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Wab Kinew fails the carbon tax test

Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/8/2019 (347 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Wab Kinew’s carbon tax announcement is the strongest sign yet the rookie NDP leader is not ready for prime time.

On Monday, Kinew said if the NDP wins government Sept. 10, it would "negotiate" with Ottawa to limit the carbon tax in Manitoba to $20 a tonne.

That would be a neat trick, considering the federal Liberals have not only been adamant a $50-per-tonne carbon tax in all provinces by 2022 is non-negotiable, they’re already hinting at a higher one should they get re-elected in October.

The feds have made it clear a carbon tax must be charged in every province, starting at $20 per tonne this year, and rising a further $10 a year until 2022. If a province refuses, Ottawa will charge the tax on its own — which it started doing in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick.

It’s a federal tax; like any other federal tax, the province has no jurisdiction over it.

Promising to alter it in any way through negotiations is not just naive, it’s misinformed. The Manitoba NDP can’t change the federal carbon tax any more than it could negotiate a lower GST rate.

Manitoba NDP Party Leader Wab Kinew announced his party's carbon plan on Monday.

SASHA SEFTER / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Manitoba NDP Party Leader Wab Kinew announced his party's carbon plan on Monday.

Kinew’s election pledge also includes a promise to return most of the carbon tax revenue to Manitobans in the form of an annual $350 rebate on Manitoba Hydro bills. It's designed to encourage people "to go green," he said.

That would also be a neat trick, since it’s not provincial revenue, it’s federal money.

The only way it could become provincial money is if Manitoba agreed to charge its own carbon tax and raise it to $50 per tonne by 2022. Unless Kinew is promising that — and he isn’t — the province can’t tell Ottawa how to spend its money.

Besides, Ottawa is already returning most of the carbon tax revenue to Manitobans in the form of an income tax rebate. The NDP’s proposed Hydro rebate would simply replace that, if the province began charging a carbon tax on its own.

Even if Kinew and the NDP could use carbon tax revenue to provide Manitoba Hydro customers with a $350 rebate, there’s no incentive in the plan to use that money to reduce emissions or to become more energy efficient. The rebate, given with no strings attached, could be spent on anything the Hydro customer wishes — such as buying more gasoline for the family SUV or turning up the heat on the gas furnace.

"Our plan will return the same amount to families as the current carbon tax regime — but it will be better for the environment because it links affordability to a clean source of energy," a nonsensical NDP news release said Monday.

Kinew promised a $350 hydro rebate on Monday.

SASHA SEFTER / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Kinew promised a $350 hydro rebate on Monday.

Kinew further said the proposed $350 rebate would make "life more affordable" for Manitobans and make it easier for people to make "green" choices when buying a new furnace, new home windows or a new car.

That makes even less sense.

If Manitobans are paying a carbon tax and the money is returned to them in the form of a Hydro rebate, it would essentially be a wash (like it is now under the federal tax).

It would be revenue neutral. Manitobans would be no further ahead financially. There would be no extra money to buy new windows.

"If you are a young person looking for a good career, this plan will help you," Kinew said. "If you work in the building trades or at a company that makes windows, this plan will help you."

This is a hot mess. It’s amateur hour.

It is one thing to overreach in election campaigns and make pledges that may be difficult to keep. We’re all used to that.

But to demonstrate such a weak grasp of federal-provincial relations — and to present something that would get a failing mark in a Grade 9 economics class — shows Kinew has a long way to go before he can be taken seriously as a leader of a major party seeking to again form government.

tom.brodbeck@freepress.mb.ca

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck
Columnist

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.

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