Standing on Principle: Explaining the DeSmogBlog's Position on the BC Election

Thu, 2009-04-16 08:29Jim Hoggan
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Standing on Principle: Explaining the DeSmogBlog's Position on the BC Election

An election campaign is unfolding in the Canadian province of British Columbia over the next month, the outcome of which could have important implications all over North America and, ultimately, around the world.

A central issue in this provincial political squabble is a carbon tax - according to most analysts, the least-expensive, most effective and most transparent of climate change solutions (check this report, for example from the U.S. Congressional Budget Office [PDF]).

But if carbon taxes are popular among economists, they are widely regarded as toxic among voters - as any new tax is likely to be. That’s why the B.C. election is so important. For people outside this jurisdiction, it is being seen not so much as a minor election in a distant place, but as a referendum on carbon taxes. The assumption here is that if the tax fails here, it won’t be worth trying anywhere in North America.

By way of background, B.C.’s incumbent government - a right-of-centre coalition that goes under the perhaps-confusing name “Liberal” - launched a modest ($10-a-tonne) carbon tax last year, the implementation of which coincided exactly (and unfortunately) with last summer’s spike in oil prices.

B.C.’s other major political force is the New Democratic Party (NDP), historically a loose coalition of organized labour, social policy leftists and environmentalists. Surprisingly, given the party’s traditional environmental component, the NDP decided to fight the carbon tax, apparently seeing political advantage in doing so.

The gamble paid off in the short term. By the end of the last, hot summer, voters were furious about gas prices (which doubled in a matter of months to nearly $1.50 Cdn per litre - well over $5 US per [US] gallon). Even though the carbon tax made up less than 10 cents/gallon of that total, voters turned their anger on the governing Liberals and the NDP got a nice bump in the polls. At least one poll showed them in the lead for the first time since the mid-1990s.

But oil prices have fallen, and with them, the fortunes of the “axe-the-tax” NDP. The party, which is battling against the carbon tax as hard as ever, is divided on the issue and is bleeding votes to the Green Party, which in some recent polls is showing a best-ever performance.

Now, some of the NDP’s functionaries are beginning to accuse critics of being in some kind of unhealthy alliance with the (leading) Liberal party. For example, when the widely respected and internationally recognized energy economist Dr. Mark Jaccard released an analysis that was critical of the NDP carbon tax position, the New Democrats’ leader Carole James and Environment critic Shane Simpson both slammed the man as a partisan rather than actually addressing the substance of his criticism. (For the record, Jaccard has an impeccable record for political impartiality, having been engaged over the years as an expert by parties of all political stripes - including the NDP.)

There are, of course, other issues in this election, but for the DeSmogBlog there is only one: the carbon tax. Premier Gordon Campbell took a significant political risk in implementing this, the most progressive climate change legislation in any jurisdiction in North America. And he stuck to his guns, even when the politically expedient thing would have been to organize a timely retreat.

For that leadership, he deserves the support that he has been receiving recently from Canadian environmental groups. Climate-conscious voters who are uncomfortable with the remainder of his centre-right platform also have the option of voting for the Green Party, which has also taken an intelligent and responsible position in support of the carbon tax. (In fact, the Greens have gone the extra step of pointing out that, even on its rising trajectory, the tax is not yet high enough to be truly effective.)

I was invited to Washington, D.C. early this year by the U.S. Carbon Tax Centre. They had arranged a Capitol Hill briefing on this issue and they were interested in the Canadian experience. They were concerned, firstly, that a federal party (also called Liberal, but unrelated) had recently proposed a carbon tax and lost the subsequent election and, secondly, that the BC government – the only one to have passed such a tax – now seemed to be in danger.

So, I am convinced: politicians and policymakers from across North America are watching this election – which means that we at the DeSmogBlog will continue to give it attention, and to criticize those who, for whatever reasons, are campaigning against this worthy – necessary – policy.

