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Traffic moves along West Georgia Street in downtown Vancouver June 4, 2008. (Jeff Vinnick for The Globe and Mail/Jeff Vinnick for The Globe and Mail)
Traffic moves along West Georgia Street in downtown Vancouver June 4, 2008. (Jeff Vinnick for The Globe and Mail/Jeff Vinnick for The Globe and Mail)

Carbon tax

B.C. by-election candidates attack carbon tax Add to ...

British Columbia’s carbon tax, which was introduced as an essential step in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, is under attack in the Port Moody-Coquitlam by-election campaign as ineffective and unfair.

B.C. Conservative candidate Christine Clarke has called for the elimination of the tax, while NDP candidate Joe Trasolini says a portion of the revenue should be shifted from paying for corporate tax breaks to financing projects that cut greenhouse gas emissions.

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Liberal candidate Dennis Marsden supports a previously announced government initiative to freeze the tax and review its impact after an increase on July 1 at the gas pumps of 1.2 cents a litre.

Former premier Gordon Campbell introduced the world’s first broad-based carbon tax as an incentive to discourage the use of fossil fuels. The tax began at 2.41 cents a litre on July 1, 2008, and after a series of annual increases, will reach 7.24 cents a litre later this year.

To show that the innovative “green” approach was not a tax grab, the revenue was to be returned to British Columbians as tax cuts. The tax is expected to bring in $1.17-billion in the 2012 fiscal year that begins on April 1. The government has attributed tax cuts costing $1.28-billion to the carbon revenue in 2012.

Ms. Clarke, the B.C. Conservative candidate, said her party would cancel the carbon tax “as soon as we form a government.” It would pay for the tax cuts currently financed with the revenues by eliminating “duplication and waste in government revenue,” she said.

Ms. Clarke pointed to a $17-million program unveiled last year for clean energy transportation. The program provides grants of up to $5,000 on the purchase of electric, fuel-cell and hybrid vehicles, funds for charging stations and incentives to scrap high-polluting vehicles.

“You don’t have to look too far to find several of these projects, and that is without doing any hard work,” she said. “Seventeen million dollars has been allocated to reward people who can already afford to buy an electric vehicle. We think this is wrong.”

The B.C. Conservative Party has not identified a complete list of the programs it would chop. However, the party is planning to roll out a full budget before the next general election, Ms. Clarke said.

Mr. Trasolini said the NDP would keep the tax but put money collected from corporations with income over $500,000 into “green” projects, such as public transit in Metro Vancouver. “These activities would, in fact, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and wasn’t that the intent of the carbon tax?” he said.

The B.C. government reduced the tax rate for corporations with income over $500,000 to 10 per cent from 12 per cent in 2007. It has taken $374-million from carbon tax revenues to pay for the cut.

Mr. Trasolini said the NDP would bring the corporate tax rate back to 12 per cent, enabling the government to shift funds to public transit and other projects. Other business and personal tax breaks would remain untouched.

As he knocks on doors during the campaign, he said, he has heard many people say they do not see the connection between the carbon tax and the tax breaks. They say the annual increasing carbon tax is just another tax, similar to increases in medical fees, auto insurance rates and hydro bills, he said.

Mr. Marsden was critical of the Conservative call for the elimination of the tax.

“They have not costed out their platform,” he said. “To arbitrarily say there are some savings there, are you are going to lift the couch cushions and hope you find some change there? I think that is ludicrous,” Mr. Marsden said.

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