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Manitoba government offers more subsidies for businesses hit by COVID-19

The Manitoba government is extending and expanding a wage-subsidy program to spur job creation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Until now, the Back To Work program paid businesses who hired or brought back staff up to $5,000 per employee, to a maximum of five workers, through to the end of August.

Premier Brian Pallister says the program will be extended until the end of October, and the funds will be available for up to 10 workers at each business.

The program is also being offered for the first time to charities and non-profits as well.

Pallister says the money should help encourage employers to hire more people.

Statistics Canada reported last week that Manitoba has recorded the second-highest rebound in employment levels since the pandemic began, behind only New Brunswick.


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Manitoba increases tax on cigarettes

Cigarettes Generic Lg_100517With the tabling of it’s most recent budget, Manitoba is increasing  tobacco-related taxes.

The tax on a carton of cigarettes is to rise by $1 on July 1.

The move is designed to help offset the reduction of PST, which was also announced in the new budget, released March 20.

Overall, the Progressive Conservative government plans to keep a tight leash on spending in 2020-2021, as it deals with the COVID-19 crisis and rising healthcare costs.


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Manitoba ups biofuels

Only province to mandate biofuels increases minimums

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Last year, while on the provincial campaign trail, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister told audiences that his government would increase the amounts of biofuels available to motorists and the transport sector. Last week (January 21) his government announced the plan.

Following meetings with Prime Minister Trudeau during the cabinet’s January sortie to Winnipeg for a winter retreat, Pallister sought further respect for the province’s energy initiatives. Under what is known as the Made in Manitoba Climate and Green Plan, the Pallister Tories will undertake to set new standards for fuel content in the province as it tries to get out from under what it sees as unenlightened conditions of the Federal Government’s Carbon Tax program.

Manitoba has announced that the minimum ethanol content in gasoline will now move from 8.5% to 10%, and the biodiesel content in diesel from 2% to 5%.

“Agriculture always has been and always will be the key to Manitoba’s economic success,” said the Manitoba premier at a recent event. “As an important economic driver, our agriculture industry cannot take its foot off the gas, so we will make that gas greener.”

This latest salvo in the Carbon Tax back and forth will see Manitoba’s emissions reduce by close to 400,000 tonnes cumulatively over the next five years. The provincial government suggests this is equivalent to taking 100,000 vehicles off the road.

Boosting the biodiesel mandate is expected to increase the market demand in Manitoba for biodiesel from 27 million litres per year to 72 million litres. Currently, transportation fuels produce over one-third of the province’s greenhouse gas emissions. Manitoba sees both biodiesel and renewable diesel as products that can combat this carbon load. 

Biodiesel is a fuel made from vegetable oils or used cooking oils. The refining process uses alcohol such as methanol to convert animal fats, plant oils and other biomass-based oils into fuels. Biodiesel can be used in its pure form or blended with conventional diesel at various levels with little or no engine modifications.

Renewable diesel is chemically very similar to petroleum diesel and offers a cleaner burn than conventional products. Renewable diesel is produced using organic feedstock where hydrogen is utilized to crack big molecules into smaller ones. Then, hydrogen is added to these smaller molecules to produce a renewable biofuel for use in diesel engines.

Manitoba’s plan will also increase ethanol consumption by 26 million litres to 176 million litres per year.

Ethanol is a high-octane, water-free alcohol that is produced from renewable resources such as corn, canola, and wheat. Ethanol can be used as a fuel, as an additive to fuel or as a fuel extender.

Challenges to using biofuels exist. While they help to reduce carbon footprints they also put pressure on food stocks and wildlife. In the US and Mexico, farmers have pulled crops such as corn from the food chain to use them as a source of fuel in moves that raise the consumer cost of products such as tortillas and cooking oils. As well, additional acres are often needed to meet the increased demand for biofuels and this impacts wildlife as wetlands and forests are put to the plough. Global ethanol production is projected to grow more than 7% a year and will reach (US)$105 billion by 2022.

