At times the race looked to be a nail-biter, but the Manitoba election results are in and the New Democratic Party has clinched victory, ousting the Progressive Conservatives after seven years in power. 

NDP Leader Wab Kinew has been elected Manitoba’s premier and Progressive Conservative Heather Stefanson has resigned as her party’s leader after a campaign that saw the two spar over healthcare, crime and the cost of living.

Kinew’s victory speech on Tuesday night reiterated the party’s steadfast promise to fix healthcare, the NDP’s central election focus, while strengthening the provincial economy. Mention of climate change and environment policy were notably absent — as was the case most of the campaign.

Despite a lack of ambitious campaign promises on environmental issues, there are clear differences in the parties’ climate policies.

“You will not have to fight me to take action on climate change, instead we will fight together against global warming,” Kinew said in August.

Manitoba election results: a crowd of NDP supporters claps and pump their fists in the air in a brightly lit room on election night
The NDP has made it clear it takes climate change seriously, though questions remain about how exactly this change of philosophy in the Manitoba legislature will affect big-ticket policy decisions. Photo: Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press

The PCs, hinging their campaign on an economic revival for Manitoba, repeatedly took aim at carbon pricing and federal conservation targets as hindrances to economic development. The NDP, meanwhile, stuck predominantly to the status quo with promises to bring Manitoba up to par with the rest of the country.

While it’s unknown what exactly will change, it is clear there’s a new philosophy on climate change from the top seat of power.

From parks to mines to utility prices and beyond, here’s what Kinew’s NDP government will mean for Manitoba’s environment.

Manitoba election results mean carbon pricing won’t go to court — and provincial fuel prices are set to drop

It’s official: Manitoba will not go back to court over carbon pricing like former premier Heather Stefanson had hoped, but there is still a plan to keep the price of gas — and power — under control.

Manitoba’s NDP pledged to put a temporary freeze on utility rates, meaning electricity and natural gas bills shouldn’t rise in the coming months. The party also promised to temporarily axe a 14-cent-per-litre flat fee the province collects at the pump. 

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Energy prices were in focus throughout the campaign, as the Tories promised to challenge the feds in court over carbon pricing — for a second time. The NDP didn’t wade far into the fray on carbon levies, but Kinew said he would aim to have a larger share of the levy returned to provincial coffers and would work collaboratively — rather than combatively — with the feds to “bring home a better deal for Manitobans.”

Manitoba will create a net-zero 2050 strategy

The NDP has committed to a carbon-neutral economy. But it’s not clear what exactly that will look like.

While in power, the Conservatives never agreed to a net-zero strategy, instead releasing energy plans touting the predominantly hydroelectric power grid and remaining committed to natural gas. 

While it’s true Manitoba’s 97-per-cent electric grid helps the province rank among the-least polluting provinces in the country, advocates have long stressed there’s work to do to reduce pollution from transportation and heating. 

Manitoba election 2023: Water rushes through a hydroelectric dam in Manitoba with blue skies on the horizon
Manitoba has long primarily relied on hydroelectric dams for the vast majority of its electric grid. While the province reports relatively lower carbon pollution, emissions are creeping up. Photo: Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press

The NDP has promised it’ll chip away at provincial carbon pollution while creating new jobs designed to weather the shift to a carbon-neutral economy. The party has made cursory commitments to reducing emissions to 45 per cent below 2005 levels in the next seven years, updating Efficiency Manitoba’s mandate to include emission-reduction targets and providing more funding for public transit, active transportation, waste reduction and urban forests. 

The party has also promised to restore funding to environmental non-profits that had been clawed back under the previous government.

So far, the party has suggested it would develop a clean energy hub to expand Manitoba Hydro’s electric capacity, introduce new hydrogen-power generation projects and leverage the province’s manufacturing industry to make green energy a reality. 

But those are ideas — not a formal plan. 

Rebates will abound for electric cars, geothermal power after Manitoba election results

Amid a campaign full of promises to put more money in Manitobans’ pockets, the NDP pledged a handful of programs to “make it affordable to do the environmentally friendly thing” — especially when it comes to vehicles and home energy.

Under the new leadership, rebates will be offered for electric or hybrid vehicles: $4,000 for new cars and $2,500 for used vehicles. Kinew emphasized the goal is to make electric cars accessible to lower- and middle-income households.

Manitoba election results: an electric charging pump in a car with charging stations in the background
The Manitoba elections results mean rebates will be offered for electric or hybrid vehicles: $4,000 for new cars and $2,500 for used vehicles. Photo: Supplied by Ivy Charging Network

He acknowledged the extra pressure electrification will put on the power grid, promising plans down the line to expand provincial power capacity.

The party has also pledged 5,000 homes will be hooked up to geothermal heating loops — currently considered one of the least polluting and most cost-effective ways to regulate indoor heat — free of charge.

The NDP estimates this will cost $130 million, but will generate significant return on investment. To realize this commitment, the party has promised to invest $5 million to build a workforce trained to install geothermal systems. The party estimates this will generate upwards of 1,000 new clean energy jobs. 

