Manitoba’s premier pooh-poohs PM’s pledge to slash greenhouse gas emissions

Manitoba’s premier isn’t impressed by Ottawa’s ambitious new goal of slashing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. 

“I think people are tired of the target talk, I think they want to see action,” Premier Brian Pallister said at an unrelated news conference Thursday to coincide with Earth Day. 

The premier was reacting to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s commitment to reduce emissions in 2030 by at least 40 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, announced the same morning. Trudeau said Canada would “blow past” the 30 per cent reduction the federal government has previously promised.

In response, Pallister said Manitoba wants to do “more than our part” — but the province has a long way to go to reduce its own emissions, critics say. 

Manitoba is in the midst of trying to cut emissions by one megatonne between 2018 and 2022. The reduction target listed in the province’s green plan is 4.4 per cent of the 22.6 megatonnes Manitoba emitted in 2019.

In fact, the province’s emissions in that year were 9.8 per cent higher than 2005 levels.

No choice but to ambitiously curb emissions: Hull

Curt Hull, project director at Climate Change Connection, brushed off a question on whether drastically cutting emissions below 2005 is reasonable.

“We have to do it. That’s the problem, is that we need to accept that we have to do it … if we want to enjoy a climate that’s consistent with the civilization that we are currently living in,” he said in an interview.

Hull said Manitoba isn’t showing enough urgency.

He said governments all over have failed to meet previous targets because they didn’t back it up with a strong plan.

“In order to meet [Ottawa’s] target, we’re talking about having to reduce our emissions by about seven per cent every year, year upon year. But instead, if you look at the greenhouse gas emission trajectory that we’ve been on here in Manitoba, it’s been increasing,” Hull said.

He acknowledged the latest emissions data from the federal government shows Manitoba’s emissions dipped slightly in 2019 to 22.6 megatonnes after hitting a record 22.9 megatonnes in 2018. Manitoba’s green plan, conceived by the Progressive Conservative government, took effect in 2018. 

Minister of Conservation and Climate Sarah Guillemard told question period on Thursday that the government has set emission reduction targets “that are achievable, attainable and we are already getting results.”

Lisa Naylor, the NDP’s critic on the file, replied that “this is not a time to set the bar so low that you can reach it.”

But Guillemard added it is “almost laughable” of the NDP to criticize the government since the party didn’t meet their emission targets when they were in power.

The province has until 2022 to attain its emission reduction goal. 

Manitoba’s emissions in 2019 were nearly 10 per cent higher than 2005 levels. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Hull said the provincial green plan doesn’t prioritize curbing emissions. He said the government’s Earth Day announcement of a $20 million endowment fund to improve provincial parks is part of the solution, “primarily in their ability to sequester carbon” but “it’s not an annual expenditure.”

He’d like to see the electrification of transit buses and a greater push for geothermal energy and more efficient buildings, among other measures.

When the premier was asked about Ottawa’s new emission targets, Pallister called upon the federal government to recognize the green investments Manitoba has already made, including on hydroelectricity.

He repeated his long-standing argument that Ottawa shouldn’t have rejected Manitoba’s proposed carbon tax plan when it permitted other provincial plans that he said aren’t as stringent as his government’s. Pallister is fighting the imposition of Ottawa’s carbon tax in court. 

“I’m going to take umbrage at any point about the federal government telling Manitoba how to clean up its act when the federal government needs to do a lot more in its area of concern.”

Pallister added that Manitoba is “prepared to up our game, but we want to do it our way.” 

Later in the news conference, Guillemard cited a few of Manitoba’s green plan accomplishments, such as creating a Crown corporation focused on energy efficiency, a conservation trust and raising the concentration of ethanol in gasoline and biofuel content in diesel to lead Canada by 2022. 

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