06 July 2011

British Columbians love their carbon tax ... so far

As British Columbia's carbon tax celebrates its third birthday, the province's residents seem to have grown rather fond of it. According to a Pembina Institute report, 69 percent of British Columbians are concerned about global warming and 70 per cent support their province being a leader in dealing with it. Furthermore, they would like the tax applied to all sources of pollution that cause global warming, not just fossil fuel combustion as is the case now. In fact, as a way of raising government revenue it was their second choice after corporate taxes, more popular than sales taxes, property taxes and personal income taxes.

British Columbians, unlike our federal government, are not prepared to wait for others to lead the way in dealing with climate change. Seventy per cent strongly agree or somewhat agree with the statement: “B.C. should be a leader in reducing pollution that causes global warming, even if our neighbors and competitors lag behind.” Over half feel current actions are “not tough enough” while only 36 per cent feel they are “about right.”

Indications are the tax is reducing the use of fossil fuels. Research by Stewart Elgie, a University of Ottawa economist and professor of law, found that B.C.’s per capita fuel usage had fallen more than four per cent compared with the rest of Canada while its economy, measured by GDP, has kept up with the rest of Canada's.

Nonetheless, this isn't good enough. According to the Pembina Institute, a carbon tax approaching 50 cents a litre for gasoline will be required to meet emission reduction goals for 2020, but the current tax, which has escalated each year, will work out to only 6.7 cents a litre in 2012 after which no increases are scheduled. About half of British Columbians are currently opposed to an increase after 2012, so more winning of hearts and minds is obviously required.

All of us are contributing to global warming, the biggest threat our civilization faces. All of us should therefore be held accountable for the damage we are doing. The fairest and most effective way to do this is through a carbon tax—the more you pollute the more you pay. It is encouraging to see British Columbians at least getting a start on accepting their responsibilities, but discouraging that the start is so small and that no other Canadians have accepted a comparable tax.

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