Pembina Institute

Recommendations to weaken the B.C. carbon tax would be a step backwards

Working on climate change issues can be challenging, especially when you compare what climate scientists say needs to be done with what politicians are (or are not) doing. Tuesday was a particularly challenging day.

That's when the British Columbia Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services released 75 recommendations for the 2012 B.C. budget. Included in the 75 were five recommendations about B.C.'s carbon tax and cap-and-trade rules that conveyed little interest in building on the positive steps already taken to address climate change in the province.

The most troubling recommendations were capping the carbon tax in July 2012, adding exemptions to its coverage and discontinuing efforts to help with the development of a regional cap-and-trade system.

Collectively, the recommendations ignore the warnings being delivered on an almost daily basis about the havoc climate change is going to wreak on our environment and our economic prosperity, which the Committee says it is trying to improve.

Take for instance last week's report from the International Energy Agency that basically says we have five years to turn things around if we want to Chevy volt parked at Surrey City Hall, in a designated EV parking and charging space. have any chance of averting catastrophic climate change. Or a recent report from the National Round Table on Environment and the Economy that warns that Canada could lose up to 25 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) if we allow that worst-case scenario to come to fruition.

Ideally the Committee would have produced some forward-looking recommendations to further the province's climate change plan — recommendations that respond to the alarm bells we've been hearing for years and tap into the economic opportunity presented to B.C. in the form of clean energy.

What would more forward-looking recommendations look like? Here are a few ideas:

  • Instead of proposing to cap the carbon tax, why not propose to continue to increase it so it provides a stronger incentive to shift to clean energy? This would also create space for a conversation about the best ways to invest the revenue. That could include opportunities such as transit,  and district heating systems. Public polling we commissioned in April shows support for many of these types of spending priorities.
  • Instead of proposing to introduce new loopholes in the carbon tax's coverage, why not use a portion of carbon tax revenue to make targeted investments where there are legitimate concerns about competitiveness? Furthermore, why not propose closing the existing loopholes in the carbon tax's coverage that give an unwarranted free pass to upwards of 10 per cent of the province's greenhouse gas pollution? The same public polling strongly suggests that British Columbians would support these ideas.
  • Instead of proposing to stop cap-and-trade spending, why not continue engaging potential partners and increase our efforts to tell B.C.'s success story with the carbon tax? If we're serious about bringing more partners to the table the last thing we should be doing is disengaging.

Several reactions to the recommendations suggest there may be some opportunities to move to a more forward-looking conversation. B.C.'s Environment Minister distanced himself from the recommendations, pointing out that the province is moving at an appropriate pace on the carbon tax and cap-and-trade. And on the opposition side of the legislature, the NDP deputy chair of the Committee indicated discomfort with 20 per cent of the report's recommendations (although he did not say exactly which 20 per cent he disagreed with).

The next couple of months will be telling as B.C. sets the stage for its 2012 budget in February. The Committee's recommendations are not binding and it will ultimately be up to the Finance Minister to make the decisions. Here's hoping the Committees recommendations fall on deaf ears that are more interested in a forward-looking agenda. 

Matt Horne (Pembina) — Dec 18, 2011 - 06:01 PM MT

The position of the NDP members on the recommendations was characterized incorrectly in this blog. In the committee's discussion, the 20 per cent of recommendations that the NDP didn't agree with were clearly articulated. Of relevance to this blog, the NDP did not endorse any of the recommendations dealing with the carbon tax and cap-and-trade (#'s 59 to 63 in the report).

This information is on the Hansard record in the section titled "Committee Report to the House" available here - http://www.leg.bc.ca/cmt/39thparl/session-4/fgs/hansard/N11107y.htm.

Steve — Dec 05, 2011 - 12:58 PM MT

I for one am happy that the carbon tax will be capped, and wish this unnecessary economy killing tax was gone all together. Until we have the technology available, we will continue to use fossil fuels.

Doug — Nov 26, 2011 - 12:43 PM MT

Taxing versus Obsoleting: While many are trying to cut back oil use slightly at the margins with small taxes or caps, I'm looking for disruptive technology that makes the need for oil at any price obsolete. I haven't found it. But the idea is to look at each end use -starting with the largest consuming use- and look for ways to refactor supply chains to obsolete/avoid oil use. Example: car travel for work: tele-work, including telerobotics, ways to monitor employees and keep company information confidential. If it can be made to work in north america then perhaps it will also work in rapidly growing economies around the world - before another few billion buy cars. And so on. Wish me luck.

dqn — Nov 29, 2011 - 07:16 PM MT

so Doug, when your sewer backs up,how does tele-plumbing sound? How about if you need home renovations? Have you tried tele-grocery delivery yet? If your supervisor calls and says that you need to be in the office on Tuesday because the head-office people will be in for an important meeting how does tele-driving get you there? How about tele-fire fighting, etc.? Inquiring minds want to know, eh.

Markus — Nov 18, 2011 - 12:54 PM MT

Almost all BC local governments have set community carbon reduction targets, and need this tool to reduce emissions. Start with them to help raise a push back against this. Communities could also include support for directing those dollars to green investments, help industry become less carbon intensive.

Emanuel Machado — Nov 18, 2011 - 10:09 AM MT

The Committee's recommendations and the general tone of the government on climate change, including the Premier, since Campbell's departure, has been quite disappointing. With the likes of Gwyn Morgan and a several Harperites advising and shapping the province's message and direction it is no surprise that industry deregulation and tax breaks for whealthy corporations are the main focus. BC's key policies about water, energy, GHGs and taxation appear to be have been hijacked and are going in an opposite direction that we once were heading, contracry to the desire of most british columbians. The time is coming, however, for all of us to stand up be counted and decide what kind of province we want to live in. For that we are going to need a clear altenative vision to the one we are currently beig sold on.

Alia — Nov 17, 2011 - 01:04 PM MT

That's a shame. I know a lot of British Columbians who are quite proud of the carbon tax and would like to see it's impact broadened.

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