Climate change not a left-right issue

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Overshadowed by Ottawa’s announcement this week it plans to phase out coal-powered electricity by 2030 was another significant climate-change commitment by Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister’s Progressive Conservative government. In Monday’s speech from the throne, Pallister reiterated the province’s support for a made-in-Manitoba approach to carbon pricing.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/11/2016 (2206 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Overshadowed by Ottawa’s announcement this week it plans to phase out coal-powered electricity by 2030 was another significant climate-change commitment by Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister’s Progressive Conservative government. In Monday’s speech from the throne, Pallister reiterated the province’s support for a made-in-Manitoba approach to carbon pricing.

Manitoba’s throne speech suggests carbon pricing is part of a broader suite of policies that address environmental challenges and economic aspirations.

Investing in clean growth and building resilience to the effects of climate change are among the goals of the government outlined in the speech. Together, they form the kind of holistic climate-change plan Manitoba needs to ensure we protect the environment, develop our economy and protect social supports for Manitobans.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Premier Brian Pallister has touted a made-in-Manitoba approach to carbon pricing.

This is a tumultuous time for carbon policy, with United States president-elect Donald Trump vowing to roll back his country’s progress on climate change. The leader of the official Opposition in the House of Commons and some of Premier Pallister’s counterparts have come out ardently against carbon pricing as a result, arguing we risk diminishing our economic competitiveness vis-à-vis our southern neighbour.

Thankfully, however, Canada’s federal government is not backing away from its intent to price carbon, and Manitoba is also showing leadership by standing by its commitments as well. Beyond the importance of the commitment is the fact it comes from the opposite end of the political spectrum of the federal government. Manitoba is sending the signal climate change is not a partisan issue and that smart policy solutions can come from all sides of the left-right political spectrum.

Developed properly, a carbon-pricing system can restructure the economy to a more sustainable, green model. The price of burning fossil fuels will increase, but the revenues raised can, and should, be directed to growing a prosperous green economy and assisting those who will be impacted by a rise in fossil fuel prices.

There are several models for how this revenue can be used. In British Columbia, carbon-tax revenue is used to reduce income taxes. This model favours taxing negative items (greenhouse gas emissions) while lowering taxes on positive items (income). As a result, B.C. has the lowest income tax rates in Canada for individuals earning up to $122,000.

In Quebec, revenues are used to fund the provincial Green Fund, which provides incentives for greater emissions reductions and earmarks spending for investment in adaptation to climate change. Alberta funds research and development aimed at helping industry lower its emissions and adopt more efficient approaches through the revenue it generates.

In several jurisdictions, carbon-pricing revenue is also used to help low-income households adapt to carbon pricing and/or provide transitional supports to industries to ensure their continued competitiveness with enterprises in other jurisdictions.

Manitoba’s task will be to ensure the revenues generated by carbon pricing will be used effectively and transparently, to balance the unique characteristics and sectoral breakdown of the provincial economy. Manitoba is already a leader on the generation of clean energy and can be as well in the development of carbon pricing.

It will be up to the government to indicate which mix of approaches is best suited for our province, but we also know they are soliciting input from Manitobans and taking into account very carefully how pricing will impact the economy. These early signs are a good indicator, and we encourage the government to continue this engagement.

For the rest of us, the task is to make sure we provide useful input to the government. For environmental groups, this means making the case about the need to address climate change and ensure climate policy is sufficiently stringent. Industry must explain the potential impacts carbon pricing will have on its business and suggest ways to ensure their ongoing competitiveness. For socially focused organizations, this means coming forward to ensure disadvantaged groups are not facing challenges that cannot be overcome, such as unaffordable energy prices.

At a time of uncertainty over climate policy south of our border, Manitoba is showing leadership by entrenching its commitment on carbon pricing as part of its climate-change plan. Just as importantly, it is indicating to all Canadians climate change is not a left-right political issue but one all Canadians must respond to with sound policy solutions.

Philip Gass is senior researcher at the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

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