Provincial carbon tax plan to be unveiled in two weeks

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A made-in-Manitoba green plan will be revealed in two weeks — after Premier Brian Pallister's government received a legal opinion it is the only way to avoid having Ottawa impose its own plan.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/10/2017 (1882 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A made-in-Manitoba green plan will be revealed in two weeks — after Premier Brian Pallister’s government received a legal opinion it is the only way to avoid having Ottawa impose its own plan.

“What’s clear today is, if we just say no, we get Trudeau’s tax,” Pallister told reporters Wednesday. “If we go to court, we lose.”

Pallister said the legal opinion from University of Manitoba law Prof. Bryan Schwartz is the only way for Manitoba to implement its own plan is to devise one better than Ottawa’s. “The course of action will be to proceed in that manner.”

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Brian Pallister's provincial government paid about $40,000 for an independent expert legal opinion on Ottawa's carbon pricing plan and how it affects Manitoba.

Manitoba needs to present a plan that clearly shows the province can do a better job over the next five years of cleaning up the environment, the premier said. Pallister acknowledged the province is pretty much in the same place it was when it opted to retain Schwartz in August — but with expert advice that going its own way could work.

The province paid Schwartz about $40,000 for an independent expert legal opinion Justice Minister Heather Stefanson said Wednesday advised Ottawa does have the constitutional right to impose a carbon pricing plan on Manitoba.

But Schwartz also told the provincial government the courts could accept a province adopting its own carbon emission-reduction plan, if it can put forward a ‘credible’ argument.

He advised the province Ottawa’s authority is not “unfettered,” and pointed out controlling emissions is an area of shared authority.

“The expert legal opinion received is clear: should Manitoba not act, the federal government can act and impose its carbon pricing plan on Manitoba,” Stefanson said. “There is no doubt Ottawa will do so.

“The federal government has repeatedly stated its intention to bring about carbon pricing in all provinces beginning in 2018. It has publicly stated it will impose its carbon pricing ‘backstop’ plan on provinces that do not have carbon pricing.”

The premier refused to say Wednesday what kind of plan he’ll reveal in two weeks, but said there’s far more to a green plan than simply setting a price per tonne for a carbon tax. “We’ll comment on our plan when we release it,” Pallister said.

He’s argued frequently Manitoba must be credited with actions it has already taken to reduce emissions, especially the development of clean energy through Manitoba Hydro. “We have a Manitoba record that deserves respect and recognition,” he said.

Ottawa wants a carbon tax of $10 per tonne next year, increasing to $50 a tonne by 2022.

“There’s issues about what you do with the money,” the premier said. “We’re all focused on the carbon tax — there’s a lot more to do with it than that. I’m seriously considering a lot of options.”

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew called the decision to obtain a legal opinion “an unnecessary delay” in tackling “one of the biggest issues of our time.”

Kinew told reporters it is no surprise Ottawa has the power to impose a carbon tax — provinces have always had the opportunity to devise their own pricing schemes, as long as they met certain criteria.

Manitobans want to know where the government stands on the issue, Kinew said, and whether the ruling Progressive Conservatives will commit to reinvesting any revenues from a carbon tax into mitigating climate change and adapting to global warming, as the NDP has done.

“What (the delay in unveiling a proposal) means for Manitobans is that there is going to be another flood season, there is going to be another wildfire season, before we actually see a plan to tackle climate change,” Kinew said.

The premier acknowledged Manitoba’s plan could be revenue neutral — not enriching provincial coffers through higher carbon taxes. Given how highly the former NDP government taxed Manitobans, he said, “There’s a danger to purchasing power from having too much erosion.”

Pallister was vague on who would decide if Manitoba’s plan is better than Ottawa’s, but insisted if Manitobans believe the Tories’ green plan is better, Ottawa would be unlikely to oppose it.

(Schwartz’s legal opinion can be read at gov.mb.ca/climateandgreenplan/index.html.)

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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