Expect more protected areas as Manitoba has finally set its sights on 30-by-30 targets

Manitoba’s woeful record on protected areas may be set to change after the Manitoba election results, as the NDP has promised to protect 30 per cent of lands and waters by 2030.

The Tories refused to adopt international protection targets, made glacial progress expanding protected areas, weakened protections in provincial parks and claimed conservation goals would dampen economic development. 

Bend in river through Spruce Woods Provincial Park, Manitoba
The previous government increased protected areas by less than one per cent, but the NDP has vowed to follow federal and international targets to protect 30 per cent of land and water by 2023. Photo: Supplied by Travel Manitoba

The NDP will mark a distinct change in course. 

The party has committed to creating a conservation action plan, including steps to protect wildlife, waterways, wetlands and peatlands. It will support the work to establish Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas

The NDP has also promised to stop the slow drip of privatization in provincial parks. It’s not clear whether mineral exploration — currently allowed in many parks — will still be permitted.

Under the previous government, the protected areas initiative had been reduced to one full-time staffer working out of the Natural Resources Department while parks staff, resource officers and other environment officer positions had been cut back considerably. 

Asked in August whether he would restore staffing to conservation initiatives, Kinew said “repairing the damage of the cuts is a challenge that is going to take many years to accomplish,” but made no specific commitments.

The future of mining projects remains uncertain after Manitoba election results

The rumbles of an impending global energy transition have generated significant interest in minerals deemed essential to a low-carbon economy. Many of these minerals — particularly lithium — are found in abundance in Manitoba.

Aerial view of Hudson Bay mining metallurgical plants in Flin Flon, Manitoba
Manitoba’s mining history stretches back centuries, but recent years have seen the province promote its mineral industry in hopes of becoming a top global mining destination. It remains unclear how the NDP will balance economic growth and environmental protection when it comes to mining activity. Photo: Winnipeg Free Press Archives

The previous government was setting the stage for a critical mineral boom, offering a host of financial incentives and promising to eliminate regulatory hurdles. 

It’s part of why the PC government wasn’t too keen on protected areas; the prospecting industry has been pushing for a suspension of protected areas to allow no-holds-barred exploration.

The NDP has pledged to create its own critical minerals strategy, in partnership with Indigenous communities, but has not outlined any details. The party has remained fairly mum on the mining front and it’s not yet clear whether it will continue to boost the mineral industry or impose more restrictions in the name of environmental protection.

It’s likely to be business as usual for the Sio Silica mining proposal

At a mid-September news conference, two Springfield town councillors announced an independent survey of 5,000 Manitobans had found more than 95 per cent oppose Sio Silica’s proposal to mine sand from the community’s drinking water aquifer.

But the future of Sio Silica’s project remains uncertain.

Like his Tory counterparts, Kinew has taken a neutral stance on Sio Silica, deferring decisions about the controversial project to the technical advisory group tasked with reviewing the Alberta company’s proposal to drill nearly 8,000 wells.

Sio Silica CEO Feisal Somji (centre) sits with the company's legal team and executives during hearings over their proposed sand mining project in southeastern Manitoba
The Alberta company behind the Sio Silica mining proposal made arguments to Manitoba’s Clean Environment Commission. The NDP has vowed to “listen” to the commission’s findings. Photo: John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press

The project generated enough public backlash to be referred to the Clean Environment Commission — Manitoba’s independent environmental regulator — for review. The commission’s report found the mine could benefit the province (silica sand is used in several green technologies, including solar panels) but cautioned the risks of using an untested mining method to access the vital aquifer were not fully understood. 

Kinew has stressed the party will “listen to the [commission]” but stopped short of expressing a position on the mine itself. 

Much will remain murky for the future of Manitoba environment policy 

That’s about where the NDP’s outright environment promises stop — but it’s not where Manitoba’s climate challenges end, even after the Manitoba election results are in. 

The NDP has been clear it takes the complexities of the climate crisis seriously, stating on numerous occasions it sees climate change as “​not just a threat on the horizon” but as a reality “knocking on our doorstep.” 

This is a marked turn from the previous government, but many of the NDP’s climate promises have not come with funding promises to match.

The NDP is inheriting a delicate balancing act between restoring the efficacy of the public service and keeping costs low for Manitobans struggling under an affordability crisis. The party has stated it will take a “whole of government” approach to mitigate the impacts of climate change and start transitioning the economy away from carbon fuels. 

But with climate almost an asterisk in a campaign heavily focused on the pressing issue of health care in Manitoba, time will tell whether — or at least when — the whole government’s attention will turn to climate.

Updated Oct. 3, 2023, at 11:15 p.m. CT: This article has been updated to include Premier-designate Wab Kinew’s victory speech on Tuesday night.

Updated Oct. 3, 2023, at 10:50 p.m. CT: This article has been updated to include news of Heather Stefanson’s resignation as PC party leader.

Julia-Simone Rutgers is a reporter covering environmental issues in Manitoba. Her position is part of a partnership between The Narwhal and the Winnipeg Free Press.

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