Climate Loses in Budget 2017

By Nathan Laser

Disappointingly, specifics were lacking from the provincial budget on fight against climate change. In what was arguably the first real budget to be presented by Brian Pallister’s Progressive Conservative government, they had precious little to say about how they intend to protect the environment and move our province away from the use of fossil fuels.

In fact, Budget 2017 seemed to give higher profile and attention to a promise to work with organizations to improve snowmobile trails in our parks, while the renamed Department of Sustainable Development actually had it’s operating funding cut. The budget lines for the Climate Change and Air Quality Branch, as well as the Environmental Assessment Branch were cut by few hundred thousand dollars and will reduce the government’s capacity to conserve and protect the environment.

Shockingly while cuts are being made, a $2 million dollar increase was granted to the Petroleum Branch that finance officials indicated are for IT system upgrade to track royalties from the Manitoba petroleum industry.

These budget choices signal the wrong priorities – continuing to pour money into propping up the oil and gas industry at a time when the citizens of our planet desperately need bold action to drastically reduce our carbon emissions.

A foundation of Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition’s (MEJC)’s work is our commitment to advocating for provincial, national, and global climate plans that are consistent with the scientific pathway required to achieve 1.5 degrees Celsius or less of global warming, and scientific analysis indicates that we now have less than 5 years left of before we lose a reasonable shot at reaching that target. The lack of action in this budget sets us behind when we have no time to waste.

MEJC does give some small credit the government for its general commitment to consulting with the public on their yet to be released Made-in-Manitoba Climate and Green Plan and a carbon pricing. However, this is only because previous consultations have been a closed, invite-only affair.

The climate change consultations recently undertaken by the provincial government used a flawed online process that allowed multiple responses from one IP address and leading questions. Mismanaged consultations leave room for climate change deniers and anti-tax lobbyists to dominate this most critical policy discussion, which should be based on scientific research and include information about the necessary targets and timelines to reduce emissions. Manitoba urgently needs an open dialogue to inform and educate regular Manitobans and get their buy-in for a carbon pricing model that will provide a financial disincentive to polluters and promote behaviours and purchasing decisions that reduce our carbon foot print.

This budget was a missed opportunity to bring in a carbon tax at $10 per tonne to introduce Manitobans to the concept and prepare us for when this is a legislated requirement next year. If this were added to gasoline for example, it would be a mere 2.2 cents per litre and would bring in $100 million annually in tax revenue. This could assist in the transition to renewables and support environmental social enterprises, for example.

To forestall the worst ravages of climate change, we need our provincial government to make investments that will support the managed decline of fossil fuel production and consumption, and their full phase-out by 2050 at the absolute latest. We need investments in electric charging infrastructure as part of a plan to switch over to electric vehicles. We need incentives from Manitoba Hydro to reduce and eliminate the use of natural gas for home heating, and incentivize alternative energy such as solar, wind, and geothermal. And we need to stop subsidizing the oil and gas industry and their pipelines with tax credits.

As it stands, Manitoba remains one of only two provinces that has still not signed on to the Pan-Canadian Framework on Green Growth and Climate Change, which is an important first step in working towards meeting our commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change. Manitoba still has an opportunity to position itself as a leader on climate mitigation and adaptation, as well as green growth and job creation, but time is running out. Unfortunately, Budget 2017 continues to leave us waiting for the actions and investments needed for the just transition of our economy to a low carbon future.

Nathan Laser is the Campaigns Coordinator for MEJC. MEJC is an environmental organization committed to educating and organizing citizens at the grassroots level in the fight to eliminate the use of fossil fuels, protect our watersheds, and promote resource equity in Manitoba.