Manitoba soured on being ‘used as a prop’ by federal government in carbon tax debate: premier

The same visit to Winnipeg where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pointed to Brian Pallister as an example of a “conservative” supporter of a carbon tax is when discussions between the two governments took a turn, the Manitoba premier suggested Thursday.

“I don’t think anybody likes to be used as a prop,” Pallister told reporters, after he was grilled during question period about scrapping the carbon tax from Manitoba’s green plan.

On Wednesday, Pallister announced he was abandoning his “made in Manitoba” plan to tax carbon dioxide emissions at a price of $25/tonne. He said Manitoba will instead focus on further developing clean hydroelectric power, phasing out coal and recycling “more and better.”

Though reluctant Thursday to pinpoint the exact moment he ditched his carbon tax plan, Pallister said his private meeting three weeks ago with Trudeau demonstrated the federal government was intent on imposing its escalating carbon tax. 

The federal government’s plan calls for a carbon tax rising annually to the $50 per tonne mark by 2022. 

Pallister said he tried to bargain with other government officials afterwards to no avail.

The Progressive Conservatives maintained they chose to abandon the carbon tax because the federal government was not giving Manitoba credit for its green record.

The perceived disrespect convinced the province to defy Trudeau’s carbon-pricing strategy and join other conservative premiers, including Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe and Ontario’s Doug Ford, in opposing the federal government’s proposal.

Reluctant at first, Pallister decided to implement a carbon tax earlier this year after receiving a legal opinion that suggested Ottawa was within its constitutional rights to impose the tax on provinces.

‘A total flip-flop’: NDP

Pallister refused to classify his government’s decision as a reversal, saying he’s been condemning Ottawa’s carbon scheme for months. 

That claim drew a chuckle from NDP Leader Wab Kinew.

“This was a remarkable about-face. This was a total flip-flop by the premier,” he told reporters.

“It’s not just an about-face, it’s also a mistake. We have, essentially, a meaningless bill that we’ll be voting on and it’s not good, because we need to do something to protect the environment here in Manitoba.”

Manitoba’s climate legislation still needs to pass in the legislature. Pallister said that amendments would be proposed to the bill next week. 

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said Pallister shouldn’t be pointing any fingers at the prime minister. 

“The premier is never responsible for any of his actions, as far as I can tell,” he said. “This was absolutely his choice and his decision to make.”

With files from John Paul Tasker