Time to clear air on carbon pricing

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It’s not easy being green.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/05/2017 (1907 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s not easy being green.

But if you are, asserts Premier Brian Pallister, you deserve a little bit of extra credit.

In response to last week’s introduction of a technical paper on carbon pricing by the federal Liberal government, Mr. Pallister suggested there ought to be some flexibility in the minimum $10-per-tonne price on carbon that will be required of all provinces next year. And given Manitoba’s enormous investment in environmentally friendly hydroelectric power, he added, that flexibility should include extra consideration for this province’s green-minded ambitions.

Tim Smith / The Brandon Sun files Premier Brian Pallister

Mr. Pallister noted on Thursday that Ottawa’s statement on carbon pricing “doesn’t demonstrate a recognition of the considerable investment that Manitobans have made in making our province the greenest in Canada. I would like to see some respect shown for that reality.”

He might have a point. But then again, maybe not.

Four provinces — Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, which represent more than 80 per cent of Canada’s population — have already established environmental plans that will satisfy the federal requirements. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, meanwhile, is preparing to battle Ottawa over his heavily coal-fuelled province’s refusal to embrace a carbon price initiative.

Manitoba’s approach has shifted only slightly, from an initial refusal to sign onto the federal plan to professing that a “made in Manitoba” option might better suit this province’s needs.

Last year, while adopting a broader but ultimately unsuccessful hardball negotiating stance with the federal government, Mr. Pallister stood alongside Saskatchewan in the carbon tax holdout category.

Last week, however, the premier hinted that a “made in Manitoba” plan could satisfy the feds’ looming carbon price requirements and might also, as carbon levy dollars are returned to the provinces, eventually result in lower hydro rates for Manitobans.

Given the province’s aggressive and austerity-minded drive to reduce the deficit, the mere mention of committing incoming revenue to a rate cut for hydro users seems more like in-the-moment posturing than thoughtful policy consideration.

Still, when one considers the supports offered by the federal government to more populous regions that depend heavily on petroleum-driven industries commonly viewed as heavy polluters, there’s some measure of merit to Mr. Pallister’s call for clean-energy respect from Ottawa.

The problem now, as it was when Mr. Pallister’s notion of a homegrown alternative was first proposed in 2016, is that the made-in-Manitoba strategy remains an ethereal notion. With less than a year until the federal government’s imposition of a levy on any province that has not adopted its own carbon pricing strategy, the premier says he wants to let Manitobans have their say on what the regional approach should be.

Quebec, another large producer of hydroelectric power, has employed a cap-and-trade approach since 2013, a market-based system that allows large industrial users to buy or exchange carbon credits in order to meet a government-imposed “cap” on emissions.

Hinting at hydro rate cuts during a deficit-slaying crusade isn’t the only contradiction in Mr. Pallister’s carbon tax commentary. It’s also quite interesting to see a premier accustomed to portraying Manitoba Hydro as a deficit-digging financial albatross suddenly proclaiming the utility’s status as the province’s environmental shining star.

It’s the sort of made-in-Manitoba conundrum that will no doubt perplex this province’s residents, at least until Mr. Pallister’s carbon plan shifts from theory to practice.

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