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Feds go around Manitoba government to get carbon tax funds to schools

Ottawa is going around the Manitoba government in order to give $5.4 million in carbon tax revenues to the province’s schools in the latest carbon-tax battle between the federal Liberals and a provincial Conservative government.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister last month refused to play ball and help the federal government distribute carbon tax revenues so schools in his province could make energy efficient upgrades.

Manitoba’s share is from $60 million available this year for schools in the four provinces affected by the federal carbon price – Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.

Although all four governments are opposing the tax in court, only Manitoba wouldn’t agree to work with the federal Liberals to distribute the funds to local school boards.

Ottawa expects to raise about $2.3 billion this year from the $20 levy it is applying to fuels for every tonne of greenhouse gas emissions they produce when burned. Ninety per cent is being returned to individual households through income tax rebates, but some was set aside to help small businesses, schools, universities, hospitals, municipalities and Indigenous communities.

Alan Campbell, president of the Manitoba School Boards Association, said he felt the need to step in after federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said the funds for Manitoba schools would be instead go to municipal governments, hospitals and universities.

He said school boards have higher costs because of the carbon tax, including for heating school buildings – some of which are a century old – and running bus fleets. He said board trustees have to do what they can to avoid raising school taxes to cover those additional costs.

“This opportunity for us to take some of the revenue that’s been generated through that tax and reinvest it into the schools that are owned by the communities that we represent is important,” he said.

Campbell acknowledged there were some concerns raised about wading into the political hostilities around the carbon tax because the association and school boards are not partisan. But he said in the end it was more important to not let Manitoba schools miss out on funds that can help them reduce carbon tax costs by investing in things like better windows and more efficient furnaces.

In a statement last week, McKenna said the goal was only to help schools.

“We were disappointed that, in Manitoba, the option proposed for schools to get their share of the revenues from our climate plan could not proceed as originally planned,” she said. “But where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

The school boards association contacted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on July 24th. Campbell said once talks began, “it was hours and days” before the agreement was developed.

Pallister said Wednesday he didn’t “oppose” the money for schools, but rather that it would be “unprincipled” for the government to take money from carbon tax revenues since Manitoba doesn’t agree with the measure.

“I said that Manitoba is not going to be part of a mirage,” he said.

Manitoba is one of three provinces with a court challenge against the federal government’s decision to impose a carbon price on provinces that didn’t have their own, equivalent carbon pricing system. Courts in Saskatchewan and Ontario have rejected provincial arguments in separate decisions this spring, and both rulings are being appealed.

Manitoba was going to impose its own carbon tax initially, but Pallister suddenly scrapped that plan last October.

The school boards association will receive the funds through an agreement with Ottawa, and then distribute them, likely on a per student basis, to school boards who can show they will use them for the intended purpose.

 

 


‘Contradiction there:’ Manitoba eyes looser holiday shopping rules

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister is considering whether to loosen a law that limits holiday store openings and says he agrees with one business owner who has complained that some shops shouldn’t be forced to close while casinos and liquor outlets stay open.

“There’s a contradiction there, for sure,” Pallister said last week.

“I know there’s discussion going on right now at various levels in the government and departmentally about this issue. In my view, this would be a decision best made by municipalities.”

A Winnipeg family that owns five small grocery stores was ticketed this year for opening on Good Friday and is expecting to be penalized again this summer.

Ramsey Zeid, who manages one of the Food Fare grocery stores, said he and his relatives plan to continue opening on holidays in defiance of the law, which he calls among the strictest in Canada.

“There are customers that come into the city that have family here – that can’t believe that this law still exists here – from Ontario, from Alberta, from British Columbia, from Quebec,” said Zeid.

“They’re always like, ‘Seriously, you can’t open?”’

The Manitoba law is complex. Tourism outlets, restaurants, liquor and cannabis stores, pharmacies and casinos can open on holidays, as can any store that normally operates with four or fewer workers at a time.

Other businesses, including stores that have more than four employees working, can open on some holidays such as Victoria Day and Louis Riel Day, but not on six holidays that include Christmas, New Year’s Day and Canada Day.

Fines can range up to $10,000 a day.

Sunday openings used to be strictly limited as well, but the province decided years ago to allow municipalities to decide whether to allow retailers to open that day.

Pallister said he could not make any announcements immediately. The province is in a pre-election blackout on government advertising and promotion.

Pallister indicated he may have more to say closer to the Sept. 10 provincial vote.

“You know my respect for small business people … but it’s the law. So we’ll have to take a look at changing the law, right? And that’s underway. That discussion is happening.”


New Manitoba plan contains no carbon tax, higher carbon emissions level

The Manitoba government is watering down its target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and removing any possible carbon tax from the equation.

Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires announced Monday that the Progressive Conservative government is aiming to reduce annual emissions by one megatonne of carbon dioxide equivalent between 2018 and 2022.

