Federal Liberals in the Vancouver area are calling on the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to consider a national, B.C-style carbon tax at $40 a tonne, only a week after the Trudeau government backed off a much lower price on carbon.
The $40 proposal is contained in a resolution that has been put forward for debate at this weekend's biennial meeting of the B.C. wing of the federal Liberal Party. The three-day gathering in Victoria is the first major meeting since the party surged to 17 of 42 B.C. MPs in the last federal election, from just two in the previous Parliament. That's the party's highest-ever total in B.C., exceeding the 16 elected under Pierre Trudeau in 1968.
The resolution from the Port Moody-Coquitlam riding association calls for a $40-a-tonne carbon tax, with the revenues used to lower taxes and "costs on jobs" such as EI, CPP and income tax. "Carbon-killing carbon taxes are better than job-killing job taxes," the resolution says.
The tax would be phased in over four years, starting with the highest greenhouse-gas emitting industries. British Columbia's groundbreaking carbon tax, the first in the country, was enacted in 2008. It is revenue neutral, which means that revenues from the tax are used to reduce taxes in the province. It remains to be seen whether the resolution will go forward for a vote at the policy convention, attended by most of the B.C. federal caucus as well as at least 600 delegates.
The meeting is seen as a chance for reflection as well as discussion on lessons from the fall campaign that would help the party in the future.
Other resolutions deal with challenging issues facing the Liberal government. There's a call for a free vote in Parliament on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, and a call to cancel a controversial $15-billion arms deal between Saudi Arabia and London, Ont.-based General Dynamics Land Systems – something Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion has ruled out.
Given the Liberal government's promise to eventually legalize marijuana, there's also a resolution to end detentions and prosecutions of all cannabis-related offences and grant full pardon services and amnesty for past offences.
But the carbon-tax proposal comes after last week's first ministers' meeting in Vancouver at which Mr. Trudeau won agreement from premiers for a broad strategy to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, but could not win broad support for a minimum national price on carbon.
Although leaders agreed on the need for some form of carbon pricing, they could not agree on an approach or national floor price. Federal, provincial and territorial officials are taking the next six months to work on a national plan – including a carbon-pricing approach – leading up to a further summit in October.
Ahead of the meeting, federal sources said Ottawa was not proposing a specific level or mechanism for the floor price, but acknowledge it would be more than $15 a tonne and rise every year, with provinces able to use their own approach and keep the revenue.
Hamish Telford, a political scientist at the University of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, said even though the $40-a-tonne idea is one among many resolutions of a regional gathering, the mere suggestion of the idea could be politically perilous for the Liberals.
"It raises alarm bells for the public," Prof. Telford said, noting Conservatives and other critics have previously described such taxes as a tax on everything and a government cash grab.
"So if you have got people out there in the Liberal Party speculating on it being $40 when the Prime Minister is only angling for $15, it feeds this notion that it's just a tax grab and causes the public to be skeptical. If [Liberals] really want to help the government enact this, they will talk it down."
Braeden Caley, president of the B.C. wing of the federal Liberals, said robust debate is a party tradition. He noted that not every idea will make it to a vote or even earn delegate support. "What's important is that people understand the Liberal Party is a very open political movement and every idea gets that important chance to be heard," he said.
Mr. Caley declined comment on specific resolutions. However, he noted that resolutions would have to be passed at national conventions to become a policy of the party. "A convention like this one in Victoria is an important beginning to conversations about where real change goes next."