For the record, this puts us in an interesting and unfamiliar position. As long-time and trenchant critics of the climate change (non-)policies of the Bush Republicans in the U.S. and the Harper Conservatives in Canada, we at the DeSmogBlog frequently have been castigated as somehow “left-wing” – as if caring about the environment we leave to our children is the stuff of communist conspiracy. Since the start of the election, however, the NDP’s defenders have started calling us “right-wing” – in one reference, someone even called us “neo-cons.”

This smacks of old-fashioned, partisan politics where you set up and attack labels because you don’t want to discuss the issue.

Two things for clarity:

1.   This dispute is all about climate change. Specifically, it’s about the carbon tax. If the New Democrats want the DeSmogBlog’s support, they can change policies. As long as they attack the carbon tax and continue in what seems to be a transparent attempt to take advantage of public confusion on the issue, they can call us whatever names they please, but they can count on our continued opposition.

2.   The opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone (although, clearly, they are widely supported within the DeSmogBlog). They do not represent the operating prerogatives or the personal opinions of those in my public relations firm, Hoggan & Associates, and neither do they reflect in any way on the opinions or policies of any of the other organizations with which I am affiliated.

 

Previous Comments

Not sure where you guys got the idea this is a referendum on the carbon tax. I think you’re the only site making that claim. If anything, most media organizations seem to think this will be a referendum on who can best handle the economy, not that I share that view either.

The environment is the most important issue for me, and each party has good and bad ideas. I think it’s important to look at the whole package.

The Liberals were on the right track with the carbon tax, but the tax in its current state is as good as useless. It’s not leading to any reductions in C02 emissions. The Gateway Project is a disaster environmentally, and I’ve never seen it even mentioned here.

The NDP are political opportunists for opposing the carbon tax, instead of trying to improve it, but the rest of their environmental platform is pretty solid.

The Green Party has by far the best environmental platform. They get it more then anyone else does.

P.S. The only referendum this election is on STV, and I hope all environmentalists vote in favour.

The carbon tax has become at top issue in this election and it was the NDP who launched their campiagn with headlines saying they would “scrap the gas tax”. Look at the homepage of the NDP’s campaign site today, the lead title is a giant graphic stating “Campbell’s gas tax is a failure.”

The first point in the NDP’s election platform is “Scrapping Gordon Campbell’s unfair and ineffective gas tax.”

It is the NDP that is trying to makes this a referendum on the carbon tax.

Carbon taxes don’t work and DaSmog Blog is totally naive in supporting such a tax.  BC’s carbon tax is a so called revenue neutral tax. So what’s the point in collecting it and how is it helping the environment. Has it discouraged people from driving as of yet? Are people heating their homes less?

I really wonder why all the enviros have such a love on for the carbon tax yet at the same time they are silent on Campbells Gateway project which will do nothing but encourage the use of vehicles and will increase emissions.  They should look at the Scandanavian countries where carbon taxes have not helped to decrease emissions.

JWL, revenue neutral means that the estimated money collected by new carbon taxes is to offset by income tax reductions or credits. Credits and tax reductions are given out without consideration of taxpayers cabon dioxide output (which the government will rarely know anyway), put perhaps in consideration of income (so that low income tax-payers may get a greater credit, proportionally or in actuality, that rich taxpayers). It doesn’t mean that for any one individual they will pay the same tax as before: the whole point is to make those who use a lot of greenhouse gas producing energy to pay for this activity, and the tax they pay on carbon may be more than income tax reductions or credits they receive. Those who use less fuel will, however, see a net dividend.

The carbon tax rate is the trickiest part. You want to ultimately set the rate so that reductions in carbon dioxide occur to the levels society desires. Setting it too high, initially, leaves no time to adapt and could cripple industry. Setting it too low will not change behaviour. Initially, the tax in B.C. is quite low: it more an incentive, rather than a punishment, to produce goods and services with lower carbon footprints. The tax will predictably rise over time though, to levels so that real reductions in carbon dioxide occur, reducing the cost advantages of processes that create carbon dioxide (by raising their cost) over more technological or expensive processes that produce less carbon dioxide. Essentially, you are trying to accomplish, through tax law, what might be tried through a hard cap on carbon emissions.

