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green matters

British Columbia's greenhouse vegetable and flower growers will get $7.6-million in relief from the controversial carbon tax this year.

Agriculture Minister Don McRae says the province is providing the temporary funding to reduce the cost of natural gas and propane used by growers.

Greenhouse vegetable growers will get $6-million in grants while $1.6-million will be available to those who grow flowers and potted plants to offset competition from other jurisdictions.

The carbon tax relief is occurring while its impact on the B.C. economy is being reviewed by the province, as announced in February's budget.

The only tax of its kind in North America was introduced by the Liberals in 2007 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by one-third by 2020.

The tax on fossil fuels will be increased one more time in July as scheduled before it's frozen during the review.

Peter Cummings, president of the B.C. Greenhouse Growers' Association, said the sector has spent about $6-million on carbon tax, giving its competitors a huge advantage.

"Our objection isn't to the carbon tax per se, it's the fact that we don't have a level playing field with the rest of the producers in North America and to some extent overseas as well and we're being undermined by this," he said.

"It's essentially forcing us to look elsewhere to build new greenhouses because it's just not a sustainable tax as long as others don't have the same kind of tax regime to deal with."

Cummings said that while other industries may also want similar tax breaks, food should fall into a different category because of environmental and health protections that may not be required in other countries.

Mark Jaccard, professor of environmental economics management at Simon Fraser University, said the tax relief appears to be a step in the right direction to reduce costs for an industry that's vulnerable to competition.

"The Scandinavian did things like this to sustain their carbon tax," he said.

But Sierra Club president George Heyman said giving the agriculture sector a break seems like an ad hoc approach to addressing issues with the carbon tax so soon after the review was announced.

"I'm sure with this example, many other industries will line up," he said. "The tone for the review, unfortunately, has been set. There's a case to be made by many people, including low-income families, that they've been disadvantaged by the carbon tax."

Heyman suggested that if the government feels B.C. industry has been at a disadvantage because other jurisdictions have not implemented their own carbon taxes, "perhaps we should consider adding that tax to imports so that levels the playing field somewhat."