Last week, the Government of Manitoba released its 2011 budget. This budget takes steps in the right direction, but it makes them much more slowly than is safe for our environment or for future generations. It contains a few modest measures that will help the environment, but does little to address the enormous challenges of building a sustainable economy in Manitoba. None of the proposals that Green Action Centre put forward during budget consultations last year were included. (See our consultation document here.)
Some of Budget 2011’s key environmental programs are designed to reduce Manitoba’s greenhouse gas emissions. These include:
- A Manitoba Climate Change Investment Program
- Green Energy Equipment tax credit on geo-thermal increased from 10% to 15%
- A $10 per tonne carbon tax on coal starting in 2012
- An electric vehicle strategy
Green Action Centre welcomes initiatives including insulation assistance for low-income families and a carbon tax on coal. We also look forward to the announced release of an electric vehicle strategy as well as the new tax credit to help businesses reduce their emissions.
Last fall, the Auditor General warned that Manitoba is not on track to meet its Kyoto commitments as required by the Climate Change and Emissions Reduction Act. The measures introduced last week will not change that assessment. The carbon tax on coal, for example, is too limited to make much of a difference. Green Action Centre recommends a province-wide carbon tax similar to that implemented in British Columbia in 2008.
Some of the measures introduced in this budget will need careful monitoring to ensure that they do not backfire and make things worse for the environment. For example, the Retail Sales Tax will be removed from all biomass used for cooking or heating. If sustainable lake-friendly biomass like cattails is used, this could have positive ecological benefits. However, many biofuels including corn and wheat can displace food crops and have significant greenhouse gas impacts. Government will need to continue to consult with the environmental community as this measure is implemented.
One change we recommended was to shift more of the cost for road infrastructure onto automobiles through taxes on gasoline or insurance. The provincial government instead has opted to fund increased infrastructure support out of general tax revenue. The 2011 Budget documents show that there is broad scope for a shift of funding for automobile infrastructure to automobile users. Manitobans currently have the second lowest gas costs and the lowest overall automobile operating costs in Canada. Cheap vehicle operating costs offer an incentive to drive more often. It is the environment as much as our infrastructure that suffers from this policy, and we all pay the costs however little or much we drive.
Some other environmental initiatives in the budget include:
- Maintaining funding for several projects including IISD, small climate change grants, and a tree planting program called Trees for Tomorrow.
- Reducing red tape for non-profits to provide multi-year funding (pilot project)
- Additional funds for safe drinking water, an important priority for rural communities and First Nations in Manitoba.
- Research into potential opportunities for local food production
One other request we put forward to the budget planning process was to increase landfill tipping fees to encourage more recycling. We were informed that the Waste Reduction and Recycling Support Program is not included in the budget, since its operations are reported separately through Multi-Materials Stewardship Manitoba. We will continue to press for an increase in this levy.
See also: Cap and Trade for Manitoba