B.C. Greens would more than double provincial carbon tax

Rob Shaw

March 31 2017 - The B.C. Green party released a major plank of its election platform Thursday, with a climate change plan to more than double the carbon tax over four years and expanding it to additional pollution sources.

Leader Andrew Weaver said a Green government would move quickly to shift the economy to clean energy production and a high-tech industry, while helping modernize the existing oil and gas sector. He said he would cancel the $9-billion Site C dam and use his provincial powers to block the expansion of the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline from Alberta.

“The world is transitioning to a low-carbon economy despite the B.C. Liberals’ inaction,” he said.

The Green announcement calls for an increase in the carbon tax to $70 a tonne by 2021 from $30 a tonne today. The tax would also be expanded to capture fugitive and vented emissions, at a lower rate, and would also cover forest slash pile burning, which accounts for 15 per cent of the province’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The B.C. Liberals have agreed with a federal proposal to raise the carbon tax to $50 a tonne by 2020, and the NDP has proposed a gradual approach to the same level in order to soften the blow to the provincial economy.

Weaver also promised to adopt the climate leadership team’s recommendation to set a target of cutting emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 from 2007 levels.

Weaver said his strategy will create jobs and boost the economy. He said a Green government would abandon the current government strategy of making the carbon tax “revenue neutral” through what he called bizarre boutique tax credits and instead invest the money in infrastructure projects and to help consumers make low-carbon choices. The carbon tax is projected to earn the province $1.2 billion in revenue in 2016-17 at $30 a tonne.

“We will not continue down that path toward revenue neutrality,” Weaver said. “We’d simplify the taxation system … and use some of the revenue from the carbon tax to assist jurisdictions to reduce carbon.”

Weaver also launched attacks on the Liberals and NDP, mocking the Liberals for failing to deliver on grandiose promises of a liquefied natural gas industry and questioning whether the NDP has a unified position on its issues.

“Frankly, we were promised unicorns in each and every one of our backyards,” Weaver said of the Liberal LNG promises, which included three plants, 100,000 jobs and a $100 billion prosperity fund. “The Liberals have failed to deliver. For people to think this government is somehow good for the economy just boggles my mind. This government’s view of the economy is to use taxpayer resources to subsidize the projects of their corporate donors.”

NDP environment critic George Heyman said the Green plan has aggressive pricing but lacks help for low and middle income families who will be hurt by the carbon tax increase.

“Carbon pricing is important, but we think it should be an incentive, not a hammer, and under Mr. Weaver’s plan there’s no lessoning of the impact on very real people who are already struggling with affordability,” said Heyman. The NDP has proposed rebates that it said would help 80 per cent of British Columbians afford increases to the carbon tax and reduce the financial hit to their wallets and jobs.

The B.C. Liberals said in a news release that Weaver’s plan would hurt vulnerable B.C. employers and the forest industry at a time they can least afford it. 

“The Green and NDP carbon tax plans mean a double hit to British Columbian families – a higher carbon tax and cancelled middle class tax cuts,” said Liberal MLA Mary Polak in a statement. Polak is also the environment minister.

Weaver said the NDP is attempting to convince voters that supporting the Greens will ultimately elect the Liberals.

“I don’t know what the NDP stand for and frankly I don’t think they know what they stand for,” he said.

“So to say, ‘vote for us or otherwise you’ll get Christy Clark,’ is one of the most uninspiring messages that I can imagine. They are campaigning on being better than the B.C. Liberals. Well better than the worst is still really bad.”

Weaver is the B.C. Green party’s only elected MLA. He said he intends to run candidates in almost all provincial ridings, and is planning an election campaign that includes touring the province in a bio-diesel bus. 

[See also colunm below, available at http://vancouversun.com/opinion/columnists/vaughn-palmer-weaver-offers-dramatic-alternative-to-ndp-and-liberals ]

Vaughn Palmer: Weaver offers dramatic alternative to NDP and Liberals

March 31, 2017 - With little to lose and much to gain in the coming election, the leader and lone MLA of the B.C. Green party, Andrew Weaver, laid out a climate action plan Thursday that boldly contrasted with both major parties.

