British Columbia is officially ruling out any increase to its milestone carbon tax, ignoring the advice of its own handpicked panel to build on the groundbreaking levy that was the first in North America when it was enacted eight years ago.
Premier Christy Clark announced Friday that any increase to the levy would be unwise in advance of an expected national price on carbon. Instead, the tax will remain at $30 per tonne.
By comparison, Alberta’s NDP has introduced a tax that will begin at $20 per tonne next January and will reach $30 in 2018.
“No one else has one anywhere in the country,” Ms. Clark said.
“So what I am saying is we will consider raising the carbon tax as other provinces catch up. … We are so far ahead of everybody else.”
The province’s Climate Leadership Team – a government-appointed group of environmentalists, academics, business people and First Nations representatives – last fall called for increasing the carbon tax by $10 per tonne every year beginning in 2018. The tax has not been adjusted since 2012.
The current $30-per-tonne rate translates into about seven cents on each litre of gasoline. Revenues from the tax are used to fund tax cuts, making the levy revenue neutral.
Friday’s announcement came with a challenge from the Premier to other provinces grappling with the issue of carbon pricing.
“We want other provinces in Canada to catch up to our $30-per-tonne carbon tax,” she said.
Ontario is enacting a climate-change plan, but one that does not depend on an outright carbon tax.
B.C. provincial politics were also at play. Ahead of next May’s provincial election, Ms. Clark was laying down a marker on a key environmental policy for the Liberal government, which will be seeking a fifth consecutive mandate that would take it to a 20-year run in office.
Ms. Clark also announced 21 actions to reduce net annual greenhouse-gas emissions by up to 25 million tonnes below current forecasts by 2050. That means the province is working toward the goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions to 80 per cent below 2007 levels by 2050.
Even with LNG projects, the plan will reduce emissions by eight per cent by 2030, said Ms. Clark.
The announcement was quickly denounced by environmentalists and the opposition New Democrats, who accused the government of abandoning the province’s position as a leader in climate policies.
The Pembina Institute said the government had simply pushed the hard work of protecting the environment into the future.
“Carbon pollution will not start to significantly decline for almost 15 years – assuming all the reductions in the plan come to fruition,” Josha MacNab, Pembina‘s B.C. director, said in a statement.
New Democrat George Heyman, who speaks for the party on environmental issues, condemned the plan as evidence the Liberals no longer care about the environment.
“She has announced a plan that will do less, more slowly than British Columbia’s formerly world-leading strategy,” Mr. Heyman said in a statement.
He said the government’s plan “replaces targets with vague positive-sounding language.”
Andrew Weaver, the sole Green Party member of the legislature and leader of the provincial party, took issue with the government’s hands-off approach to the carbon tax.
“As we go into another year with temperature records again being smashed across the world and in B.C., this government is content to fiddle and play games with carbon accounting,” Mr. Weaver said in a statement. “Without increasing the carbon levy, there is no hope that B.C. will meet its [greenhouse-gas] reduction targets.”
Ms. Clark said she had to balance the need to address climate change with “family affordability” and protecting the economy and job creation. “Our response to the climate leadership team’s recommendations today is about that balance,” she said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government will begin working on climate-change policies that could include a price on carbon, describing it as key to his government’s climate-change plan. Further discussion between the Prime Minister and premiers is expected at a meeting this fall.