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.