OTTAWA — The federal Liberals say won’t claw back Manitoba’s promised $67 million for carbon retrofits, ending a week of speculation, while blaming the province for tying up the funding.

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OTTAWA — The federal Liberals say won’t claw back Manitoba’s promised $67 million for carbon retrofits, ending a week of speculation, while blaming the province for tying up the funding.

"We're absolutely committed, no matter what happens — the money is going to Manitobans," federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Friday morning, in a teleconference from China.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Ottawa is committed to giving Manitoba its share of carbon-tax revenues and the Low Carbon Economy Fund.

(ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES)

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Ottawa is committed to giving Manitoba its share of carbon-tax revenues and the Low Carbon Economy Fund.

McKenna also suggested Manitoba hasn’t gotten its share of the Low Carbon Economy Fund because the province hadn’t send its list of proposed projects, a claim the Tory government disputes.

Last Thursday, the Free Press revealed McKenna’s office was pondering a review of Manitoba’s LCEF allotment, despite insisting that funding wouldn’t be revoked after Premier Brian Pallister cancelled his own carbon-tax plan.

The next day, provincial Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires demanded clarity, saying the two levels of government had agreed to a joint list of funding priorities for the $67 million, including electrification of transportation, diverting organic waste from landfills and displacing propane as a heating source in the northern town of Churchill.

Stop carbon-fund squabble: Ashton

MP Niki Ashton

OTTAWA — Northern Manitoba MP Niki Ashton is unimpressed with both the federal Liberals and provincial PCs over their handling of Manitoba's carbon-retrofit funding.

OTTAWA — Northern Manitoba MP Niki Ashton is unimpressed with both the federal Liberals and provincial PCs over their handling of Manitoba's carbon-retrofit funding.

“The fact the federal government would look at playing games with that funding proves that their commitment to taking on climate change — certainly in rural and northern Canada — is simply not there,” Ashton said.

She said Manitoba's $67-million share of the Low Carbon Economy Fund has attracted interest across her riding, even before the PCs disclosed last week one of its proposed projects would help wean Churchill residents off propane for heating.

Ashton disparaged the Pallister government’s environmental record, but said “that shouldn’t leave the federal government off the hook, when we have communities that are desperate to make the transition,” noting four First Nations reserves rely on diesel and many more need all-weather roads.

Ashton said the North is coping with limited-season ice trails and washouts along the Hudson Bay Railway. “Canada’s north is on the front lines of climate change. We're seeing it here, often in more dramatic ways,” she said.

— Dylan Robertson

Yet, McKenna told the Free Press her officials haven’t gotten that list since late February, when Manitoba endorsed the Pan-Canadian Framework on climate change, which was required to access those dollars.

Other provinces such as New Brunswick had contribution agreements signed within four months of endorsing the PCF; Manitoba joined that pact eight months ago.

"We have been waiting since that date (Feb. 23) to get project proposals from the Manitoba government," she said Friday morning. "Our officials have followed up, and we're still waiting."

Squires wrote Friday her department has been in touch with McKenna’s staff "in a constructive dialogue" since February "through ongoing conference calls and meetings."

McKenna’s staff refused to give a clear answer for a week on whether the funding was under review, which Squires said was "not helpful" for those talks.

"Federal officials had actually stepped back in light of the recent uncertainty over federal positioning, but we would now expect the process to resume as intended and that contribution agreement will soon be finalized," Squires wrote on the sidelines of the PC general meeting.

Provincial NDP Leader Wab Kinew put the blame on Pallister’s team.

"They had this money on the table, and it comes that we find out at the end of the week (that) it’s been sitting there, because of the provincial government’s inaction," Kinew said Friday. "You look at the scope of this challenge we’ve got to confront with global warming; taking a delay of eight months is just inexcusable."

Kinew wouldn’t say if Ottawa had been acting in bad faith, but suggested both sides might be positioning for their bases.

"Part of the reasons the Manitobans might be skeptical of the premier on the environment because he keeps trying to inflaming the situation here, and it looks like maybe he’s got a partner that’s wiling to dance, if you will."

Last December, a leaked letter obtained by the Free Press revealed Ottawa issued Squires an ultimatum to endorse the PCF or risk Manitoba losing its $67-million in carbon cash. Squires ended a 14-month stand-off in February, after she said Ottawa clarified in writing that doing so would not mean endorsing the federal carbon tax.

McKenna’s official had reaffirmed this in multiple interviews, including after Pallister ended his own carbon tax Oct. 3, putting Manitoba onto the federal backstop.

On Friday, McKenna said if Ottawa doesn’t receive Manitoba’s list of LCEF projects, she might go over the province’s head and remit that money to businesses and municipalities, but she didn’t say when that could happen.

"We're still waiting to hear back, but to the extent that they aren't coming up with programs, our commitment has always been to make sure that we're supporting people in provinces like Manitoba."

Squires doesn’t believe that will be necessary. "Dialogue on specific potential projects will continue," she wrote.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca