Friday, June 13, 2008

Carbon taxes and making the most of your $100

The province’s cautious carbon tax is starting to look insignificant as gas prices spike.
But the $100 rebate cheques designed to help sell the tax are still going to be dropping into mailboxes all across the province. And there’s the chance to do something extraordinary with that money.
Say even one-quarter of the people in the Okanagan decide to pass the windfall on – to a church, or the United Way, or an organization working with the homeless or disadvantaged kids. That’s $9.5 million – the equivalent of seven years’ worth of United Way fundraising in Kelowna and Penticton.
First, let’s consider the carbon tax. You’ll start paying it on fuel July 1, with the most obvious change an extra 2.4 cents tax per litre of gasoline.
Back in February, when the Liberals introduced the tax in the budget, it was a little controversial.
Not just because it would climb to 7.2 cents a litre by 2012. Rural communities and industry worried about the immediate impact, on gas and heating oil and the costs of transportation.
Gas prices were about $1.09 then in Victoria. The extra 2.4 cents seemed significant.
Now they’re $1.49 – a 37-per-cent increase in four months. The 2.4 cents doesn’t seem like such a problem.
The politics of carbon taxes have got quite weird. The NDP voted against the Liberals’ tax, claiming the party supports carbon taxes, just not this one.
The position doesn’t make much sense and seems politically risky. Voters who care about climate change and don’t like the Liberals are now going to have to think seriously about voting Green.
Meanwhile, federal Liberal leader Stephane Dion is proposing a tax like Campbell’s. The Conservatives have launched some silly attack ads calling it a tax grab, which they must know is baloney. (The ads aren’t helpful to the provincial Liberals, Premier Gordon Campbell acknowledges.)
The Harper crew look pretty hypocritical. The federal government collects GST on gas. The price increases of the last four months alone have meant an extra two cents a litre in sales taxes. That’s not far off a carbon tax.
And remember that in the run-up to the 2004 federal election, Stephen Harper pledged to lift the GST on any gas price above 85 cents a litre.
Ultimately, it seems simple. If you accept that carbon emissions are causing global warming and the problem is serious, then higher fuel prices encouraging conservation, efficiency and new energy sources make sense. They change behaviour.
The trick is to bring in the tax in an equitable way. On that basis, the Liberals’ plan still makes sense.
What’s looking a little less sound is their promise that other tax cuts would offset the carbon tax. It probably would have made more sense to devote the new revenue to efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.
The $100 rebate – a bribe to make people feel better about the carbon tax - makes less sense. It will go to everyone in the province, even babies. The tenuous connection is that it will somehow allow you to buy a more efficient car or insulate your basement, so you can avoid paying the carbon tax.
More likely, the rebates will be seen as a windfall by a lot of people.
And that creates an extraordinary opportunity for British Columbians. The government is sending out about $440 million in rebates (and spending $10 million to do it).
For many people, that money is badly needed and already spent.
But for a lot of us, the cheques offer a great chance to make a difference in our communities — to take a serious look at which agencies or organizations are making a difference, and pass the money on. The donation could be to organizations working on climate change, or with the homeless, or helping children.
SWhat a difference we can make, together.
Footnote: It’s not just the money. It’s a tough slog for non-profits, a constant search for money to provide the services. When a $100 cheque comes in the mail, it’s a vote of confidence, And most will welcome some questions about how they plan to use the money before you pass your rebate along.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My $100 bribe for a bad tax will go to any party that will defeat the liberals and I'm waiting for that party to develop because with the week kneed leader they have it won't be the NDP. This is just plain a bad tax. It will affect evrything we do and buy.