The provincial agricultural minister said he’s disappointed about the delays his government now faces implementing its made-in-Manitoba carbon tax.
The Opposition on April 5 chose to push Bill 16 forward to fall, saying Manitobans should use the time to push the government to spend the revenues on green programming.
Bill 16 will pass but this means the Progressive Conservatives’ majority must put off public hearings until fall, pushing everything into the new session which begins in November.
Had it passed by June 1, the province would have begun collecting the carbon tax Sept. 1.
Eichler, who spoke to Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP)’s spring meeting last week, said that it’s now November “at the earliest,” that this will pass.
“And I doubt if we can even get it done then, so it might be more like January 1, 2019,” he said.
Eichler called the delay “disappointing” even if it’s entirely what the Opposition is allowed to do.
“We’d hoped we’d have buy-in from the Opposition in order for us to proceed with our made-in-Manitoba plan,” he said.
“It wasn’t perfect but we know we can always tweak things if we’re prepared to have the conversation. But apparently they don’t want to have the conversation.”
The provincial government has introduced a flat $25 fee per tonne of emissions through 2022, with an estimated additional cost of about $300 annually for a household including 5.32 cents hike per litre for gasoline, 6.71 cents on diesel and 3.87 cents on propane.
Ottawa’s carbon plan calls for a $10-a-tonne levy that would increase to $20 in 2019 and to $50 per tonne by 2022.
The delay will mean a shortfall of about $60 million for the provincial treasury.
Eichler was asked by delegates what the delay could potentially mean for the provincial plan long term, given the federal government’s own plan for higher carbon levies.
He replied that while the federal government “can decide to take us to court at any time,” he’s confident the majority of Manitobans back the province’s plan.
“I do think we have the support of most Manitobans, I’m not saying all,” he said. “We know it’s not perfect… but we know Trudeau is going to be bringing one in whether we like it or not.”
The agriculture minister and Premier Brian Pallister have also said the province will exempt farmers from paying the tax on fuels used to heat and cool livestock buildings, greenhouses or to dry and store crops. Eichler said that’s not about to change.
“Our commitments on exempting fuels and heating for farms… those are still on the table,” he said.
The rules of the Legislature permit the Opposition to select up to five bills for postponement from a spring to a fall sitting. Asked about the potential for others to get delayed, Eicher said he doesn’t expect the NDP would push Bill 7 (The Sustainable Watersheds Act) to fall.
Among other things, that legislation would create a streamlined process for approving lower-impact drainage and water retention projects while introducing greater enforcements and fines to protect sensitive wetlands.
“This mirrors a lot of their legislation that we wanted to tweak just a bit,” said Eichler, adding it’s about letting farmers get on with their business.
“If they punt Bill 7 they’re dumber than I think they are,” he added.
KAP president Dan Mazier said in an interview in Portage la Prairie the delay implementing Bill 16 will create uncertainty but he thinks more discussion is needed about where carbon tax revenues will be spent.
“The province is saying, ‘this is what we want to do with it,’ but we’re not having any of that conversation. I didn’t hear any of that for the Opposition either,” he said.
“We should be asking ourselves more of a question of, ‘where is this money going?’” he said. “I think it should all come to agriculture. Let’s have that conversation. We can be part of the solution.”
Mazier said Bill 7 is a very important bill to farmers and he doesn’t want to see it pushed forward.