Friday, June 20, 2008

Carbon tax opposition a challenge for Liberals

After a recent column on donating the coming $100 carbon tax rebate to a good cause, a reader in Nelson e-mailed.
His money is spent already, he wrote, going to the 22-per-cent increase in heating costs he's facing this winter.
Count him as opposed to the tax. And the same day Ipsos Reid released a poll that found most British Columbians shared his view.
More than I expected, and they were also more riled up than I would have predicted.
The carbon tax looks like a potentially serious problem for the Liberals, with the election 11 months away.
So far, the issue hasn't had any effect on their support. The Ipsos survey, done between June 5 and 10, found the Liberals at 47 per cent of decided voters, the NDP at 33 and the Greens at 16. (In the 2005 election, the Liberals got 46 per cent of the vote, the NDP 42 and Greens nine per cent.)
The carbon tax doesn't take effect until July 1. If people are opposed now, they'll be crankier when gas prices rise another 2.4 cents a litre on Canada Day.
The NDP is trying to score points on the issue. Leader Carole James kicked off an "Axe the Tax" campaign this week.
It's a crassly opportunistic move. The New Democrats are on record as supporting a carbon tax. Their opposition to this particular version rests on pretty flimsy ground.
At the same time, the federal Conservatives are bashing Stephane Dion's carbon tax, which is more modest than Campbell's, in their typically hysterical way. Left and right are united against the tax.
The Ipsos poll confirmed that. The poll found 59 per cent of British Columbians oppose the carbon tax. Significantly, 45 per cent said they were strongly opposed.
And a majority of voters who identified themselves as supporters of all three main parties - even Green supporters - opposed the tax. Islanders and people with universities were split evenly on the carbon tax, but in every other group - the Lower Mainland and the rest of the province, men and women, rich and poor, old and young - more than half were opposed.
It looks like the Liberals underestimated the backlash (as I did). Premier Gordon Campbell avoided the whole subject in speeches to northern mayors and the party's business supporters, hoping the issue would go away.
It hasn't. Now he's accusing the NDP, with good reason, of playing politics. The tax is important to reduce emissions, he says, and been offset by other tax cuts for all British Columbians.
Some Liberal MLAs think the government needs to do a better job of explaining the tax.
That will be tough. An ad campaign could backfire, prompting complaints taxpayers' money was being wasted to sell an unpopular tax.
And suspicion about the promise of revenue neutrality runs deep. The carbon tax is designed to reward people who change their behaviour to cut their gas and oil consumption. A Lower Mainland resident, for example, can switch to public transit. That's not likely possible for someone living somewhere outside Mackenzie.
The carbon tax still makes sense. It's a small way to change behaviour and at least initially the tax cuts will offset the costs for most people.
But politically, this is a poser for the Liberals.
Tax revolt campaigns tend to play well, even when they make little sense. (Who could really argue the New Democrats would beat the Liberals in cutting taxes?)
And the Ipsos-Reid poll results are worrying. The breadth of the opposition to the carbon tax - and the depth - suggests problems. Liberals supporters might be less keen on showing up to vote. Undecided voters might decide James deserves a vote.
The Liberals might pull some Green supporters, but politically the carbon tax looks a risk.
It's odd. Campbell's big political problem turns out to come when he goes all green.
Footnote: Federal politics are spilling over in a big way. The Harper government launched a total war against carbon taxes even before Dion's proposal was out, ranting about a "tax on everything" and mocking the notion of tax shifts or revenue neutrality.
And the provincial opposition brings a rare unity - business groups, unions, Canadian Taxpayers' Federation and the NDP all stand together.


Anonymous said...

"It's a crassly opportunistic move."

Good article, Paul, but I'm curious about the quote above.

The NDP are on record saying they support a carbon tax but not this one. Why? We're told it's because the tax is unfair to those constituents in the rest of the province ("the north") where a lack of public transit means using a car/truck is a must.

Isn't this a valid position? What makes it crass? Are the NDP being any more crass on this issue than the Liberals were on every issue when they were the opposition?

Imo, the NDP have been consistent with their messaging (it may be a first). I've never heard a member of the NDP deny they support a carbon tax, just not this one. I know, convenient, right? But aren't their objections to this carbon tax enough of a distinction to warrant their "axe the tax" campaign?


Slightly off topic: There was an editorial I read in Vancouver Sun this week. The editorial – supposedly an argument against the carbon tax – quickly turns into an admonishment of the NDP's position. The editorial comes off as, yeah we don't like the carbon tax, but don't see that as an endorsement of the NDP. We get it Vancouver Sun, you love the Liberals even when you hate them.

*end rant*

Anyways, not trying to equate your editorial with the Sun's. I'm trying to understand what's so dishonest about the NDP's position and wondering, if things were reversed, would the editorialists be calling the Liberals "axe the tax" campaign a brilliant political strategy?

Anonymous said...

The cost impact of the carbon tax is miniscule compared to the effect of energy price increases over the past 5 years. The lack of progress on emissions due to the energy price spike strongly suggests that the carbon tax will be ineffective. Energy requirements are what economists call inelastic. Adoption of more efficient technology is going to be slow due to high capital costs. Speeding things up will require a much higher tax that will induce a huge economic shock. People are all for saving the environment until they actually realize what it will cost them.

Anonymous said...

In reading your column in today’s Courier I couldn’t help reflecting on the knee jerk reaction we are witnessing on climate change. In my opinion the catastrophic consequences of climate change are not based on good science but highly suspect computer models and the mantra “just in case, we should err on the side of caution”. It is far better in my opinion to adjust to the “catastrophe” as we witness its actual fruition than to anticipate what will happen and destroy our economy by programs such as biofuels and carbon taxes. Far better to spend the money on proven technologies such as nuclear, solar and wind. Also the newer technologies such as hydrogen fuels cells and electric vehicles make far more sense. The goal of the carbon tax is already being met by the marketplace.
What we are doing is a classic example of the “cure” being worse than the disease.
I will not vote for the Liberals either provincially or federally and I come from a family of 4th generation die hard Liberals .

DPL said...

Most folks arn't aware that big polutters such as cement plants are exempt, nor Alcan and the list goes on. Bill Tielemna has a face book item called Axe the BC gas tax. Last time I looked it had 5500 folks on it.

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