An election campaign is unfolding in the Canadian province of British Columbia over the next month, the outcome of which could have important implications all over North America and, ultimately, around the world.
A central issue in this provincial political squabble is a carbon tax – according to most analysts, the least-expensive, most effective and most transparent of climate change solutions (check this report, for example from the U.S. Congressional Budget Office [PDF]).
But if carbon taxes are popular among economists, they are widely regarded as toxic among voters – as any new tax is likely to be. That’s why the B.C. election is so important. For people outside this jurisdiction, it is being seen not so much as a minor election in a distant place, but as a referendum on carbon taxes. The assumption here is that if the tax fails here, it won’t be worth trying anywhere in North America.
By way of background, B.C.’s incumbent government – a right-of-centre coalition that goes under the perhaps-confusing name “Liberal” – launched a modest ($10-a-tonne) carbon tax last year, the implementation of which coincided exactly (and unfortunately) with last summer’s spike in oil prices.
B.C.’s other major political force is the New Democratic Party (NDP), historically a loose coalition of organized labour, social policy leftists and environmentalists. Surprisingly, given the party’s traditional environmental component, the NDP decided to fight the carbon tax, apparently seeing political advantage in doing so.
The gamble paid off in the short term. By the end of the last, hot summer, voters were furious about gas prices (which doubled in a matter of months to nearly $1.50 Cdn per litre – well over $5 US per [US] gallon). Even though the carbon tax made up less than 10 cents/gallon of that total, voters turned their anger on the governing Liberals and the NDP got a nice bump in the polls. At least one poll showed them in the lead for the first time since the mid-1990s.
But oil prices have fallen, and with them, the fortunes of the “axe-the-tax” NDP. The party, which is battling against the carbon tax as hard as ever, is divided on the issue and is bleeding votes to the Green Party, which in some recent polls is showing a best-ever performance.
Now, some of the NDP’s functionaries are beginning to accuse critics of being in some kind of unhealthy alliance with the (leading) Liberal party. For example, when the widely respected and internationally recognized energy economist Dr. Mark Jaccard released an analysis that was critical of the NDP carbon tax position, the New Democrats’ leader Carole James and Environment critic Shane Simpson both slammed the man as a partisan rather than actually addressing the substance of his criticism. (For the record, Jaccard has an impeccable record for political impartiality, having been engaged over the years as an expert by parties of all political stripes – including the NDP.)
There are, of course, other issues in this election, but for the DeSmogBlog there is only one: the carbon tax. Premier Gordon Campbell took a significant political risk in implementing this, the most progressive climate change legislation in any jurisdiction in North America. And he stuck to his guns, even when the politically expedient thing would have been to organize a timely retreat.
For that leadership, he deserves the support that he has been receiving recently from Canadian environmental groups. Climate-conscious voters who are uncomfortable with the remainder of his centre-right platform also have the option of voting for the Green Party, which has also taken an intelligent and responsible position in support of the carbon tax. (In fact, the Greens have gone the extra step of pointing out that, even on its rising trajectory, the tax is not yet high enough to be truly effective.)
I was invited to Washington, D.C. early this year by the U.S. Carbon Tax Centre. They had arranged a Capitol Hill briefing on this issue and they were interested in the Canadian experience. They were concerned, firstly, that a federal party (also called Liberal, but unrelated) had recently proposed a carbon tax and lost the subsequent election and, secondly, that the BC government – the only one to have passed such a tax – now seemed to be in danger.
So, I am convinced: politicians and policymakers from across North America are watching this election – which means that we at the DeSmogBlog will continue to give it attention, and to criticize those who, for whatever reasons, are campaigning against this worthy – necessary – policy.
For the record, this puts us in an interesting and unfamiliar position. As long-time and trenchant critics of the climate change (non-)policies of the Bush Republicans in the U.S. and the Harper Conservatives in Canada, we at the DeSmogBlog frequently have been castigated as somehow “left-wing” – as if caring about the environment we leave to our children is the stuff of communist conspiracy. Since the start of the election, however, the NDP’s defenders have started calling us “right-wing” – in one reference, someone even called us “neo-cons.”
This smacks of old-fashioned, partisan politics where you set up and attack labels because you don’t want to discuss the issue.
Two things for clarity:
1. This dispute is all about climate change. Specifically, it’s about the carbon tax. If the New Democrats want the DeSmogBlog’s support, they can change policies. As long as they attack the carbon tax and continue in what seems to be a transparent attempt to take advantage of public confusion on the issue, they can call us whatever names they please, but they can count on our continued opposition.
2. The opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone (although, clearly, they are widely supported within the DeSmogBlog). They do not represent the operating prerogatives or the personal opinions of those in my public relations firm, Hoggan & Associates, and neither do they reflect in any way on the opinions or policies of any of the other organizations with which I am affiliated.