On April 1, B.C’s carbon tax went up to $40 a tonne. According to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, that brings the cost to 9.98 cents per litre of gasoline.
It’s hard to say the tax is a popular measure just going by our web poll this week alone. It’s also not uncommon to see posts on social media complaining about the tax along with a picture of their bill. Furthermore, some of the provinces are fighting the federal government on the carbon tax. Yet paradoxically, polls by polling companies have repeatedly shown that a majority of Canadians both believe in and are concerned about climate change. That’s a hard reality to square until you start looking at things a bit closer.
Take smoking as a comparison. To disincentivize smoking, there’s a lot of tax on tobacco products. And yes, smoking rates have gone down but adding a tax is far from the only thing done to disincentivize smoking. For example, if you buy a pack of cigarettes, you’ll see diseased lungs or bad teeth on the packaging. It’s not like there are images of dead dolphins, burned forests or smoked up cities on the side of our gas stations. It’s doubtful we would want to go there, but it shows that while with smoking the government has taken a more holistic approach it doesn’t appear to be quite the same with climate change and the carbon tax. Furthermore, that’s before taking into account that you can quit smoking without having your house freeze or losing your job for not showing up. In short, if you believe a carbon tax is the best way to go and are a hardened climate change policy supporter, it doesn’t seem like it will be nearly enough.
Next, if you look at the policy with a bit more of a critical eye, the carbon tax presents a number of problems. In a big urban area, it might help promote the use of public transport but in a rural area such as the Cariboo, you really don’t have a choice. For months now, you haven’t even been able to get a bus to say Kamloops, Vancouver or Prince George, let alone a bus that will get you to work every day or a subway or a sky train. The reality is that rural users aren’t going to have a choice and, with long driving distances and an absence of apartment buildings, it’s also going to cost them more in transportation and heating than their urban counterparts. As a whole this means it disincentivizes living in rural areas and incentivizes living in urban areas, exactly the opposite of what B.C. needs right now.
Finally, the optics of the carbon tax are extremely poor. B.C. is paying twice as much as some other provinces and ending the “revenue neutral” requirement really does make it seem like a cash grab.
In conclusion, it’s unlikely that without further measures the carbon tax will do enough to stop climate change, the carbon tax aggravates some existing problems and the optics are extremely poor at this point. It’s entirely possible that a carbon tax is one of the best ways to address climate change but, if so, the execution and public pitch have been well and properly botched.