It’s not too late for Premier Brian Pallister to do the right thing and reverse plans to bring in a carbon tax, especially in the face of mounting pressure from conservative governments – or soon-to-be conservative ones – from Ontario to Alberta who plan to take legal action against the Trudeau government if Ottawa attempts to bring in a federal carbon tax of its own.
Pallister announced plans last month to charge Manitobans a $25-a-tonne carbon tax beginning Sept. 1. The tax would not be revenue neutral and would generate net tax revenues of $118 million for government in 2018-19.
The roll-out of the proposed tax has been an unmitigated disaster, not only because it’s being rightly perceived as a cash grab, but also because the political messaging around it has been muddled and disjointed. Cabinet ministers and government MLAs have been told to preach to anyone who will listen that all carbon tax revenue will be returned to Manitobans in the form of tax relief. But the claim is contradicted by government’s own budget papers, which shows the tax will be a net revenue generator. The roll-out was further confused by an unexpected confession from Pallister on budget day that part of the carbon tax would be returned to Manitobans through a planned PST cut in 2020. Prior to last month, cutting the PST to 7% was a stand-alone PC party pledge. The Tories never said they would bring in a carbon tax to pay for a PST cut.
To make matters worse, the Pallister government has failed to communicate how it plans to spend the surplus carbon tax money beyond vague promises like electrifying transit buses or setting up an environmental trust fund to finance “green” projects, none of which have been supported by firm commitments or details.
Which means Manitobans have been left to assume their carbon tax money will get gobbled up in the black hole of general government revenues.
For his part, Pallister is still clinging to the idea that Manitobans will believe him when he says he’s being forced by Ottawa to bring in a carbon tax. But it’s a strategy that hasn’t worked well for the premier as taxpayers realized early on that the feds can’t force any province to bring in a tax and that Pallister is in fact acting on his own.
But the real risk for the premier now is that both Ontario and Alberta, which have carbon pricing under NDP or Liberal governments, could soon have conservative governments with leaders who have already committed publicly to killing the carbon tax and have pledged to fight Trudeau in court if Ottawa tries to impose one of its own. Which means if Conservative leader Doug Ford in Ontario and United Conservative leader Jason Kenney in Alberta win government over the next year and team up with Saskatchewan – which has stood firm against Trudeau’s carbon tax scheme from the beginning – Pallister will be the odd conservative man out defending Liberal policies. He’ll have conservatives to the east of him and conservatives to the west of him taking on an increasingly unpopular Liberal government in Ottawa on a hated tax and he’ll be still be stumbling around the halls of the Manitoba legislature uttering the pathetic slogan “if we say no we get Trudeau.”
It’s not a good look.
The former Canadian Alliance MP is going to be sitting in his office on Broadway wondering how he managed to find himself on the outside of a powerful coalition of provincial conservative governments fighting the good fight against a bogus Liberal tax scheme.
And we’ll remind him that he found himself on the wrong side of this issue because he compromised his conservative principles by buying into a flavour-of-the-month Liberal get-rich-quick-scheme because he thought he could get away with it.
But it’s not too late for Pallister to rediscover his conservative principles. There’s plenty of time for him to do the right thing and amend the 2018 budget by removing the carbon tax and joining other provinces in their collective fight against this tax grab.
Everyone makes mistakes. It’s what you do about it when you realize you’ve erred that matters.