Manitoba government intends to ask Ottawa to get rid of carbon tax in province

The premier's office said Kinew hasn't made a formal request to the feds to eliminate the carbon tax backstop, but the Manitoba government is in fact working on a proposal and Ottawa is aware of it. 

Province is working on a proposal and Ottawa is aware of it, premier's office says

Two men shake hands.
Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew met with federal Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre on Thursday. (CBC)

The Manitoba government has confirmed it intends to ask Ottawa to remove the carbon tax from this province.

Following a meeting Thursday between Manitoba's premier and federal Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre, a news release put out by the Conservatives thanked Wab Kinew for calling on Ottawa to get rid of the backstop.

Kinew, however, has only previously said the province ought to be exempt from the tax on home heating and that his government planned to continue to make the case that the backstop isn't needed in Manitoba.

The premier's office told CBC News on Thursday that Kinew hasn't made a formal request to the feds to eliminate the backstop, but the Manitoba government is in fact working on a proposal and Ottawa is aware of it.

The carbon tax, also known as the price on carbon, came into effect at $20 per tonne in 2019. It's climbed in the years since and is set to rise from $65 per tonne to $80 Monday. 

The hike will add 3.3 cents to a litre of gasoline and 2.9 cents to a cubic metre of natural gas. The carbon rebates sent to households every three months are also being increased.

The federal "backstop" carbon price is imposed by Ottawa on provinces that have not developed a carbon pricing plan of their own that meets or exceeds the federal one. People in those provinces receive federal carbon rebate payments as compensation.

The carbon tax is meant to be a financial incentive for people and businesses to change their habits to burn less fossil fuel, instead transitioning to greener forms of energy. For example, a homeowner might make changes to conserve on heating or install a heat pump, or a driver may switch to an electric vehicle.

Kinew said during a press conference March 13 the province would "continue to make that strong case that the backstop doesn't need to be applied."

The premier was asked at that press conference if a formal request had been made, replying, "Who's to say we haven't?"

Kinew also said at the time any conversations his government holds with Ottawa would remain private "until we decide to make them public."

"I think we have an ongoing constructive engagement with the federal government on this," Kinew said during the press conference earlier this month. "There's been some indication that there's a willingness to revisit the backstop in Manitoba once we present that formal plan. And so we're going to keep making that case."

In the fall, Manitoba's premier also asked Ottawa to remove the carbon tax on home heating.

While Kinew has expressed some carbon tax apprehension over the last few months, his opposition hasn't been as fierce as some of his counterparts.

Seven of Canada's premiers recently wrote a letter calling for a pause to the planned April 1 increase to the carbon tax. Kinew didn't take part.

Poilievre, who has made axing the carbon tax one of his main political messages, didn't mind Kinew's calmer approach. 

"He works for the people of Manitoba, not for me…. He doesn't need my satisfaction," Poilievre told reporters.

Poilievre went on to commend the province's temporary gas tax reduction and state any environmental benefit reaped from the carbon tax pales in comparison to the value of Manitoba's hydroelectric grid.

Unfairly mangling carbon tax, says economist

Gregory Mason, an associate professor of economics at the University of Manitoba, was among dozens of Canadian academics who released an open letter this week, defending the carbon tax in the face of increasing opposition.

He said it's disappointing critics have "mangled the intent" of the tax, which is designed to nudge people into using greener forms of transportation. He also noted Canadians get quarterly rebate cheques to offset the price on pollution.

Mason said the rising cost of living shouldn't be attributed to the carbon tax. 

"I don't think the inflation can be [blamed on] the carbon tax any more than the fact that my property taxes went up this year is increasing inflation," he said in an interview.

1,500 at Winnipeg rally

Shortly after meeting with Kinew, Poilievre took his cross-country "Spike the Hike — Axe the Tax" rally tour to the RBC Convention Centre in downtown Winnipeg.

Some in the crowd of about 1,500 people held signs calling for the carbon tax's elimination, while some others wore Poilievre merchandise including a T-shirt that bore the tagline "W.T.F: Where's the funds?"

A man in a light blue shirt waves, while a throng of people around him celebrate and wave signs in the air.
Federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre brought his 'Spike the Hike — Axe the Tax' rally to Winnipeg on Thursday evening. Around 1,500 people attended. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Wayne Whelan said he had never attended a political rally before Thursday's event.

"I joined the Conservative Party specifically to vote for Pierre Poilievre because he is the foil to [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau," said Whelan, who attended with his wife, Cristina.

He said he's become fed up with controversies that have dogged the Liberals, ranging from political interference in the SNC-Lavalin affair to the price tag of the Trudeau family's vacations.

Alyssa Santschi, a university student, said she tends to lean conservative politically. She attended the rally to get an unvarnished view of Poilievre's approach to politics, as opposed to the short clips she's seen online.

"I feel like social media is really extremely polarized when it comes to politics, and it doesn't necessarily have to be that way," she said.

A man in a light blue t-shirt stands beside a man in a white sweater and green top as they pose together for a photo.
Poilievre, left, touched on affordability and housing concerns as part of his 45-minute long speech at Thursday's rally. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Over the course of his nearly 45-minute speech, Poilievre railed against the carbon tax, the lack of affordable homes, and immigrant doctors and nurses being unable to work in their fields in Canada.

He again mentioned the Port of Churchill as an untapped asset. He's previously suggested that oil could be shipped through the port.

Poilievre also cited Winnipeg's Parker lands development as an example of "gatekeepers" blocking the construction of housing near transit stations.

City council is about to consider another proposal for the 19-hectare triangle of Fort Garry lands, after 11 years of planning as well as delays that prompted two court cases.

With files from CBC's Bartley Kives and Ian Froese and The Canadian Press