Weaver would more than double the carbon tax over the next five years and put the province on track for a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

In followup questions with reporters, he also said a Green government would do everything in its power to axe several multi-billion-dollar energy and fossil fuel projects in B.C.

Gone would be the hydroelectric dam already under construction at Site C on the Peace River. Weaver some years ago supported the B.C. Hydro project.  Today, he says Site C is overpriced and not needed. 

Unlike the New Democrats, who’ve promised only to submit Site C for review by the B.C. Utilities Commission,  Weaver promised Thursday to kill it outright without reservation. 

He’d replace it with a revised mandate for Hydro to support “clean energy development — including grid storage for community and private power,” and other projects with less impact on the environment.

Gone, too, would be the proposed Pacific Northwest liquefied natural gas development and likely other LNG projects as well.

Weaver first denounced LNG as a “pipe dream” to reporters moments after taking the oath of office as an MLA in 2013. He was the only member of the house to vote against the special tax regime that the Liberals and New Democrats approved in a show of “bipartisan” support for LNG development in the fall of 2014.

Now he says one of the first acts of a Green government would be to repeal the specific development agreement for Pacific NorthWest LNG, proposed for a site on the Northwest Coast by Malaysian government-owned Petronas and partners.

The New Democrats have joined some First Nations people in opposing the controversial siting of the project on Lelu Island. But Weaver also took a swipe at the proposed Woodfibre LNG project near Squamish, which Opposition leader John Horgan has endorsed “for the jobs and economic activity it will bring to our province.”

Far from being impressed with Woodfibre on that score, Weaver says electricity subsidy for the project proposed by the B.C. Liberals would amount to “$440,000 per job per year.”

Next item on the hit list for a Weaver-led government would be the proposed twinning of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline through B.C. Horgan has also vowed to do everything within the power of the province to halt construction. (Whether B.C. would have such power over a federally approved project remains to be seen.)

Thus in the space of a few minutes, Weaver put paid to Site C ($8.9 billion), Pacific Northwest LNG ($11.4 billion) and Kinder Morgan ($7.4 billion).

Throw in Woodfibre ($1.6 billion) and the $5 billion feeder pipeline for LNG, and the potential tab of scrapped proposals and never-to-be developed opportunities approaches $35 billion.

He did so without apology in the way he does everything — verbose, not a hint of uncertainty and more than a bit overwhelming in terms of detail.

Unlike the New Democrats, who’ve expressed support, however grudging, for continued development of the natural gas resource including LNG, there was no mistaking Weaver’s bottom line.

“The fossil fuel industry in B.C. is in its sunset years,” the Green leader told reporters. “Let’s invest in the jobs of the future.”

Based on the few hints he dropped, one can only guess where those green jobs of the future would be.

The Green climate leadership strategy does contain a lot of detail about the changes needed to get B.C. back on track to becoming the leader that it was back in 2008, when then Premier Gordon Campbell brought in the carbon tax and Weaver served as one of his advisers.

But for taxpayers, the immediate impact of a Green government (however unlikely) would be the proposal to increase the carbon tax on a more punishing schedule.

Currently the tax is maintained by the B.C. Liberals at the level set in 2013 — $30 per metric tonne of emissions or about seven cents per litre of gasoline.

The Liberals propose — subject to a fairness review — to meet the federal government targets for a nationwide carbon tax regime of $40 in 2021 and a $50 equivalent by 2022.

The B.C. New Democrats would modestly accelerate that schedule to $36 in 2020, and $43 in 2021 before pulling even with the feds at $50 in 2022.

There’s nothing modest about the proposal from Weaver. He’d boost the tax to $40 on Jan 1 of next year and proceed in $10 a year increments until it hits $70 in 2021.

A Green government would also begin levelling the tax on sources of emissions that are not currently penalized like venting and leakage from pipelines and natural gas production facilities, slash burning in forests and the like.

All of which had the New Democrats complaining that Weaver was going too far, too fast and not making enough allowance for people to adjust to the tougher tax regime.

But as with the Green leader’s anything-but-fence-sitting proposals on Site C and LNG, the whole point was to disrupt political business as usual, by offering voters a dramatic alternative to both Liberals and the NDP.