Six years ago, then-Manitoba premier Gary Doer escorted Arizona governor Janet Napolitano and British Columbia premier Gordon Campbell to Churchill to witness the effects of climate change first-hand, and the three pledged to work on a regional cap-and-trade system to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Only B.C., which created a carbon tax a year later, has come close to fulfilling that promise.
Now, Manitoba has quietly stepped back from the regional cap-and-trade system it helped design, saying there is a lot more homework to be done before the province can consider moving ahead.
Manitoba is still technically a full partner in what's called the Western Climate Initiative but has no immediate plans to join California, Quebec and, possibly, B.C. in actually launching the program, capping emissions and asking industry to trade credits.
Instead, the province is taking a wait-and-watch approach, said Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh. He said cap-and-trade remains "a live option," but more work must be done.
That work includes properly pinpointing Manitoba's emissions for the first time through a mandatory reporting scheme now in the works and doing some economic modelling to determine the winners and losers in a cap-and-trade system.
"It's a big policy move. It's huge," said Neil Cunningham, director of the province's climate-change branch. "It's asking a lot from industry, and we want to make sure we're not putting burdens on them that are too onerous."
Debate over climate change is about to heat up in Manitoba and internationally. In the next few weeks, Manitoba will begin consultations on its next climate-change action plan, including what emissions targets ought to be set. That follows the failure of the province's original climate-change plan, which pledged to reduce emissions to Kyoto levels and touted Manitoba's involvement in the WCI.
And, later this week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will release its latest report on the science and effects of global warming, expected to be a blockbuster.
Ian Bruce, science and policy manager at the David Suzuki Foundation, said that report, plus California's launch of the WCI's cap-and-trade system, ought to kick-start Manitoba into bolder action.
"Manitoba may find itself wanting to be part of the solution rather than sitting on the sidelines," said Bruce.
Manitoba is not alone. Of the 11 original members in the WCI, most have so far opted out.