Premier fi­nally re­al­ized he had to aban­don a pro-tax plan

Winnipeg Sun - - FRONT PAGE - TOM BRODBECK tbrod­beck@post­ @tombrod­beck­­inghell

Premier Brian Pallister says the main rea­son he flipflopped on the con­tro­ver­sial car­bon tax is be­cause the fed­eral gov­ern­ment wouldn’t al­low Man­i­toba to im­pose a lower tax than Ottawa was man­dat­ing.

It’s a piti­ful ra­tio­nal­iza­tion, es­pe­cially since the fed­eral gov­ern­ment never once said, hinted or sug­gested that it would spare any prov­ince from a $50-per-tonne fed­eral car­bon tax if a prov­ince failed to charge its own levy at that level.

That was the whole point be­hind the fed­eral Lib­eral’s “back­stop” car­bon tax plan. If any prov­ince failed to im­pose a $50-per-tonne tax by 2022, Ottawa would im­pose its own, or make up the dif­fer­ence if a provin­cial tax fell be­low the re­quired thresh­old. It didn’t mat­ter what else a prov­ince was do­ing to re­duce green­house gas emis­sions or what its GHG record was. Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau pro­claimed from the very be­gin­ning that ev­ery prov­ince must have a $50-per-tonne tax, or Ottawa would im­pose its own. No ex­cep­tions, no spe­cial deals, no half mea­sures.

Even the $40,000 le­gal opin­ion Pallister com­mis­sioned on the fed­eral car­bon tax was un­equiv­o­cal on that point.

“The pro­posed fed­eral car­bon tax/levy would ap­pear to limit the range of ac­cept­able provin­cial car­bon pric­ing mea­sures,” wrote Univer­sity of Man­i­toba law pro­fes­sor Bryan Schwartz in his le­gal opin­ion re­leased last year. “These provin­cial mea­sures must con­form to the fed­eral bench­marks for ei­ther a car­bon tax/levy or a cap-and­trade regime – if not, the fed­eral car­bon tax/levy will di­rectly ap­ply in the prov­ince.”

No wig­gle room there.

If a prov­ince brought in a $25-per-tonne car­bon tax, for ex­am­ple – as Pallister had planned to do – the feds would “back­stop” it, or top it up, with a fed­eral tax of $25 to get it to $50. There was no flex­i­bil­ity there, Schwartz found.

“It should be noted that the fed­eral bench­mark re­quires each prov­ince to in­di­vid­u­ally adopt mea­sures as strin­gent as those that are re­quired on an over­all Canada-wide ba­sis, to achieve Canada’s emis­sion re­duc­tion com­mit­ments,” wrote Schwartz. “There is no flex­i­bil­ity for a prov­ince to adopt less strin­gent mea­sures that might be based on eq­ui­table con­sid­er­a­tions…”

From the very start, the feds made no al­lowance for al­ter­na­tive pric­ing. They also made no al­lowance for home-grown emis­sions re­duc­tion plans, like Pallister’s “Made-in-man­i­toba” green plan. There had to be a $50-per-tonne car­bon tax, pe­riod, or Ottawa would charge its own. It’s the very rea­son Pallister con­tin­ued to re­peat his lame slo­gan of “if we say no we get Trudeau” right up un­til the time he flip flopped on it.

“There is no flex­i­bil­ity pro­vided to a prov­ince which ac­tu­ally adopts al­ter­na­tive mea­sures to re­duce GHG emis­sions that are as strin­gent as car­bon pric­ing,” Schwartz wrote. “A prov­ince that re­duces its net emis­sions by a com­bi­na­tion of other means ap­par­ently would not es­cape the ap­pli­ca­tion of fed­eral car­bon tax/levy mea­sures.”

It was pretty clear.

So for Pallister to now claim that some­thing has changed, that Man­i­toba was no longer go­ing to charge a car­bon tax be­cause Ottawa wasn’t show­ing the prov­ince any flex­i­bil­ity to charge a lower one is be­yond disin­gen­u­ous. It’s a flat out false­hood.

Noth­ing has changed from Ottawa’s point of view. Pallister changed his mind. He was get­ting mount­ing pres­sure from his base, he didn’t like the prospect of be­ing the only con­ser­va­tive premier stand­ing shoul­der-to-shoul­der with Trudeau in sup­port of a car­bon tax of any kind so he flip flopped. He screwed up. He got bad ad­vice, which he wrongly ac­cepted, and he fi­nally re­al­ized he had to aban­don a pro-tax plan he should never have em­braced in the first place.

What it does re­veal, though, is poor judge­ment on the premier’s part. He was will­ing to ac­cept a new tax for Man­i­to­bans, a tax his own bud­get showed would re­sult in a net in­crease for tax­pay­ers, if he could get away with it. In the end, he couldn’t get away with it.

And that’s the only rea­son he dropped this tax.


Premier Brian Pallister re­al­ized he just couldn’t get away with im­pos­ing a new tax on Man­i­to­bans.

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