In the last B.C. election, the provincial New Democrats tied themselves into knots over the carbon tax, promising to "axe the tax" but never quite saying how they would make up for the resulting black hole in the province's budget.
That was under former leader Carole James. Now, newly installed leader Adrian Dix is getting ready for a campaign that could come as early as this fall. While he's not yet willing to discuss the shape of the NDP platform in detail, it's clear he is already seeking to develop a coherent policy on the carbon tax - and to insulate the party from a predictable tax-and-spend offensive from the B.C. Liberals.
The party is now in favour of the carbon tax (which rose as scheduled on Friday), or at least half of the concept. The notion of a levy on fossil fuels is acceptable to the party; that statement alone should mend the split with some high profile environmentalists. However, the notion of offsetting tax cuts is not; Mr. Dix would rescind the associated tax cuts for business, spending that money on initiatives that would decrease the province's carbon footprint, such as transit infrastructure in big cities.
It's a clever move on the part of the NDP, if an election too late. A tax on business buried within the carbon tax will be more difficult for the Liberals to attack (and those difficulties will be compounded by Premier Christy Clark's decision to reverse a decade of Liberal economic policy and boost corporate taxes). Tying those taxes to a specific purpose will also make it harder for the Liberals to paint the NDP as reckless spenders - or so Mr. Dix hopes.
In a similar vein, the NDP mulls dedicating a proposed tax on financial institutions to spending on post-secondary education. Mr. Dix portrays such tied taxes as a way to rebuild faith in the value of government. Perhaps.
One thing is for certain: The NDP would rather relish the tax-and-spend fight, if the terms are defending a proposal to tax banks and spend the cash on hard-pressed families that want to send their kids to university.