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Manitoba’s carbon tax better for farmers than Ottawa’s: Pallister

The premier says farmers are price takers and he doesn’t want a plan
that will hurt farmers or the provincial economy

Manitoba’s carbon tax will be designed either in Manitoba or Ottawa, and Premier Brian Pallister says his version won’t undermine the provincial economy or the competitiveness of Manitoba farmers. However, details of either plan remain.

“(O)ur plan is going to be one that works far better for Manitobans,” Pallister said in an interview May 11. “And I think it will definitely work far better for the agricultural community and farm families.”

Pallister, who was raised on a farm, and whose Progressive Conservative Party won almost all the province’s farm constituencies in the last election, said he knows Manitoba farmers are price takers who can’t pass on extra costs.

“If we are losing profitability in our farm sector by living in… Manitoba, we can’t pull up our land and move,” he said. “So I am concerned about that. And I am concerned that we make sure that a good year for the farmer is a good year for Manitoba.

“The farm economy… is a big, big part of Manitoba’s overall economy.”

The premier’s comments were music to Dan Mazier’s ears.

“It definitely sounds like he’s got our backs,” Mazier, president of the Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP), said while seeding wheat near Justice, last week. “We still need to see the details. There are lots of unknowns, but I appreciate his language.”

Pallister said a carbon tax framework will be announced before harvest. Manitobans will have input on the final plan, which must be approved by the federal government.

Agriculture exemption unlikely

Speaking to reporters at the Manitoba legislature last week, Pallister seemed to suggest farmers should be exempt from a carbon tax imposed by Ottawa.

“We don’t believe that any carbon tax plan that the federal government advances should be applied to Manitoba farm families,” he said. “That’s not something that we believe should be acceptable.”

But when asked in an interview if it was inaccurate to say Manitoba’s plan would exempt agriculture, Pallister replied: “Probably, because I am talking at the farm gate here. That’s where I am concerned foremost. I don’t think we should go further than that because there are too many details yet to to be understood about the federal plan.”

KAP is willing to consider paying a carbon tax on farm inputs and services if the money can be rebated, but Premier Brian Pallister says he doesn’t like the rebate approach.
photo: Jeannette Greaves

Pallister said he wants a plan that works for farm families and that he is not convinced that the Trudeau plan will do that. But exempting the agriculture sector may not be an option.

“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.”

KAP wants farmers exempt from a carbon tax on emissions from crops or livestock production, but is willing to consider paying a carbon tax on farm inputs and services if the money can be rebated.

Pallister said he doesn’t like the rebate approach.

“You end up paying a bunch of bureaucrats to deal with paper and it’s not my favourite method,” he said.

“I am not convinced that, that kind of money into the government, money back to me, is as good as leaving the money on the kitchen table in the first place.”

Tax coming by 2018

Under the Paris agreement to mitigate climate change Canada agreed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. To that end Ottawa says every province must have a $10-a-tonne price on carbon dioxide starting in 2018, rising $10 a year to $50 by 2022. If a province doesn’t develop a carbon tax Ottawa will impose one. And while the revenue collected will remain in that province, the federal government will allocate it, according to published reports.

Manitoba farmers have been worrying and debating for months about the impact of a carbon tax, but without knowing how it will be applied, if any exemptions might apply, or whether there will be programs to help cut emissions.

That lack of information has led some farmers to fear the worst and urge Pallister to follow Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and reject a carbon tax.

“Here’s the problem,” Pallister said. “If we don’t do it we get the Trudeau plan. It’s the default plan. So that is why we’ve been working really hard on a made-in-Manitoba plan… that we think will work far better to mitigate against some of the realities that we have to face. For example, the vital importance of agriculture (and) transportation industries to Manitoba’s economy.”

Moreover, Manitoba has a significant budget deficit and its citizens have been subjected to big tax increases the last few years, Pallister said.

Last week the federal government sent the provinces what it proposes as a default plan and asked for feedback. Pallister said he couldn’t reveal the details before the federal government does.

Depending on what’s included, farmers account for 30 to 40 per cent of Manitoba’s carbon emissions, making agriculture one of the top emitters, which is not the case in most other parts of Canada. What’s unique about Manitoba is it doesn’t have huge polluting industries and most of its electricity comes from emission-free hydroelectricity, while agriculture is a large part of the economy.

“We are already greener than virtually any other jurisdiction in the country,” Pallister said, mainly because of Manitoba’s hydroelectricity.

“But by saying that I am not suggesting we shouldn’t do our part. Manitobans I think have a great reputation for always punching above our weight…”

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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