Manitoba has not reported how many new acres will be planted to meet the province’s targets, but the government has committed a $50 million annuity to protect wetlands that could be impacted. Currently, Husky Energy operates Manitoba’s sole ethanol facility in Minnedosa with an annual output of 130 million litres of ethanol per year.

Octane editor Kelly Gary can be reached at kgray@ensembleiq.com


Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister

Manitoba carbon tax a maybe, Pallister says after meeting Trudeau in Winnipeg

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister is holding out the possibility of imposing a carbon tax in his province as he tries to fashion a green plan that will meet with the federal government’s approval.

But he’s simultaneously warning that Ottawa will have to show some flexibility if it wants him to continue playing the role of bridge-builder to the other two Prairie provinces, where talk of western alienation and outright separation has escalated since Justin Trudeau’s Liberals won re-election on Oct. 21.

“The prime minister has said and numerous of his colleagues have said that they are seeking to build a stronger country. To do that, Manitoba is the bridge,” Pallister said Monday after a 30-minute meeting with Trudeau, who is in Winnipeg for a federal cabinet retreat.

“If you can’t get along with friendly Manitobans, there’s a lot of other Canadians you can’t get along with.”

Pallister’s government initially came up with a green plan that included a carbon tax that was below the national standard set by the Trudeau government. He scrapped the plan when it was rejected by Ottawa and joined his fellow conservative premiers in challenging the federal carbon-tax backstop in court.

Ottawa is imposing its tax on provinces that have refused to meet the national standard for pricing carbon emissions: Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. The national tax was initially imposed in New Brunswick as well but that province came up with its own tax after the election, which has since been approved by the feds.

Pallister said he’ll unveil a new green plan and discuss it with the federal government “in the not-too-distant future.” That dialogue, he added, “will include a carbon price of some kind.”

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew said a carbon tax is “long past due” and Pallister should stop fighting it.

Whereas the national carbon tax is structured to escalate over time, Pallister indicated that he believes any tax should be “flat and low like the prairie horizon.”

Moreover, he said Ottawa must give Manitoba credit for steps it’s already taken to reduce carbon emissions, such as investing in clean hydroelectricity.

“We’ve put billions of dollars at risk to green up the environment and we deserve respect for that,” Pallister said.

“We deserve to be respected for our green record. We do not deserve to be called climate-change deniers by anybody … We want acceptance of our made-in-Manitoba green strategies.”

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who has been travelling the country meeting with premiers and others in a bid to mend some of the deep divisions exposed by the election, said she and the prime minister already have “lots of respect for Manitoba.”

“I hope (Pallister) would agree that we have a very effective, friendly working relationship with him and we really appreciate that,” said Freeland, who is also the intergovernmental affairs minister. She sat in on Monday’s meeting between the two leaders.

“Manitoba occupies an important and valued geographic position in the country. It’s fair to describe Manitoba as being in the heart of the country and co-operating with the premier is really valuable to us.”

But extending that co-operation to watering down the federal carbon-pricing regime for Manitoba seems unlikely.

Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson was not enthusiastic Monday about crediting the province for past measures to reduce emissions.

“We have to be forward-looking with climate change,” he said after making an announcement elsewhere in Winnipeg.

“At the end of the day, the challenge that we are facing is one of the emissions that exist today. We need to … have plans as to how we’re going to reduce the emissions that exist today on a go-forward basis.”

Trudeau’s tete-a-tete with Pallister came on the second day of a three-day federal cabinet retreat, being held in Winnipeg in a bid to reach out to a region that spurned Trudeau’s Liberals in the Oct. 21 election.

The election reduced the Liberals to a minority. They were entirely shut out of Alberta and Saskatchewan, where Liberal environmental and climate policies are widely blamed for gutting the energy industry.

Manitoba, where the Liberals lost three of seven seats, is somewhat friendlier turf.

Pallister has signalled his willingness to work with Ottawa, in stark contrast to the other openly hostile Prairie premiers, Alberta’s Jason Kenney and Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe.

“We pride ourselves here on being Canadian first and we have the opportunity to, I think, partner in an improved way on several major files that I think Canadians will appreciate,” Pallister said as he sat down with Trudeau.

