British Columbia hangs on to its carbon tax

Canadians had a chance to introduce a national carbon tax last year during a federal election, but failed to elect the party that was pushing it. Yesterday's provincial election in British Columbia produced the opposite result: the governing party, which had introduced a carbon tax last year, survived.


No one considered the 2008 national campaign a referendum on the merits of a carbon tax, and there were certainly other issues at play in the B.C. vote. But the tax attracted an enormous amount of attention, largely because the opposition party, the New Democrats, have historically embraced environmental issues far more tightly than the governing Liberals. Yet this time around, the party campaigned to "axe the tax" and replace it, at some point, with a cap-and-trade approach to carbon emissions.

Two of Canada's provinces have some form of a carbon tax. Neither is doing much of anything right now to reduce emissions. The first tax, in Quebec, amounts to little more than $1/tonne. The B.C. tax is $10/tonne of carbon dioxide (or $2.70/tonne of carbon), is scheduled to rise to $30/tonne ($8.20/tonne C) by 2012. That's still far short of what will be required to actually push down consumption of fossil fuels, but it's a start. Here's Richard Littlemore of DeSmogBlog, which is based in Vancouver:

We also hope that other political leaders in other jurisdictions will look at what has happened here in B.C. and start pursuing aggressive, promising climate change policies. A handsome cross section of international economists have said that a carbon tax can work. Now, a group of voters have said that a carbon tax can win political support. That's a promising step toward a stable climate future.

In the U.S., which has 60 times the population of B.C., a straightforward carbon tax appears to be a non-starter, with the president and just about every major player in Congress and industry pushing for a cap-and-trade system that won't take effect until 2012. And even then, half of the emission allowances will be given away for the first few years, meaning that the biggest emitters will have no incentive to start cutting emissions until well into the next decade. Although Obama campaigned on a cap and trade with no giveaways, under the Waxman-Markey bill now making its way through the House, full auctioning of emissions permit wouldn't be in place until 2022 or even 2027.

That's far too late, according to some estimates of much time we have left to start slashing emissions if we want to avoid irrevocable and/or catastrophic climate change.

Is a watered-down, loophole-ridden cap-and-trade bill really the only game in town? Are Americans really that different from those Canadians who are learning to accept a carbon tax? I wish I had answers.

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The carbon tax was a pretty minor issue, IMO. The Campbell government hasn't (openly or provably) done anything egregious, and so they get to stay in power until they do.

Then we elect the NDP, they fix a few things while ruining others until they do something terrible and we elect the Liberals again. Who proceed to fix a few things while ruining others...

I was talking to a friend about that - he says that happened not because Canadians are so environmental friendly, his idea was that to keep the same would have been to replace carbon tax with beer people choose that it might be better for them to keep the carbon tax - you can carpool but not beerpool....

"The carbon tax was a pretty minor issue, IMO."

That's a good thing. The opposition tried to use it to bring down the government, and failed. If the carbon tax had turned out to be an issue capable of bringing down the government, politicians everywhere would be even more fearful of the public reaction to a carbon tax.

"That's still far short of what will be required to actually push down consumption of fossil fuels, but it's a start."

It's already affecting investment decisions. Back in 2006, the provincial power-generating utility (BC Hydro) was considering building two coal-fired power plants. Those plans are now dead: the tax on coal is $20/ton initially, rising to $60/ton in 2012.

It was a weird election, with both the New Democrat Party and the Liberals trying to convince the public that they were the go-to party for environmentalists. The NDP opposed the carbon tax a long time ago, back when fossil fuel prices were skyrocketing, because they wanted to ride populist anger at being charged a tax on top of the already painful price of gas. This backfired badly when the world economy crashed and fuel prices returned to a more reasonable level, and the NDP were too heavily invested in their opposition to the carbon tax to turn face. Instead, they tried to convince voters that there were many other ways to support the environment, such as creating parks and refusing to to sell land and waterways to private interests. Which of these two choices would produce a greater overall environmental benefit, protecting land and water or instituting a carbon tax? I don't know, but I'm pretty upset that B.C. apparently can't have both.

who cares. slow news week?

By your momma (not verified) on 13 May 2009 #permalink

The last time the NDP was in power, they doubled the Provincial Debt, in two consecutive years they claimed the budget was somehow balanced despite those same budgets announcing increases to the provincial debt!

They nearly destroyed the mining industry by stealing mining rights from companies instead of following the existing expropriation laws. For several years mining exploration was dead in BC because no one would risk investing in BC after the theft of those properties ... this was huge in BC's resource based economy.

It was exposed that the NDP had been using a charity kick-back scheme to fund the party ... Bingogate!

They imposed automatic unionization rules through which any company who's employees conducted an informal poll showing 40% or more support for a union was automatically unionized ... which forced many small companies to shut down, including a window / glass shop owned by my neighbour. Supporting the corrupt union system was more important to the NDP than actually creating an environment where businesses could thrive and create new jobs.

They froze university tuition fees without giving the proper funding to universities to make up for the shortfall, starving universites and hurting secondary education. This of course led to the need for large tuition increases when the NDP were finally kicked out.

I could go on and on over the ways the NDP party damaged BC. It's really not hard to find the information ... so many programs supposedly created to help the people of BC, but with no funding, leading to unsustainable debt increases for BC taxpayers.

Meanwhile, since the Liberals have been in power, employement is way up, the mining / exploration industry has been booming, the provincial debt has decreased by more than 10%, the damn unions have not been allowed to run everything in their brutally corrupt ways, and in general the people of BC have been much better off.

The only reason the NDP did as well as they did in this election was apathy. The people are happy ... so they didn't bother to vote, producing a record low voter turnout.

Maybe in the next election, enough time will have passed, that the average voter will no longer remember all the harm the NDP did to us. The NDP will get re-elected, destruction and pain will ensue ... and the cycle will carry on.

To the point on the carbon tax...eveybody in this province knows full well Mr. Campbell added this slimy tax to fund the Olympics and could care less about " getting more vehicles off the highways". Wouldn't that be shooting yourself in the foot as he spends millions on the Sea to Sky highway. He knew full well the NDP would never get elected again as they ran this province into the ground. And now we are gonna get stuck with another spear, the Harmonized tax, just another burden for the working guy.