July 20, 2019

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Ottawa may sidestep Pallister on retrofit cash

Carbon-tax proceeds headed to province's schools, with or without premier's co-operation

Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press Files</p><p>Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna wants Manitoba to allocate $5 million in carbon-tax money for school energy upgrades.</p></p>

Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press Files

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna wants Manitoba to allocate $5 million in carbon-tax money for school energy upgrades.

OTTAWA — The federal Liberals are ready to go over Manitoba’s head to allocate carbon-tax money for energy retrofits, as the levy continues to be stuck in a political tug of war.

On June 25, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announced $5 million of Manitobans’ carbon-tax money would be remitted to the province’s schools for projects such as solar panels or insulation upgrades.

Instead of giving the money directly to school boards, the Liberals have asked all four provinces that have reluctantly had the carbon tax imposed in their jurisdictions to allocate those dollars.

The carbon levy is a $20 per tonne charge Ottawa collects and, by law, has to remit entirely to the province where it’s collected. The Liberals have chosen to give 90 per cent of that revenue back to Manitoba households. Those who drive SUVs receive less than they paid out, compared with people who take the bus.

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OTTAWA — The federal Liberals are ready to go over Manitoba’s head to allocate carbon-tax money for energy retrofits, as the levy continues to be stuck in a political tug of war.

On June 25, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announced $5 million of Manitobans’ carbon-tax money would be remitted to the province’s schools for projects such as solar panels or insulation upgrades.

"The idea that a province would say they don’t want federal money, when there’s nothing expected in return, would be asinine and disrespectful to the constituents" – Sean Fraser, parliamentary secretary for Environment Minister Catherine McKenna

Instead of giving the money directly to school boards, the Liberals have asked all four provinces that have reluctantly had the carbon tax imposed in their jurisdictions to allocate those dollars.

The carbon levy is a $20 per tonne charge Ottawa collects and, by law, has to remit entirely to the province where it’s collected. The Liberals have chosen to give 90 per cent of that revenue back to Manitoba households. Those who drive SUVs receive less than they paid out, compared with people who take the bus.

On Tuesday, McKenna’s parliamentary secretary, Sean Fraser, said officials are working with Manitoba to convince the province to accept a role in distributing that cash by July 19.

The Pallister government is considering the proposal. If it doesn’t respond in time, Fraser said Ottawa will find a way to get the money to schools.

"The idea that a province would say they don’t want federal money, when there’s nothing expected in return, would be asinine and disrespectful to the constituents," Fraser told the Free Press.

Fraser also chided Manitoba for shelving its own flat-tax carbon levy last October, but said the disagreement with Tory Premier Brian Pallister is on how to tackle climate change, instead of the seriousness of the issue.

"He’s not quite the extremist that (federal Conservative Leader) Andrew Scheer is," Fraser said, claiming Scheer plans "to mislead Canadians and to scare them, frankly, into climate inaction."

The federal Tories say they favour regulation over taxes to reduce carbon emissions, while admitting those costs would also be borne by consumers.

The two parties are fighting over a clean-fuel standard the Liberals partially rolled out last week, which will add costs to fuel that emits large amounts of carbon when it is extracted and refined.

The Tories have seized on an independent analysis that says the cost of a litre of gasoline could rise as much as four cents by 2030, though this is based on numerous changing factors. The Liberals say they don’t yet have a sense of how much this will add to prices.

Similarly, the Liberals’ carbon tax will not be enough to meet the targets they agreed to in the 2015 Paris agreement; they claim actions such as boosting transit will help them meet their goals, but have no precise measurement to prove that.

However, the Tories have hinted at counting emissions offset by Canadian energy exports to countries such as China, which would otherwise burn more coal. Fraser said the idea can technically work under the Paris agreement, but only under formal, limited agreements. "The argument that the cure to climate change is to produce more oil and gas resources is frankly, patently, on its face, unacceptable," he said.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

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