The B.C. election and carbon pricing

2009-05-13

in Canada, Economics, Law, Politics, The environment

From a climatic perspective, it seems that there are two reasons to be glad about the recent electoral victory of the Liberal Party in British Columbia:

  1. Firstly, it shows that carbon pricing (and carbon taxes, specifically) need not mean death at the ballot box. While it is still far too weak, the B.C. carbon tax is at least a progressive example for North America. Some have concluded that it is actually the most effective climate policy in effect on the continent at this time.
  2. Secondly, it shows that an unprincipled stand against carbon pricing can actually cost a party support. This is an essential development, if we are to deal with climate change. Succeeding will depend on carbon mitigation policies enduring and strengthening for many decades. As such, we need to reach the point where the electorate rejects those who would scrap them for non-environmental reasons.

While there are plenty of reasons to dislike both major political parties in B.C., at least this election didn’t prove to be yet another setback for effective climate policy in Canada.

Here’s hoping the US Congress is able to pass a cap-and-trade scheme before the Copenhagen meeting, and that Canada will finally roll out regulations on greenhouse gas emissions nationally.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

. May 13, 2009 at 8:53 pm

on bc politics.
May 13, 2009

we have elected gordon campbell’s liberals to a third straight majority. congratulations are in order to the man, i suppose, but i wouldn’t shake his hand too hard. it’s not like carole james was a very hard opponent. after all, i’m not sure how you can win such a decisive victory after losing the leaders’ debate miserably.

y’see, as much as they will refuse to admit it, the NDP and the liberals are pretty much the same. a few months ago, i had lunch with an old friend, an insider with the liberal party. we agreed that the main difference between the liberals and the NDP are who is paying them off.

. May 13, 2009 at 9:07 pm

BC has no fucking heart
5.13.2009,10:23

That’s all.
I’m not talking to any of you anymore. You can take your NIMBY, me-first, gentrifying, scare-tactic-buying, soulless selves and fold them into corners so sharp they can penetrate your ribs to prove that you literally have no heart. I’m nauseated by having to face the fact that the people in my province think cementing us as the national leader in child poverty and tripling the number people who don’t have homes is something to be rewarded with another term in office and six-figure salary – proof positive that we haven’t come past about age 10 as a society yet.

Tristan May 13, 2009 at 9:55 pm

By a large margin, the NDP’s loss was not the most significant event of the BC election – it was the failure of STV to pass. Which means we’ll have the continuation of no-cooperation politics as usual. If the NDP and the Liberals had to form a grand coalition, then they would stop disagreeing about climate change and get to work on the both two issues governments can make a difference in today – climate change and social welfare. It’s only the first-past-the-post electoral system that guarantees we see it as a “one or the other” question.

Josh May 14, 2009 at 4:46 am

eh… not to mention that my votes are basically worthless during every election because I don’t live in a “swing” area.

What amazes me is when analysts talk about how James brought the NDP back from oblivion. If you look at the percentage of the popular vote they got when they were “obliterated” it was something like 20%.

20% = oblivion apparently… that’s some smooth democracy.

Tristan May 14, 2009 at 12:47 pm

We don’t have democracy. We have veto power over factions of the elite only insofar as there are other factions which can muster comparable business support.

Tristan May 14, 2009 at 12:57 pm

The real question is, can climate change be addressed without democracy. And by “can” I don’t mean is it a formal possibility – I mean will the narrow interests now represented be enough to push through the changes which are in the wider interest. Or, will the narrow interests be wide enough?

So far, it appears not.

Milan May 14, 2009 at 1:54 pm

I don’t think democracy or lack thereof is necessarily the key variable, here. Rather, it is the planning horizon being used.

A despot concerned only with the next few years wouldn’t act on climate change, and neither would a democratic electorate that only cared about what will happen in the near future.

The enormous impetus to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions derives most forcefully from concerns about what will happen a few decades from now, and potentially for millions of years thereafter.

Tristan May 14, 2009 at 2:03 pm

If the effects of climate change will be worse for the general interest than the narrow interest, then democracy affects the planning horizon. The horizon is not only “long or short” but “narrow and wide” insofar as the effects of climate change will be worse for the less well off.

. May 14, 2009 at 2:10 pm

12 May 09
Carbon Tax Wins: Cheap Politics Loses in B.C. Election

The only government in North America to implement a carbon tax to fight climate change has been re-elected handily in British Columbia.

Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell introduced a carbon tax in February 2008 and launched it officially in July, regardless that the introduction date coincided with the highest oil prices in history. The Premier, surprisingly, held his ground, The left-leaning (and traditionally environmentally conscious) New Democratic Party on the other hand opted to attack the tax, characterizing it as an unfair effort to pick the pockets of the poor. She campaigned on a promise to “axe the tax.”

On Tuesday, British Columbians said, loudly, that they couldn’t believe her. The carbon tax stands; Carole James falls.There were, of course, many other issues in the election, probably none larger than the economy. But the carbon tax was important on two counts. First, it affected voters who might traditionally have been expected to vote NDP. Environmental leaders like Dr. David Suzuki (of the influential David Suzuki Foundation) and PowerUp Canada founder Tzeporah Berman stood up for the Liberals’ tax (even if they didn’t quite stand up for the Liberals) and offered harsh criticism of the NDP for its political opportunism in opposing the policy.

. May 18, 2009 at 2:33 pm

How a B.C. carbon tax rose from Dion’s ashes

STEWART ELGIE and DAVID BOYD AND CHRIS WADDELL

From Monday’s Globe and Mail

May 17, 2009 at 10:51 PM EDT

Unlike the Vancouver Canucks, B.C.’s carbon tax managed to stave off elimination last week. Although widely regarded – by both environmentalists and economists – as an essential tool in growing green jobs and combatting climate change, many Canadian politicians perceived carbon taxes as toxic after Stéphane Dion’s defeat. The results of this week’s B.C. election should help put that notion to rest.

Canada has now had two elections in the past seven months – one federal, one provincial – in which a carbon tax figured prominently in the campaign, with very different results. Mr. Dion and the federal Liberals put a carbon tax (the Green Shift) at the centre of their campaign and were soundly defeated. In B.C., Gordon Campbell’s 2008 carbon tax also became a major campaign issue and his Liberals were comfortably re-elected.

What can we learn from these seemingly contradictory election outcomes? Here are six main lessons.

oleh May 19, 2009 at 12:46 am

I too was pleased that a government that introduced a carbon tax was re-elected, especially as that was a government towards the conservative side of the spectrum. I hope that other governments , on all sides of the political spectrum begin to follow suit, especially in North America where our consumption of fossil fuels is much too high.

. March 15, 2010 at 11:46 am

Marc Lee: B.C. budget offers inaction on climate change

By Marc Lee

The 2010 B.C. budget was a disappointment on the climate action front. Even as Premier Campbell waxed poetic in the Globe about the impact of climate change on the “Spring Olympics”—with its sunny days, crocuses, daffodils, and cherry blossoms making it fun for people on the street but a big mess up at Cypress Bowl—the budget offered little assurance that this government still cares.

Instead, the budget is best symbolized by the Olympic flame, whose massive size and burning cauldrons make a fitting monument to the oil and gas industry, a testament to our brazen determination to burn fossil fuels.

Subsidies to the oil and gas industry remain untouched in the budget, and royalties paid by the sector are half of levels in previous years, in part due to royalty reductions from last August’s “oil and gas stimulus package” (like they really needed it). In addition, in the budget’s transportation investment plan, 86 percent of provincial funds go to roads and bridges, including favoured projects like the Gateway highway expansion program and the “oil and gas rural road improvement program.”

There was some expectation that the government would announce a plan for the B.C. carbon tax, which hits $30 a tonne in July 2012, then hits a wall. If I were a businessperson in B.C., I would want to know the outlook post-2012 and what this meant for capital investments in the near term. But there was silence on that front, and no mention of extending the tax to cover major sectors not currently covered by the tax, like aluminum, cement, lime, and (you knew this was coming) much of the oil and gas industry.

From a climate justice perspective (i.e. making sure that climate change initiatives don’t have an unfair impact), it’s troubling that the budget includes no increases to the low-income carbon tax credit, which more than offset the carbon tax for the bottom 40 percent of income earners in year one (starting July 1, 2008), and roughly neutralized it in year two. The growth of the credit is not keeping up with the growth in the tax, and will make the overall regime regressive as of July 1, 2010—thus placing a greater burden on low-income folks who have done the least to contribute to the problem in the first place.

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