Clark pitches carbon tax to premiers

Premier Christy Clark is pitching B.C.'s carbon tax to her fellow premiers, bolstered by a study that shows it is reducing fossil fuel use.

By Tom Fletcher, Black Press

Premier Christy Clark is pitching B.C.’s carbon tax to her fellow premiers, bolstered by a study that shows it is reducing fossil fuel use compared to other provinces.

As premiers gathered Thursday in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. for a Council of the Federation meeting, B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak said B.C. needs other provinces and U.S. states to get on board before moving further on carbon pricing.

Introduced in 2008, B.C.’s carbon tax now adds about seven cents to the cost of a litre of gasoline, with comparable taxes on coal, fuel oil, propane and other fuels. Legislation requires that carbon tax revenue be offset by reductions in business and personal income tax, so it encourages fuel efficiency.

The B.C. Liberal Party campaigned in the May election to freeze the rate for five years. Polak said results so far show it is reducing per-capita fuel consumption without depressing the overall economy, but the province has gone as far as it can on its own.

The study by University of Ottawa law professor Stewart Elgie found that per-capita use of fossil fuels has declined, while it has increased in the rest of Canada.

“B.C.’s carbon tax shift is only four years old, so it is too early to draw firm conclusions, but its greenhouse gas reductions are trending in the same direction as those seen in European countries with more than 15 years of data,” the study says. “Indeed B.C.’s reductions to date appear to be even greater, consistent with the fact that its carbon tax rate is now higher and more comprehensive than most European countries.”

NDP environment critic Spencer Chandra Herbert agreed that the carbon tax is working, but said the five-year freeze indicates the government has lost its leadership position. The NDP is calling for the tax to be extended to emissions from industrial processing such as cement making, which is currently subject to tax only on natural gas or other fuel used.

Polak said some industries are already at a disadvantage because B.C. is going it alone. Other jurisdictions need to put a price on carbon emissions before B.C. can expand the tax or raise the rate further, she said.