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British Columbia B.C. climate plan draws criticism after province rejects carbon tax increase

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark speaks about the province's climate action plan at the still under construction Carbon Capture and Conversion Institute, in Richmond, B.C., on Friday August 19, 2016.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Carbon taxes need to increase to be effective, though provinces and territories must be free to enact changes on their own timetables, federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says.

In its long-awaited climate-change plan released on Friday, British Columbia decided to hold off on increasing its eight-year-old tax until other provinces match it. The province's $30-per-tonne price on carbon adds about seven cents to a litre of gasoline.

Premier Christy Clark rejected a call by a government-appointed Climate Leadership Team to raise the tax by $10 annually. The groundbreaking tax has been frozen since Ms. Clark became Premier in 2011.

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Responding to the decision in a statement on Tuesday, Ms. McKenna touted increases in carbon taxes without directly criticizing the B.C. government. Asked about British Columbia, Ms. McKenna said a national price on carbon is the best way to reduce emissions and foster innovation.

"Having that price increase in stringency will be the key to supporting the clean-growth economy. We also know provinces and territories must have the flexibility to put in place measures that suit their realities," the minister said.

A national approach will be on the table at a first ministers' meeting this fall, continuing a debate among premiers, territorial leaders and the Prime Minister that began earlier this year at a meeting in Vancouver.

B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak said the ministers' comments are in sync with the views of the B.C government, which is not ruling out a hike in the carbon tax at some point.

"The fact is [that] a carbon price, in order to be effective, must continue to rise, otherwise it just gets eroded by inflation," Ms. Polak said.

Ms. Polak said disappointment that her government hadn't announced a plan to raise carbon taxes is understandable, especially among members of the Climate Leadership Team, which recommended the measure.

She said members appear to be upset that the government didn't adopt all of their recommendations right now. As of last Friday, the government said it would act on 18 of 32 leadership-team recommendations.

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"This is not in any way a rejection of the elements of their recommendations that we didn't immediately act upon," she said. "It's a matter of how you stage and sequence this so you do this in a balanced way."

In a scathing Facebook posting, team member Tzeporah Berman, an environmentalist, said she was "so disgusted" by the new "pathetic and cowardly" plan.

Ms. Berman said it took six months of "hard work" to come up with a plan that would have built on the current carbon tax, ensured a strong economy and stimulated clean tech in the province.

She chided the government for releasing its plan on a Friday afternoon in August to avoid scrutiny, and for suggesting the province needs to wait for other provinces to catch up and a federal plan on climate change to be released.

"Since when is leadership defined by waiting instead leading?" Ms. Berman wrote.

The Premier has said some next steps for British Columbia's climate-change strategy will depend on the pan-Canadian plan reached by premiers, territorial leaders and the Prime Minister in the fall.

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However, the province will not meet its 2020 target to reduce emissions by 33 per cent below 2007 levels.

Pollster Greg Lyle, who last week released the results of a survey on voter preference in British Columbia, noted that climate change ranks eighth out of nine issues of concern to core BC Liberals and sixth among nine issues for potential Liberals. Climate change is tied for fifth among core members of the NDP and fifth among potential NDP voters. The next B.C. election is in May, 2017.

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