Former finance minister Carole Taylor shows her green budget shoes the day before introducing B.C.’s carbon tax, February 2008. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

B.C. VIEWS: Canada’s carbon tax house of cards is falling down

Revealed as just another sales tax, it’s doomed in B.C. and nationally

If you filled up at the Shell station on Sumas Way in Abbotsford last week, you paid $1.38 per litre of regular gasoline. The Husky station on Quadra Street in Victoria was charging $1.44, the same price as in 100 Mile House, and a penny a litre more than in Cranbrook.

In Langley, Surrey and other locations within the Metro Vancouver transit tax area, prices were as high as $1.47. That’s drifting towards the all-time North American record set in Metro Vancouver this past April, where $1.62 per litre beat the record set in Los Angeles in 2008.

April 1 was the date of the latest increase in B.C.’s carbon tax on fuels, already the highest in Canada. It now sits at $35 per tonne of carbon dioxide emissions. That’s about 8.5 cents per litre of gasoline or 10 cents for diesel, once you add the GST that is charged on top of it in the Canadian tradition. To fill up a full-sized pickup truck, it’s an extra $10 or so for carbon tax.

When then-premier Gordon Campbell introduced the B.C. carbon tax in 2008, I argued in favour of it. It promotes more efficient vehicles, higher-density communities with more walking and cycling that our couch-potato culture desperately needs, and most significantly, it was “revenue neutral.”

What that meant was that personal and business income taxes were reduced to return carbon tax revenue, along with low-income and rural rebates. Campbell’s government even mailed everyone a nice cheque to help the medicine go down.

A few hard lessons have been learned since those early days of “fighting climate change” through taxation. The first is that it hasn’t worked.

B.C.’s greenhouse gas emissions went down for a couple of years due to a destructive global recession that among other things, forced Canadian and U.S. governments to briefly nationalize auto companies. Emissions have been rising since, and will continue unless the B.C. economy hits another wall.

Revenue neutrality has also gone the way of the Edsel. Premier John Horgan scrapped that, claiming to divert revenues towards vaguely defined efficiency projects. One is new transit lines in Surrey and Vancouver, announced by the previous federal government in 2015 and re-announced last week by Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Another sham: in May, the B.C. government announced $1.5 million to help my alma mater Langara College “reduce its carbon footprint.” The money is to replace worn-out ventilation fans. That’s right, old electric motors that run on carbon-free hydro power are replaced with new ones. If you believe that’s “fighting climate change,” I’ve got some toxic, overpriced fluorescent light bulbs you might like.

B.C.’s carbon tax is now just another sales tax, on top of the PST. Same goes for Alberta, where Premier Rachel Notley angrily announced that she’s pulling out of Trudeau’s national carbon tax over the Trans Mountain pipeline mess.

Trudeau’s edict would bring the rest of the country up to B.C.’s tax level and beyond, to $50 a tonne. But it will be “revenue neutral” to Ottawa, meaning the money will go back to provinces even if Ottawa collects it for them.

“See you in court,” said Saskatchewan, since joined by Doug Ford’s Ontario, and likely other provinces.

The notion that British Columbia, and for that matter Canada, can alter planetary weather with deceptive tax measures, while the U.S., China, India, Australia and others bow out, is not just sick. It’s dying.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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