By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — The Manitoba Liberal Party wants the province to adopt a carbon tax, offer incentives for people to go green and forgo hundreds of millions of dollars a year from its Crown-owned hydroelectric utility.
Leader Dougald Lamont released an environment plan Friday that is to be a cornerstone of the party’s election campaign.
Premier Brian Pallister has hinted an election could come ahead of schedule sometime this year.
The document says if the Liberals, who have four legislature seats, were in power, they would renegotiate a carbon pricing plan with the federal government.
Manitoba is one of four provinces that rejected Ottawa’s instructions to bring in a carbon tax, so the federal government has imposed one of its own. The federal plan includes income tax rebates that funnel the money back to individuals.
Lamont said he would come up with a Manitoba tax equivalent to the federal rate, which is to rise to $50 a tonne by 2022. But instead of returning all the money raised to people through income tax rebates, as Ottawa is doing, he would spend some on subsidies to promote better energy use.
“We’d actually use some of it to invest in the things that people need, whether it’s energy efficiency or green fuel or innovation or all these other things,” Lamont said, without providing any specific number.
“We would keep some of the rebate, but then we’d also be taking funds from the carbon tax as it increases in order to create incentives and create programs.”
Incentives would include grants to help people improve the insulation in their homes, money for heavy-duty trucks to switch to clean fuels, investments in municipal transit, and funds to prompt home and building owners to plant trees.
The plan does not spell out how much most items would cost. One exception is a proposed $20-million fund for research and innovation on topics such as clean fuels and carbon storage.
The Progressive Conservative government criticized the Liberal plan for taking away some of the income tax rebates.
“If there is one thing for sure, it’s that the Liberals are always for higher taxes,” Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires said in a written statement.
A Liberal government would also stop charging Manitoba Hydro hundreds of millions of dollars a year in financing fees and for use of provincial waterways. While Manitoba is struggling with a deficit, the utility’s position is even more precarious and the annual payments to government add to Hydro’s annual rate increases for consumers, Lamont said.
The Liberal document also includes two big-ticket items that have been promised by previous governments.
One would be a national east-west power grid that Manitoba has spent more than a decade trying to persuade the federal government to fund. There has been no sign that Ottawa is ready to jump on the project, which would boost hydro exports to Saskatchewan, Ontario and other areas.
The second would see railroads in Winnipeg torn up and relocated outside the city, partly to cut down commuter delays. The former NDP government promised the project shortly before losing power in 2016.
Lamont said a Liberal government would further study the idea by setting up a commission to examine the cost and benefits.
He said his party’s green plan would cost money upfront, but would be cost effective in the long term.
“Ultimately the cost of these investments is far less than the costs we’ll face dealing with crises associated with climate change.”