In a bid to draw distinctions on taxation with the B.C. NDP, Premier Christy Clark is promising to freeze the province's carbon tax for five years if her Liberals are re-elected in the May election.
"I know that the NDP would raise the carbon tax. We will not. We will freeze it," Ms. Clark told reporters on Wednesday after an unrelated event in her Vancouver-Point Grey riding.
"We believe in making life more affordable for British Columbians. They aren't committed to that," Ms. Clark said. "We believe in lower taxes wherever we can make that happen, recognizing that government is a real problem in affordability for people."
The Opposition New Democrats under Leader Adrian Dix are running far ahead of the Liberals in the polls before the start of campaigning this month.
Ms. Clark said the carbon tax, instituted in 2008 as North America's only such levy to try to curb increases in the use of greenhouse-gas emissions, made B.C. a climate-change leader.
She said, however, that it was time for other jurisdictions to catch up so B.C.'s competitiveness will not be impaired.
The most recent B.C. budget did not include any increases in the tax, declaring it would be maintained at $30 per ton of fossil fuels. It also included a continued commitment to using the tax to pay for tax cuts, making it revenue neutral.
But the budget also noted that some sectors of the economy have expressed concerns about the impact of the tax on their competitiveness and suggested that hikes in the tax or expanding the base would increase costs for B.C. businesses.
NDP environment critic Rob Fleming, asked whether his party would cap hikes in the carbon tax, said the party's position would be made clear in its platform, which will be released during the election campaign.
But he noted that NDP policy is to divert some carbon tax revenues into transit and other green infrastructure. The NDP went into the 2009 election opposed to the carbon tax but has since shifted its views to support the levy.
Mr. Fleming disputed Ms. Clark's concern about costs for British Columbians, referring to increases in medical-services plan premiums, rising postsecondary tuition and other measures related to government fees.
"The B.C. Liberals, over the last decade, have actually made life less affordable for the middle class," he said in an interview.
Ms. Clark's position drew the ire of environmentalists, who suggested the province should be strengthening the tax to bolster the fight against climate change and not putting the brakes on it.
"Now is not the time to freeze B.C.'s leadership to tackle climate change," said Ian Bruce, a science and policy manager with the David Suzuki Foundation.
He suggested the tax has been working to help reduce emissions without being detrimental to the province's economy. "It's one of our best environmental success stories."
The B.C. Conservatives have said they would scrap the tax if given the chance, partly because they see it as being unfair to rural British Columbians. Many do not have transit alternatives that allow them to get around without driving personal vehicles and, therefore, incur greater carbon costs than their urban counterparts.
The debate comes in the wake of Auditor-General John Doyle's report on the government's carbon-offset program. The report suggested the government spent millions on projects to offset air pollution that would have proceeded anyway. Environment Minister Terry Lake has disputed the Auditor-General's findings.