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Legal opinion backs Pallister’s approach to carbon pricing

Manitoba’s ‘Green Plan’ to cut emissions will be out soon and the premier says he wants Manitobans’ feedback

Manitoba’s decision to develop its own plan to cut carbon emissions, to be released soon, has been vindicated, says Premier Brian Pallister.

“If we just say no, we get Trudeau,” Pallister told reporters Oct. 11 after the provincial government released a report prepared by Bryan Schwartz, a University of Manitoba law professor, that concludes the federal government has the constitutional power to impose a carbon tax on the provinces.

  • Read more: Manitobans will see carbon price plan soon

As part of Canada’s commitment to cutting carbon emissions in the battle to slow climate change the federal government says it will impose a $50-a-tonne carbon tax, starting at $10 in 2018 and peaking by 2022, if provinces don’t do it themselves.

While Pallister favours cutting emissions, he said Ottawa’s plan doesn’t reflect Manitoba’s “unique” situation, including that its citizens have, and will continue to, pay billions of dollars developing almost-emissions-free hydro electricity, and that farming and trucking, both relatively big emitters, make up a big part of the provincial economy.

“I now have a legal opinion that should we go ahead with our plan, and we can demonstrate… that it will work better than the fed’s at eating carbon, then it would be very likely that the federal government would be unable to dismantle our plan in favour of its own,” Pallister said. “I think that’s a very important aspect of the legal ruling that we just received.”

If Ottawa implements its carbon tax, it will decide how the revenues are spent in Manitoba, Pallister said.

“We will lose all control,” he said.

“If the federal government invokes its plan it decides on its priorities and redistributes the money based on what it thinks is best for our province. So I think that is one aspect we have to ask Manitobans their views on. Clearly I really think we have some Manitoba priorities, and we also have a Manitoba record that deserves respect and recognition.”

Schwartz’s report cost $40,000 Pallister said, but added fighting Ottawa all the way to the Supreme Court and then losing, would be much more costly.

“I certainly did not want to waste a bunch of taxpayers’ hard-earned money…” he said.

A leaked document suggested Manitoba’s plan will include a $25-a-tonne carbon tax — half of what Ottawa wants imposed by 2022. Pallister declined to comment on the report.

However, he stressed taxing carbon will only be one part of Manitoba’s Green Plan.

The Manitoba government has been consulting on its plan for months with interest groups, including farm organizations. Nevertheless, when the plan is released in two or three weeks, all Manitobans will have an opportunity to provide feedback, Pallister said.

While the plan will contain many details, the government still wants citizen input on such things as whether a carbon tax should start low and be raised over time, or start at the full amount.

It also wants to hear how revenues raised by taxing carbon should be used. Options include making the tax revenue neutral, or investing money in projects designed to cut emissions.

“I do think there is a danger, in a province that is as overtaxed as we have been over a long period of time… to our economy in having too much of an erosion of purchasing power at the kitchen table,” Pallister said. “So we want that discussion to happen and we want to make sure that we get the perspectives of Manitobans, whether they are green like me or they’re not, or they are concerned with making sure there’s not too much erosion of their purchasing power at home and that’s their top priority, or whether they are concerned with the carbon reduction side. We’ve got a great province with diverse points of view. We want to hear from Manitobans on this issue.”

Pallister dodged the question when asked if revenues would be sent to Manitoba Hydro to offset rate increases.

To meet the federal government’s minimum requirements for reducing carbon, Manitoba’s plan must be as effective in cutting emission’s, Pallister confirmed.

When asked who decides which plan is better, he replied: “That’s the wonderful thing about public policy-making. If I can get enough Manitobans engaged in this process then Manitobans get to decide because it’s going to be pretty hard for the federal government, based on what we’ve learned from the legal expert, to overrule our plan if Manitobans like it and it works better than theirs (Ottawa’s).”

Manitoba’s plan is expected to recognize many farmers can’t pass on a carbon tax because commodity prices are set in the world market.

“We don’t believe that any carbon tax plan that the federal government advances should be applied to Manitoba farm families,” Pallister said in an interview May 11.

But when asked if it was inaccurate to say Manitoba’s plan would exempt agriculture, Pallister replied: “Probably, because I am talking at the farm gate here.

“By saying that (we’re going to exempt agriculture) you’d be saying all related and secondary suppliers and so on… (and I) don’t think we can realistically make that claim.

“But I do want you to get the general gist that we are very concerned where people cannot recover an input cost… in particular when they are in an industry as critical as agriculture is to the province of Manitoba.”

The Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) has called for an exemption of carbon tax on farm fuel, including barn heating.

KAP hasn’t seen Manitoba’s plan, but a provincially developed approach, is more likely to meet citizens’ needs, president Dan Mazier said in an interview Oct. 12.

KAP is pleased the province is committed to additional consultations, Mazier said.

“I expect a robust discussion,” he said.

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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