Wrong people will feel the pinch of province's carbon tax, critics say

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 June, 2008, 12:00am


When six out of every 10 British Columbians are against a government initiative, it's no wonder that critics are going to press the issue.

The contentious initiative is a new tax that will add to the cost of rising fuel prices and the opposition doesn't have to work hard to get people griping.

On July 1, British Columbia (BC) will be the first jurisdiction in North America to have a consumer-based carbon tax. At the petrol pump and to turn up the meter to heat their homes, every British Columbian will be paying a tax for the use of nearly all types of fossil fuels.

When it announced the move in February, the Liberal government was feeding off a sense that climate change action was necessary and they had to lead with a bold move.

In the last half of his term before an election next spring, BC Premier Gordon Campbell has made the environment his primary target for change. It made sense politically: the province where Greenpeace was founded is the country's most environmentally conscious and continues to be driven by activism motivated by the resource sector.

Mr Campbell, a cheerleader for closer ties with Asia and a frequent visitor to China, said seeing the environmental impact of industry there was a big motivator for him to lead in green initiatives.

The government promised the tax would be revenue-neutral; that is, that any money collected would go into cuts in income tax. But in the months since, opposition to the tax has united the right and left.

The left-leaning NDP opposition party, which now has perhaps its strongest issue on which to wage an election campaign, came out this week with its reasons why the carbon tax is unsupportable.

Its leader Carole James said the carbon tax punishes ordinary working people who have no choice but to drive cars or heat their homes. 'As fuel prices continue to climb, oil companies continue to rake in record profit while ordinary consumers take the hit in their pocketbooks,' she said. 'The focus should be on the large industrial polluters.'

Opposition is strong in rural areas and now increasingly in pockets of suburbs. In areas outside of the greater Vancouver area, small town residents complained that with the lack of transit in rural areas, using a subway or bus is not an option and in colder northern climes, heavy-duty trucks that use more fuel, are not luxury items but necessities.

'This is the reality for us,' said Sharon Smith, mayor of the interior town of Houston. 'We choose to live here but we're the resource community that brings dollars to BC.'

When the carbon tax takes effect on July 1, it will start at C$10-a-tonne (HK$77) levy on carbon. That works out to HK$2.34 each litre. The tax will increase by C$5-per-tonne each year, eventually reaching 7 cents a litre by 2012.

Mr Campbell said: 'I understand that this is a tough time, but people will be further ahead financially when July 1 comes and goes.'

The discontent isn't going away.

A recent poll shows that 60 per cent of British Columbians oppose the tax, including 56 per cent of those who consider themselves Liberal supporters. The government expected that residents wouldn't be happy but it didn't calculate how much fuel would rise in the months since the tax was announced.

Each British Columbian will be getting a cheque for C$100 before the end of this month and the premier, who is risking his party on the idea that doing something good for the environment would pay off, is banking that a little extra in the pocket would ease the tank full of resentment felt at the pumps.

Tomorrow: New York