Note that there is no free lunch: low carbon methods of production often cost more, in dollars, that methods they replace. So there is a hit to the economy in that costs will rise (but this is a very complex subject: it cannot be glibly considered). However, doing nothing about rising carbon dioxide will result in a far larger hit to the world economy and humanity: this is almost certain.

I find it really pretty incredible that their are people in country who still cannot understand the concept of carbon taxes, given we had a federal election in which Dion’s liberals proposed almost the same thing.

I find it interesting that, some 24 hours after the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy released their report on climate change - which made it clear that a carbon tax is not the preferred or most effective method for tackling climate change in Canada - that there is no mention of it on the DeSmog web site.

The web site’s mission statement states: “DeSmogBlog exists to clear the PR pollution that is clouding the science on climate change.” And yet, we see a retisence to entertain alternative ideas on solving the issue.

It makes sense, when you read Jim Hoggan’s statement on the issue, in his most recent post:

“There are, of course, other issues in this election, but for the DeSmogBlog there is only one: the carbon tax.” 

Apparently, DeSmog blog is blind to other options like a unified cap-and-trade system, that the BC NDP advocates. Well, for readers who may be interested in the recommendations of the National Roundtable, here are some relevant links:

A couple relevant passages from the report, for context:

“1. Unify carbon policies and prices across emissions and jurisdictions based on three principal policy elements:

  • an economy-wide cap-and-trade system transitioned from current and planned”

“3. Use generated revenue from permit auctions first and foremost, to invest in the required technologies and innovation needed to meet the Canadian environmental goal of reduced GHG emissions.”

There is no mention of a carbon tax as part of a needed coordinated national approach, but a national cap-and-trade system. Also, the entire so-called  ‘revenue neutral’ approach to the carbon tax adopted by the BC Liberals is clearly rejected by the NRT, which recommends that the revenues be used the funds to “invest in the required technologies”.

Unfortunately, DeSmog seems to be a one-note organization that is increasingly being tied politically and economically to the BC Liberal government. How can your readers trust that the information you provide them is accurate and non-biased? They can’t.
 

our post, above, or the Pembina Institute’s analysis. There will be more, I promise.

 

Well I think that Jim Hoggan did a great job in pointing out the issue of the BC carbon tax in light of the pending election here.

   This BC election is a bit perplexing for me now, with the carbon tax referandum idea out there.

   I cannot vote for a mainstream party because I believe that we need real change on a number of issues, and none of the mainstream parties is showing any willingness to do that. The Greens usually get my vote - I just hope that doesn’t somehow indicate that I am against initiatives such as the gas tax, or that I am against reducing emissions, by not voting for the Liberals. How will we know if voters voted against the gas tax, or if they just don’t believe in emissions reductions, or if their votes mean that the gas tax is just not doing enough?

 Maybe BC needs a referandum on the best way to reduce emissions… I doubt that the Gas Tax is going to do it, certainly not soon enough. By the way, where the heck are my electric cars?? No political party is advocating for them, and in BC they would go a long way to reducing our emissions by 50% [over 1990 levels]. Campbell actually stands in the way of electric powered vehicles - how can a green person vote for that party? 

  I remain perplexed.

 

Taking into consideration the Campbell Liberal’s strong support for anything related to oil & gas, their Gateway Project, and road/bridge-building binge in general, I think the carbon tax is just a cynical ploy to make them look like they care about the environment when most of what they do (fish farms, ruin-of-river power) is environmentally destructive.

The Green Party has the best policies, but I doubt the majority of people take them seriously as a governing party in tough economic times. The environment really isn’t that important to the average person, considering how much whinging is going on over such a piddly carbon tax. I think the best that we can hope for is that STV passes.