'Saying no is not an option’-Pallister


Province unveils green plan alternative

By Kate Jackman-Atkinson

Neepawa Banner & Press

Acknowledging the need to address climate change, last week, the provincial government released their climate and green plan. In announcing the plan, premier Brian Pallister and Sustainable Development minister Rochelle Squires stressed that this “Made in Manitoba” solution would meet the needs of Manitobans, while also reducing the province’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The plan was released following close to a year of development, which included consultation with various stakeholders. The document released to the public on Oct. 27 will undergo a consultation period before implementation begins next year.

‘Balanced approach’

“This is a very important announcement,” said Pallister, adding that the plan will work for the province’s economy and the environment, while also respecting Manitoba’s role as one of Canada’s greenest provinces. He noted that through hydroelectric dams, Manitoba has been investing in clean energy since 1906.  Unlike other provinces, 99 per cent of Manitoba’s electricity comes from clean, renewable sources, which means that the province’s greenhouse gas output is currently about half of what it would otherwise be.

Squires stressed the need for Manitobans to have a concrete plant to fight climate change, “Climate change is real… Doing nothing is not an option.” She noted that Manitobans are already seeing the effects of climate change, including more severe weather, such as floods and droughts, and concerns over decreasing habitat for animals, such as polar bears.

Pallister explained that in crafting the plan, they have taken a “balanced approach”, weighing both the economy and the environment. The plan is based four pillars: climate, jobs, water and nature, with each pillar having four keystones. Under the climate pillar, the focus will be on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and investing in clean energy.  Under the jobs pillar, the focus will be on using sustainable development to create new jobs and helping small and medium businesses adapt through financing and investment tools. Under the water pillar, the focus will be on both the quality and quantity of water, which includes mitigating the risks of both flood and drought. Under the nature pillar, the focus will be on respecting nature, including obtaining a UNESCO designation for part of the province’s boreal forest, and recognizing the the ability of undeveloped and wilderness lands to act as a carbon sink.


$25 a tonne levy to be implemented

The plan includes a carbon tax and Pallister was clear about the need to implement some form of carbon pricing. While Pallister’s government has pushed back against the federal government’s mandate that all provinces implement a price for carbon by the end of 2018, an independent legal opinion sought this summer concluded that the federal government would be within its jurisdiction to force provinces to accept a national carbon pricing plan should no provincial plan be in place. “Saying ‘no’ is not an option… If we say ‘no’, we get Trudeau,” said Pallister, explaining that without a made-in-Manitoba solution, the less desirable federal plan would be forced on the province. He added that the goal of their plan is to see Manitoba become Canada’s greenest and most climate resilient province.

The federal government has said that all provinces must have either a cap-and-trade or carbon levy plan in place by the end of 2018. As cap-and-trade programs apply only to large emitters, of which there are few in Manitoba, the province has chosen to implement a carbon levy, which would be spread among all Manitobans. “A carbon levy is simpler and more effective for Manitoba. It can cover more emissions in our economy, leading to more reductions, which is the goal. It gives price certainty to business, helping them plan and invest accordingly. And it costs less to put in place than any other system,” explains the plan. Having their own plan will also allow the province to redistribute the levy money collected based on provincial priorities, as opposed to federal ones.

While the federal plan will begin with a $10 per tonne levy in 2018, it would rise by $10 each year, ending at $50 a tonne in 2022.  Manitoba’s plan will start at $25 per tonne and remain at that level for the next five years. “We call it the Prairie Price – low and level, like the prairies,” said Pallister. “It’s the perfect level that respects what we’ve done for centuries on green technology,” he said about their price point. Pallister noted this price will influence consumption behaviours, but also offer certainty to help Manitobans adapt. Calculations done by the provincial government, and included in the plan document, show that this flat price will cost Manitobans less overall than Ottawa’s plan, while also resulting in a larger reduction in carbon emissions.

One of the areas in which the government is most looking for feedback from Manitobans is how the $260 million in annual revenue collected from the levy should be redistributed. Previously, Manitobans have said that they would like to see this money used to offer relief to households, especially those in middle and lower income brackets, or invested in green projects, business competitiveness, clean technologies and helping Manitoba adapt to a changing climate.

Agricultural exemption

While specific sectors will also be singled out for targeted reductions in emissions, agriculture will, for the most part, be exempt. During the announcement, Pallister noted the important role farmers play in the province’s economy. He added that they are usually international and domestic price takers, with a very limited ability to pass on costs, as well as being on the front lines of dealing with changing and challenging weather. “They know the consequences of not taking action,” he said of the province’s farmers.

The Made-in-Manitoba plan includes two exemptions for farm operations.  The first will be an exemption from the carbon levy for marked fuels, both diesel and gasoline. The second will be that agricultural emissions won’t be targeted through sector specific reductions.  However, he added that policies will be developed to help reduce the sector’s emissions, which account for about 32 per cent of the province’s total emissions.

For farmers looking to reduce their environmental footprint, the plan includes proposed initiatives for agricultural lands to offer province-wide ecological goods and services, including further use of agricultural land for carbon storage and water management.

Over the plan’s first five years, the province is expecting to see a cumulative reduction in emissions between 2.3 and 2.6 million tonnes. While the bulk of this, over                     1 million tonnes, will come from a carbon levy, other large reductions are expected to come from a five per cent biodiesel mandate (360,000 to 431,000 tonnes); Efficiency MB, a new, stand-alone agency to reduce electricity and natural gas consumption through products and programs, including green heating and green buildings (342,000 tonnes); and establishing a target to divert organics from landfills (270,000).

“This is the best plan I’ve seen in Canada,” said Pallister, adding, “We’ve got to get behind it and protect our province.” Squires noted that the plan will be open to consultation and input from the public at www.manitobaclimategreenplan.ca until the end of November.