Campbell caught in carbon-tax contradiction

Premier claims to embrace California’s green shift — but only when it suits him

by Chris Genovali,

The Edmonton Journal, Published: July 20, 2008
Victoria Times Colonist, Published: Sunday, July 13, 2008

The B.C. carbon tax has become a political lightning rod, diverting attention from the issue at hand — combating climate change. The fact is we do need a carbon tax or emissions pricing system, but one that is aligned with a suite of policies and initiatives that work in concert, not in contradiction. Unfortunately, the carbon tax initiative is mired by what can only be described as the policy schizophrenia of the government.

Whether it was inadvertent or by design, Finance Minister Colin Hansen yanked down his government’s green facade last week by stating that offshore oil and gas drilling on the B.C. coast would fit in nicely with the province’s climate action goals.

How convenient, especially given that the minister’s government will be providing massive subsidies to the oil and gas industry while simultaneously ushering in a carbon tax which for rank-and-file British Columbians borders on the confiscatory.

The average citizen in B.C. has limited choice at best in opting for alternative transportation or fuels, as both are sorely lacking. This lack of choice is particularly the case for rural residents.

Like the rest of Canada, British Columbian society has been designed and structured to operate on fossil-fuel consumption; decades of successive provincial and local governments have done relatively little to provide the citizenry substantive or realistic options.

The proceeds of the carbon tax will be siphoned into general revenue as opposed to directly funding programs focused on reducing emissions, increasing green energy production and establishing more climate friendly modes of transportation.

Coupling this with the aforementioned corporate subsidies, the carbon tax starts to look like a redistribution of wealth from working British Columbians into the hands of the oil and gas industry.

In an attempt to make the carbon tax revenue neutral, the government is promising to offset it with individual and business income tax reductions.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation argues that municipalities and businesses paying the carbon tax will simply pass along the increased cost through higher property taxes and increased prices on goods and services, and that the province hasn’t included these costs in its calculations.

Hansen’s boss, Premier Gordon Campbell, has positioned himself as the Canadian version of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger when it comes to the climate change file.

But there is a cavernous difference. Campbell wants to turn the magnificent B.C. coast into the province’s oilpatch, while Schwarzenegger opposes any changes to the current moratorium on offshore oil drilling in California.

From Schwarzenegger’s website: “Recently, the Governor reaffirmed his strong position supporting a permanent ban on any new oil and gas leases off the coast. In a letter to Acting Secretary of the Interior, the Governor again stated his long-held position that a federal moratorium prohibiting new leases and exploration for oil and gas must remain in effect.”

It turns out that the premier and his finance minister are ideologically far closer to U.S. President George W. Bush and presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain than to “Ahnold.”

Both Bush and McCain have just come out in favour of revoking the California ban, opportunistically using the recent spike in gas prices to reveal their predilection for opening up the Golden State’s coast to oil exploration. Sounds vaguely familiar, doesn’t it?

In addition to supporting offshore oil development, the Campbell government is pushing for the revocation of the 35-year oil-tanker moratorium on the B.C. coast and the construction of pipelines into Kitimat — both in order to facilitate the export of oil from northern Alberta’s tarsands to feed hydrocarbon-hungry markets in the far east.

The premier, momentarily veering off his climate action message, told the Kitimat Sentinel that the proposed “energy corridor” from the Alberta tarsands to the B.C. coast was “a great idea” and that the provincial government won’t be dragged into a propaganda war with environmentalists who are opposed to the scheme.

These are the stances of a government that does not appear to be genuinely interested in tackling climate change, not to mention being in utter contradiction to the stated intention of the carbon tax.

But what about those $100 climate action dividend cheques, you ask? Try making a down payment on a Prius with one…

Chris Genovali is executive director of Raincoast Conservation.

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Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.