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Wab Kinew, the NDP premier of Manitoba, stands opposed to the carbon tax alongside this country’s conservatives.

But Mr. Kinew’s position is more nuanced than a pithy three words, axe the tax, and isn’t rooted in enmity towards the federal Liberals. And Mr. Kinew delivers his dissenting case with an analysis rooted in his days studying economics at the University of Manitoba. Demand for gasoline, he says, is price inelastic, meaning if it gets more expensive, most people will keep buying it, in the short-term at least. And there’s a lack of readily available substitutes, given EVs are more expensive than gasoline-fuelled cars.

But Mr. Kinew also has ideas about what to do about the pressing challenge of climate and the mission to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s missing among conservatives. They are certain charging Canadians a rising tax on fuels such as gasoline and refunding most people more than they pay is disastrous for the country. But that’s it. They don’t have much else to say on climate.

Pierre Poilievre is an example, though he has time to propose a real climate plan. But consider Alberta Premier Danielle Smith. The province’s climate plan, billed as “bold and unmistakably Albertan,” is scant on details and vague about net zero emissions by 2050 (“an aspiration”). There’s no 2030 target and since its release a year ago Alberta’s main climate policy is hindering renewable power development.

Manitoba was similar, until last fall when Mr. Kinew’s NDP defeated the Progressive Conservatives, who had held power since 2016. Manitoba, like many provinces, didn’t have much in the way of a climate plan. The Climate Institute has shown how provinces are falling short: their collective targets to cut emissions add up to less than half the federal goal.

Where the Manitoba provincial government was doing far less than it could was at Manitoba Hydro. The Crown corporation, with a bounty of hydro power, last summer declared that it could not eliminate the nominal amount of fossil fuel power on its grid by 2035. “Not feasible,” the CEO said. This space called out the absence of ambition.

After Mr. Kinew won power, he said the NDP would push for net zero power by 2035 – aligned with the federal Liberals’ proposed plan – and outline a map to net zero emissions by 2050. The results of the work are pending. Manitoba’s Prairie neighbours, Alberta and Saskatchewan, are staunchly against net zero power by 2035.

The choice to double down on Manitoba Hydro is the right one – electrify transportation and home heating. BC Hydro and Hydro-Québec are leading the way and have engaged private companies to help add clean power to their hydro-dominated grids. Mr. Kinew’s NDP mistakenly decided against that path. “New generation should be publicly owned,” said Finance Minister Adrien Sala earlier this year.

Mr. Kinew is looking at Indigenous partnerships, a financial structure used at the new Keeyask dam, but given the volume of power needed in future private capital can help deliver at least some of the wind and battery storage necessary. BC Hydro and Hydro-Québec are the model to follow.

There’s also potential in more closely connecting Manitoba’s grid with Saskatchewan, still reliant on fossil fuels for power. “We would love to,” Mr. Kinew told The Globe and Mail’s editorial board. Ottawa is set to invest billions of dollars in clean power, including transmission lines, and it’s here the Prairies and the federal government must work together. If Manitoba can help lead on such a nation-building project, it would fit in what Mr. Kinew pictures as the province’s opportunity to be a climate “showcase.”

Emissions in Manitoba are 20.7 megatonnes. It may seem like a small number but it’s in fact 2 per cent higher than 2005, while Canada’s total emissions are down 6 per cent in the same time. One-third of Manitoba’s emissions are agriculture, which will be tough to address, but the province’s renewed clean power ambitions have put it on a smarter climate course than the previous PC government.

Mr. Kinew may be forging the start of a cross-partisan consensus of what durable climate policy looks like in Canada. He’s not impressed with the carbon tax’s textbook theoretical approach yet he’s ambitious about what clean power can do for Manitoba’s future – environmental and economic. It’s a Prairie pragmatism, focused on what it’s for rather than what it’s against.

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