Pal­lis­ter’s cli­mate plan a solid start

Winnipeg Free Press - - TANK - MARK CAMERON

REMIER Brian Pal­lis­ter has re­leased his gov­ern­ment’s long-awaited “made in Man­i­toba” cli­mate and green plan. While there is room for im­prove­ment, it is a solid start for Man­i­toba on cli­mate pol­icy, and one with im­por­tant im­pli­ca­tions across the coun­try.

Pal­lis­ter’s plan is the first time that a Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment has in­tro­duced a broad-based car­bon price in Canada. While B.C. and Que­bec brought in car­bon pric­ing un­der the cen­tre-right gov­ern­ments of Gor­don Camp­bell and Jean Charest, their par­ties were la­belled “Lib­eral,” and Al­berta’s for­mer PC gov­ern­ment had only a lim­ited car­bon price regime for large emit­ters.

The pol­i­tics of car­bon pric­ing have be­come more po­lar­ized across the coun­try since then, with most Con­ser­va­tives lin­ing up against it. But here we have a Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment, led by a for­mer Stephen Harper MP, bring­ing in a car­bon tax. This shows that you can be a Con­ser­va­tive and still care about cli­mate change and the en­vi­ron­ment.

That tax will start at $25 per tonne, which is the high­est ini­tial rate of any car­bon price in Canada. True, the plan does not an­tic­i­pate any in­crease in prices over the first five years, but by start­ing at a rel­a­tively high price Man­i­toba has in­di­cated that it is se­ri­ous about pric­ing car­bon and re­duc­ing emis­sions.

Man­i­toba has shown that it wants to be mas­ter of its own fate. The gov­ern­ment has an­nounced it will con­sult widely on the po­ten­tial use of car­bon rev­enues — ex­pected to be around $260 mil­lion per year — while putting the pri­or­ity on eas­ing the bur­den on low- and mid­dle-in­come house­holds.

PMan­i­toba is chart­ing its own course rather than wait­ing for Ot­tawa to im­pose a fed­eral car­bon tax. Man­i­toba’s own le­gal opin­ion, by re­spected Univer­sity of Man­i­toba law pro­fes­sor Bryan Schwartz, con­cluded that the prov­ince would have no le­gal abil­ity to with­stand a fed­eral car­bon price. If Man­i­toba waited for Ot­tawa to act, it would be up to the Trudeau gov­ern­ment to de­cide how to spend any car­bon-tax rev­enues.

This is some­thing that Man­i­toba’s neigh­bours in Saskatchewan and other prov­inces should keep in mind — fail­ure to bring in their own car­bon price will lead to a uni­lat­eral im­po­si­tion of the fed­eral plan, and a loss of con­trol over where the money goes.

Man­i­toba was also wise to adopt out­put-based pric­ing for its large in­dus­trial emit­ters. This will al­low large emit­ters, many in ex­port-ori­ented sec­tors such as fer­til­izer or min­er­als, to be re­warded for re­duc­ing their emis­sions but also main­tain their com­pet­i­tive­ness in­ter­na­tion­ally.

The cli­mate plan con­tains other wor­thy ideas, from waste di­ver­sion to greater use of biofuels to elec­tri­fy­ing buses, that will re­sult in more emis­sions re­duc­tions. Where pos­si­ble, Man­i­toba should use car­bon pric­ing as its main method of re­duc­ing emis­sions, us­ing ad­di­tional mea­sures only where they can achieve greater re­duc­tions at lower cost.

Man­i­toba’s plan isn’t per­fect, and many de­tails re­main to be worked out. In our view, while a $25-per-tonne car­bon price is a good start­ing point, the plan would have been stronger if it had in­di­cated planned in­creases. Busi­nesses and con­sumers will re­act more strongly to a car­bon price sig­nal if they be­lieve that the price is likely to rise in fu­ture years.

A higher car­bon price will only be ac­cept­able to cit­i­zens if they don’t be­lieve the money will sim­ply be swal­lowed up by other gov­ern­ment pro­grams. The Pal­lis­ter gov­ern­ment should com­mit to mak­ing their plan rev­enue-neu­tral and re­turn­ing 100 per cent of car­bon rev­enues to tax­pay­ers. In par­tic­u­lar, Man­i­toba should en­sure that lower- and mid­dle-in­come house­holds will not face a higher cost of liv­ing, per­haps through a direct re­bate to house­holds.

Some have crit­i­cized the plan for not com­mit­ting to the fed­eral tar­get of re­duc­ing green­house gases by 30 per cent be­low 2005 lev­els by 2030. But that is a na­tional tar­get, and it is hard to imag­ine how Man­i­toba, act­ing alone, could achieve that level of re­duc­tions in­ter­nally. Man­i­toba has 99 per cent clean elec­tric­ity al­ready, thanks to its abun­dant hy­dro re­sources, and has much higher lev­els of agri­cul­tural emis­sions than most prov­inces, which are not cov­ered by car­bon­pric­ing sys­tems.

Achiev­ing a 30 per cent re­duc­tion from the re­main­ing emis­sions in such ar­eas as trans­porta­tion and build­ings would be a very dif­fi­cult goal in­deed. What Man­i­toba should be mea­sured against is whether its ef­forts are com­pa­ra­ble with the ef­forts of other ju­ris­dic­tions. On that level, Man­i­toba’s plan lines up well with the plans of other prov­inces.

With his “made in Man­i­toba” cli­mate plan, Brian Pal­lis­ter has shown that one can be a solid fis­cal con­ser­va­tive but still re­spect cli­mate science and care about the en­vi­ron­ment. It re­minds us, as the late Amer­i­can con­ser­va­tive thinker Rus­sell Kirk put it, that “noth­ing is more con­ser­va­tive than con­ser­va­tion.”

BORIS MINKEVICH / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

Pre­mier Brian Pal­lis­ter (right) at­tends the for­mal an­nounce­ment of the prov­ince’s cli­mate and green plan on Fri­day.

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