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Manitoba’s ‘climate and green’ plan good policy, smart politics

It's often easier and safer to oppose something than to come up with a plan and implement it

The “Made-in-Manitoba Climate and Green Plan” is smart politics, but more importantly could be good policy.

That latter hinges on the plan to cut carbon emissions by up to 2.6 million tonnes by 2022 working.

But there’s a possibility it might not be implemented, or at least not fully. The federal government says Manitoba’s flat $25-a-tonne carbon is only half of what’s required by 2022.

Instead of fighting Ottawa’s plan for a $10-a-tonne carbon tax starting next year and rising to $50 by 2022, Premier Brian Pallister wisely opted to develop his own strategy, which as he said at its unveiling at Oak Hammock Marsh Oct. 27, is “much, much, much more” than just a carbon tax.

Only half the targeted reductions stem from the tax.

“Our goal is to be Canada’s cleanest, greenest and most climate-resilient province,” Pallister told reporters atop Ducks Unlimited’s education centre overlooking the marsh.

“The environment and economy aren’t separate entities. They go together. And you cannot focus on one while ignoring the other.”

Manitoba’s long-awaited carbon tax and green plan offers a comprehensive, in-depth, integrated approach to one of the most challenging issues of our time, complicated by the fact that our world — and for the citizens of wealthy nations, our lifestyles — run on carbon-emitting fossil fuels.

Pallister, who calls himself an environmentalist, and says climate change is real and affecting the world today, seems sincere. He isn’t worried his plan might not show immediate results.

“I am concerned that it has taken a long time for governments around the world to get at this problem,” he said sparking applause among civic and industrial leaders present for the announcement. “I am concerned that we don’t look at short-term, quick-fix solutions… pretending that’s going to change anything.

“I want us to have a plan that works over time. Some things do take time to evolve…”

The plan acknowledges governments have committed to cutting carbon before and failed, breeding cynicism.

“The goal must be actual, ongoing emissions reductions, not a false distant target never to be achieved,” the plan says.

“Our focus should therefore be on consistently reducing cumulative emissions over time.”

To ensure Manitoba sticks to its commitments, the government proposes to create an expert advisory commission “with an independent mandate to review our collective progress on the climate and green plan, assist with its implementation and give needed advice on next steps.”

The early reviews are good. Predictably Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) president Dan Mazier welcomed the carbon tax exemption on farm fuel, as did the Manitoba Beef Producers.

The Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association, which says grasslands play a big role in storing carbon, supports the plan.

But a climate change expert is also encouraged.

“I think it’s really exciting the Province of Manitoba is getting on board with serious climate action,” Ian Mauro, associate professor of geography at the University of Winnipeg and co-director of the Prairie Climate Centre, said in an interview Oct. 27. “I think the opportunity to have a Conservative-led government taking climate change seriously and signalling that they want to have action is very helpful.

“We could have (climate change) denial, but that is not what happened today. There was an acknowledgment that climate change is real. There was an acknowledgment that we need to do something about it. There was a framework document put in place that signals the direction and all of that is very beneficial and very good.

“Society should not be afraid of this moment. We’re gently being eased into it with this plan, but the opportunity to have an investment in this way of thinking now, the payoff in the future is massive.

“Let’s try and push forward as Manitobans and make sure that we actually contribute to a successful process.”

Ideally good policy and good politics would be one in the same, but that’s not always so in the real world, especially in these hyper-partisan days of ‘winner take all,’ amplified in the echo chambers of Twitter and Facebook, usurping traditional democratic tenets of compromise and consensus building.

Pallister didn’t give in to his lesser angels to fight Ottawa’s pernicious carbon tax, contrary to demands from some Progressive Conservative members, even after threats they would create a new party to challenge him.

Pallister astutely suspected Ottawa had the authority to impose such a tax, later verified by University of Manitoba law professor, Bryan Schwartz.

Instead Pallister risked political capital, and claims to have developed a better plan — one that will cut more carbon emissions than Ottawa’s, be cheaper, and lets the Manitoba government, not Ottawa, decide how to spend the estimated $258 million a year the Manitoba carbon tax is expected to generate.

Manitobans should get credit for their investment in hydro electricity, Pallister says. Without it Manitoba’s annual emissions would be 42 megatonnes — double the current 21. Regulators don’t give credits retroactively, however, Manitobans’ hydro investment is ongoing.

Brian Pallister has a lot riding on this. Even if he is able to fully implement the plan there’s no guarantee it will work.

Meanwhile, nobody likes paying more to run their cars or heat their homes with natural gas, and a five-year plan allows some breathing room.

If Ottawa chooses to invoke its carbon tax, expect Pallister to fight. If he wins, he wins. And if loses he still wins, at least politically.

Pallister can truthfully say he tried to do the right thing for Manitoba’s environment and economy and in the eyes of many voters, Trudeau and the Liberal federal government will be the bad guys.

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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