Pallister holds out on carbon pricing deal

Demands health funding be ironed out

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OTTAWA — Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister will not sign on to a new national framework to fight climate change until he sees the same level of commitment from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on health care as he has shown on the environment.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/12/2016 (2076 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister will not sign on to a new national framework to fight climate change until he sees the same level of commitment from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on health care as he has shown on the environment.

The pact includes an agreement for provinces to have a $10-a-tonne price on carbon starting in 2018 and a goal to have Canada powered by 90 per cent clean energy by 2030. The carbon price is supposed to rise to $50 by 2022.

“We are telling Canadians and the world a clean environment and a strong economy go hand in hand,” Trudeau said. “Now we get to prove it.”

The plan will include investing some of a $22-billion promised federal fund for green infrastructure to transmit clean energy — such as Manitoba’s hydroelectricity — between provinces. Most of Canada’s power transmission flows south to the United States, and building east-west transmission could be a major boon for Manitoba Hydro.

Manitoba is one of two provinces that refused to agree to the framework at a first ministers meeting in Ottawa Friday.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said he wants more research on the effect a carbon tax could have on his province before introducing one, and he will fight anything imposed by Ottawa.

Pallister said Manitoba supports everything in the agreement, it just won’t participate until a new health-care accord is reached because it is just as important. He said the Liberals aren’t giving it the level of attention it deserves.

“A three per cent increase is not sustainable,” Pallister said at the news conference to close climate change talks Friday evening.

For more than a decade, Ottawa has increased health transfers to the provinces by six per cent a year, but the old health accord has expired. In 2011, the Harper government said it would maintain the six per cent annual increase until the end of 2016-17 and then set it to match annual GDP growth, with a minimum of three per cent. The Liberals plan to follow that policy, and the premiers are opposed to it.

The switch will mean a $39-million difference to Manitoba next year, and Pallister said the province can’t afford it.

“We have inherited a bit of a fiscal mess,” he said. “We have had two credit-rating downgrades in the last year-and-a-half, so it’s going to cost us more to borrow money. That’s a hospital, a school every year we can’t build. Combine that with the federal government taking tens of millions of dollars out of our treasury and the compounding growth in health-care service needs, and you’ve got a recipe for a serious, serious problem.”

SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister listens to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s opening remarks at the Meeting of First Ministers in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 9, 2016.

The premiers dined with Trudeau at an official government residence in Ottawa Friday night where health care was to be the focus, but Pallister said that’s not good enough, noting the premiers have been asking Trudeau for a meeting on health care for more than a year.

“It puts tremendous pressure on us between bites to come up with a solution (at a dinner),” he said.

Finance ministers are gathering Dec. 19 and there is some talk health ministers will join them to discuss a new health accord, but Pallister said premiers must be at the table.

The move to a final agreement on climate change without Manitoba and Saskatchewan came faster than expected.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark emerged from the talks around 6 p.m. to say there was no agreement because there was an imbalance between what was being required between provinces with cap-and-trade systems versus those with carbon taxes, such as B.C.

Less than 20 minutes later, reporters were told there was an agreement.

Clark said at the news conference she was given two things that allow B.C. to sign on to the pact. The first is that B.C. won’t have to raise its $30- a-tonne carbon tax until it is satisfied other provinces have caught up on the price.

The second is that if B.C. can prove measures other than raising the tax would be more useful to cutting emissions, it doesn’t have to hike the tax to $50.

Manitoba intends to introduce its climate change strategy early next year. Pallister hasn’t given details but has indicated it will include a price on carbon and won’t involve cap-and-trade because Manitoba doesn’t have enough large emitters to make it valuable.

Pallister told the Free Press earlier Friday Manitoba has “been punching above our weight” when it comes to green energy production but will continue to do more because climate change is real.

“Very few people are denying the impacts,” he said.

Pallister said he welcomes investments in the east-west power grid but expects Manitoba to be given credit for the major investments it has already made to build dams, which produce clean energy.

“Manitobans have made a major major investment, and for generations to come they will be paying for it. Consideration of that investment is an important aspect of where we are going to go,” he said.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

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