B.C. Premier Christy Clark says a national carbon tax should be modelled after B.C.'s groundbreaking levy, including being used to fund tax breaks.
As premiers and territorial leaders gathered in Vancouver ahead of a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, where Ottawa's proposal for a national price on carbon is shaping up as a key issue, Ms. Clark said she would welcome other provinces taking some very specific lessons from British Columbia's approach.
The province introduced its carbon tax in 2008, making the policy revenue neutral by using the money to pay for tax cuts elsewhere.
"If anybody is planning to raise any taxes on the carbon side, we better figure out how we're going to lower taxes and protect citizens, because I don't think you can build support for environmental protections that make people poorer," Ms. Clark told reporters on Wednesday.
"You can only build support and consensus around these kind of changes if they allow people to become wealthier."
B.C.'s carbon tax is $30 a tonne and applies to 80 per cent of the economy. The tax, which was introduced by Ms. Clark's predecessor, Gordon Campbell, has not been increased since 2012.
Ottawa has come to this week's meeting in Vancouver intent on talking about a national price on carbon and starting the process to review that option. Although federal officials are not insisting at this point on a specific price, they have acknowledged it would be at least $15 a tonne.
But even as Ms. Clark was touting the province's carbon tax, which was the first in Canada, the opposition New Democrats noted that B.C.'s greenhouse gas emissions are forecast to go up 32 per cent between 2013 and 2030, according to a federal report. The New Democrats argue that Ms. Clark's government has not taken steps to curb such emissions.
NDP MLA George Heyman, designated to speak on the issue, watched Ms. Clark deliver a major speech earlier in the day to hundreds of delegates attending the Globe clean-technology environmental conference, which has been a backdrop for both the meeting of Canada's premiers and territorial leaders, and a first ministers meeting with Mr. Trudeau on Thursday.
"There's only one test of carbon leadership: whether your emissions are going up or down," Mr. Heyman said later in an interview. "[Ms. Clark], simultaneously, was trying to take credit for being a carbon leader while coming up with excuses for not doing more."
During her speech at the Globe conference, Ms. Clark acknowledged that B.C. emissions have begun to increase, and that a climate leadership team she appointed to examine the issue has made recommendations that include raising the tax. She said her government is considering all of the proposals.
The premier told delegates that there will always be upward pressure on the tax as a "necessary part of the debate," but she is approaching the whole issue from a particular perspective.
"I believe that the last thing that government should do is add to that tax burden. So the core principle for me is this: There cannot be any increase in the carbon tax without tax relief for families and individuals."
She added: "In B.C, we believe that carbon pricing means taxing people differently, not taxing people more."
Mr. Heyman, citing NDP policy on the matter, said the tax should be used to fund transit and programs to improve energy efficiency in homes.
Ms. Clark made the comments about the carbon tax following an announcement that eligible electric vehicles in B.C. will now be allowed to travel in high-occupancy lanes regardless of how many people are inside the vehicle. Currently, vehicles in high-occupancy lanes must have a minimum of two people – the driver and at least one passenger.