The Trudeau government has so far gotten little credit in the other Prairie provinces for its controversial decision to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline to ensure plans for its expansion go ahead – a decision that cost Liberals support among environmentalists and progressive voters.

But now that construction is actually underway and the Supreme Court last week cleared away another legal hurdle to the project, Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan expressed hope Sunday that tempers will cool down a bit in the West.

The expanded pipeline is to carry diluted bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to the British Columbia coast for export overseas.


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Manitoba government, pharmacy chain team up to help people quit smoking

cigarette-1642232_1920-1024x783Thousands of Manitobans who want to quit smoking will soon have access to free counselling and items such as nicotine patches and gum.

The Progressive Conservative government, in what it calls the first program of its kind in Canada, is launching a social impact bond that will see Shoppers Drug Mart spend $2 million over five years to help smokers kick the habit.

“We are removing the barriers that keep people from making the good decision to quit smoking, and one of those barriers would be cost,” Health Minister Cameron Friesen said.

Up to 4,500 smokers will be allowed to enrol in the program. They would be eligible for a total of $380 in nicotine replacement products and counselling, which would be available through Shoppers and other outlets across the province.

If the program succeeds in getting at least 12 per cent of participants to quit nicotine for a year or more, Shoppers will be reimbursed up to $2.12 million.

The former NDP government promised to subsidize nicotine patches and other products shortly before it lost the 2016 election. Friesen said research shows people have a better chance of quitting when they get counselling as well.

Social impact bonds in Manitoba are rare – the government has only issued one previous bond concerning child welfare services.

The bonds require private companies to fund projects up front. The companies can be reimbursed and make a profit if the program meets or exceeds its targets. Critics say the bonds are more costly than direct government programs, but the government has said the bonds help ensure each program achieves its goal.

The Manitoba Lung Association said there is still a lot to learn about social impact bonds, but any extra help for smokers who want to kick the habit is welcome.

“The lack of smoking cessation programs is really quite significant and an important thing we need to work on as a society,” said Neil Johnston, the association’s president and CEO.

Manitoba’s smoking rate is slightly below the national average at 14.5 per cent, Friesen said. Illnesses directly related to smoking cost the province’s health care system about $244 million annually, he added.


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Carbon tax rebate amounts reduced in four provinces

Screen Shot 2019-12-17 at 10.44.00 AMThe federal government has decreased the carbon tax rebates Canadians can expect in the new year in three provinces that have not adopted carbon pricing models that meet federal requirements.

The government has also added Alberta to the mix after that province’s United Conservative party repealed the previous government’s consumer carbon tax.

The biggest drop in the rebate will be in Saskatchewan, where the federal Finance Department says a family of four will qualify for rebates totalling $809 in 2020, down from the $903 that was projected last year.

In Ontario, the rebate for a family of four has been set at $448, down from $451, while families in Manitoba will receive $486, a decrease from $499.

A family of four in Alberta will see a rebate of $888 in 2020.

The rebates are meant to offset the added consumer costs resulting from Ottawa’s carbon tax of $20 per tonne of carbon emitted into the atmosphere for 2020, rising to $30 per tonne in 2021.

The Trudeau government has maintained that most households will receive more money back through the rebates than they pay in carbontaxes on things such as gasoline and home-heating fuels.

The carbon tax scheme was introduced earlier this year as a way to encourage Canadians to use less carbon-based products, thereby reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

Here are the rebate amounts for individuals and families, by province, in 2020, according to a government statement:

Ontario:

Single adult or first adult in a couple – $224

Second adult in a couple or first child of a single parent – $112

Each child under 18 – $56

Baseline amount for a family of four – $448

Manitoba:

Single adult or first adult in a couple – $243

Second adult in a couple or first child of a single parent – $121

Each child under 18 – $61

Baseline amount for a family of four – $486

Saskatchewan:

Single adult or first adult in a couple – $405

Second adult in a couple or first child of a single parent – $202

Each child under 18 – $101

Baseline amount for a family of four – $809

Alberta:

Single adult or first adult in a couple – $444

Second adult in a couple or first child of a single parent – $222

Each child under 18 – $111

Baseline amount for a family of four – $888


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.