the Liberal plan, as Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs — who has one more seat in the legislature than current Premier Brian Gallant — opposes Trudeau's "price on pollution."

Pallister's $25/tonne price would have met the federal government standard, but not indefinitely.

He cited Ottawa's insistence on getting to a $50/tonne price by 2022 as a reason for jumping ship. He said his tax was "flat and low, like the Prairie horizon, not escalating with every passing year like the federal government is proposing."

"Frankly, after a year of trying to get respect for our green record and green strategies, we were given no choice but to stand up against the federal government's intrusion," Pallister said in an interview Thursday with CBC News Network's Power & Politics.

"We have a choice. Either we're going to stand up for Manitobans in a year when the feds come in, as they've threatened to do, with a higher carbon tax, or you do it now. We're doing it now."

Beyond the price on carbon, the national climate plan includes other measures to battle climate change, including new building codes to boost energy efficiency, more charging stations for electric cars, expanding clean electricity sources and upgrading power grids.

The Power Panel debates Manitoba's climate plan

James, Jen, Andrew and Rob discuss Manitoba's flip-flop on the carbon tax. 11:40

About the Author

John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

John Paul (J.P.) Tasker is a reporter in the CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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