That’s less than half the almost 2 1/2-megatonne reduction target the Tories originally announced in 2017.

The main reason for the change is that the province is no longer assuming a carbon tax will be around.

“We’ve removed the carbon-pricing element from our plan and are moving forward with getting real emissions reductions,” Squires told The Canadian Press on Monday.

“(There are) several more initiatives to come that will help us transition to a low-carbon future without imposing a tax on Manitobans.”

Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the government is moving in the wrong direction.

“Reducing the emissions targets will not protect the environment in the way that we need to for the next generation,” Kinew said.

“And it seems like the government, in this announcement, is also agreeing that putting a price on pollution is an effective way to reduce emissions.”

The Tory government proposed a flat $25 per tonne carbon tax in its 2017 plan _ an increase that works out to just over five cents a litre on gasoline.

The federal government said that was not high enough and insisted the province match the federal level that starts at $20 a tonne and is to rise to $50 by 2022.

Manitoba backed off its tax plan entirely last year, so Ottawa imposed its own levy in April. It has also done so in Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick, which also refused to meet the federal demand.

The future of the federal tax is in question. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has promised to scrap it if his party is elected this fall. Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Ontario are fighting the tax in court.

Saskatchewan’s Court of Appeal ruled in a split decision last month that the tax is constitutional. The province is appealing that ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Squires said the Manitoba government is establishing firm, achievable targets and will meet them through initiatives such as a plan she announced Monday to subsidize the trucking industry for purchases of energy-efficient equipment.

The previous NDP government set emissions targets and failed to reach them _ a fact highlighted by the province’s auditor general in 2017.

Kinew has promised to make the province carbon-neutral by 2050 if he is elected premier. He has also said he would impose a price on carbon which, like the federal one, would be at least partially offset by rebates.

He is not yet prepared to say what that price would be.

“We will have to look at the federal landscape. We want to get a good deal for Manitobans that balances the environment but also keeping life affordable for people,” Kinew said.


Manitoba files separate court action over federal carbon tax, seeks review

The Manitoba government has filed its own court challenge of the federal government’s carbon tax, following similar moves by Ontario and Saskatchewan.

In documents filed in Federal Court on Wednesday, the Manitoba government seeks a judicial review to quash the federal tax on the grounds it exceeds Ottawa’s constitutional authority.

“The (federal carbon-tax law) falls outside of Parliament’s jurisdiction,” says the notice of application.

Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick (all provinces lead by conservative governments) have refused federal Liberal demands to enact their own carbon levies. That prompted Ottawa to impose its own tax in those provinces, which started April 1 at $20 per tonne and will rise to $50 per tonne by 2022.

“The conduct by the federal government is unfair to Manitobans. It threatens jobs and economic growth throughout our province,” Manitoba Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said in a statement April 24.

A date has not been set for the hearing.

Decisions are already pending in the court challenges by Ontario and Saskatchewan, but Manitoba says its case has some unique characteristics.

Unlike the other holdout provinces, Manitoba planned to enact a carbon tax of its own – a price of $25 per tonne that would not rise. Premier Brian Pallister said the flat tax would recognize the billions of dollars Manitoba has already invested in clean hydroelectric developments.

When the federal government said the Manitoba proposal was not enough, Pallister withdrew the lower provincial tax and promised to fight the higher federal one.

Manitoba argues that Ottawa had no right to rebuff the province’s initial plan to charge a lower carbon tax that might have been equally effective in reducing emissions. The document also alleges the federal government has made side deals with some provinces that are more lenient than what has been forced on Manitoba and the other holdouts.

Two years ago, the Manitoba government obtained a legal opinion from constitutional expert Bryan Schwartz. Schwartz said the federal government generally has the right to impose a carbon tax, but might be rebuffed if a province developed its own plan that would be equally effective in reducing emissions.

Caroline Theriault, a spokeswoman for the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada, said carbon pollution should not be a partisan issue.

“Premier Pallister flip-flopped, choosing to tear up his own climate plan,” she said in an email.

“If some Conservative politicians choose to not do what’s right for our climate and our kids, we will. Just like Andrew Scheer, Brian Pallister is taking direction from Doug Ford and fighting climate action instead of fighting climate change. His decision comes weeks after scientists made it clear Canada is warming at double the global rate. The time to act is now.”

Theriault said the federal plan is a practical and affordable way to cut pollution.

She noted that under the plan a family of four in Manitoba will receive $339 through the Climate Action Incentive this year.

“Instead of wasting taxpayer dollars in court fighting climate action, we would have hoped to see the premier fight climate change,” she said.

In the Saskatchewan court case, federal lawyers argued in February that Ottawa has the authority to enact a backstop carbon tax because climate change and greenhouse gas emissions are a matter of a national concern.