Victoria critics line up to slam premier’s carbon tax plan

Parties use government announcement to speak out on climate change policy

Premier Christy Clark did a little pre-election campaigning Wednesday, announcing that a B.C. Liberal government would freeze B.C.’s carbon tax on fossil fuels at current rates for five years.

The freeze, she said, is to allow other jurisdictions to catch up to B.C., which taxes carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels at $30 a tonne.

B.C. Green Party leader and Victoria-Beacon Hill candidate Jane Sterk said the freeze shows a lack of understanding of the climate crisis.

She said the carbon tax should be raised to $50 per tonne to “level the playing field” and allow renewable energy companies to become more competitive with fossil fuel companies.

The comparatively expensive initial investment in renewable energy sources is hindering its development, she added.

The Greens would also extend the tax to industrial process emissions such as cement kilns, and cancel the offsetting income tax reductions. The revenues would instead be used to fund transit and possibly energy retrofits for homes and other buildings.

Rob Fleming, Victoria-Swan Lake MLA and NDP environment critic, said renewable energy is being held back by a lack of government leadership on policy and inaction at B.C. Hydro on alternative energy projects.

“The Liberals can’t have it both ways,” he said.

“To say they’re going to freeze the tax for five years means they’re essentially saying carbon pricing won’t be adjusted until the eve of the legal greenhouse gas reduction targets in 2020.”

B.C. Conservative leader John Cummins has promised to eliminate the carbon tax.

He emphasized the disproportionate impact the tax has on colder and more remote parts of B.C., but has not yet specified if offsetting income tax cuts would be reversed to make up the revenue to the province.

The carbon tax is budgeted to raise $1.2 billion in the coming fiscal year, with all revenues required to be returned through personal and business income tax reductions.

B.C.’s carbon tax was a political battleground before the 2009 election, with former NDP leader Carole James campaigning for it to be scrapped. At the 2008 municipal convention in Penticton, when former premier Gordon Campbell announced grants to offset carbon tax costs for towns and cities, James claimed the grants were to placate local politicians, who were in open revolt against the tax.

After 2009, the NDP changed its position to support the carbon tax. Leader Adrian Dix has said revenues should go towards transit expansion or energy-saving upgrades in municipal buildings and operations.

– with files from Tom Fletcher

dpalmer@vicnews.com