Opinion Column

Carbon-tax levy an expensive failure

BILL TIELEMAN, 24 HOURS

Yet for all its environmental piety, Norway is also a prodigious polluter. Its greenhouse gas emissions have grown 15% since it adopted the carbon tax.

- The Economist, January 2009

British Columbia's unique carbon tax on gasoline and other fuels went up another 1.1 cents a litre Sunday, but it remains an expensive, ineffective and unpopular failure.

While the BC Liberal government is attempting to make the proverbial silk purse from a sow's ear, the reality is the carbon tax is not reducing vehicle fuel consumption. Nor is it helping improve the environment, since every cent of the $1.17 billion in tax revenue raised this year goes to corporate and personal tax cuts - not to fund a single environmentally friendly program, such as public transit, energy efficiency or conservation.

Statistics Canada figures show what happened. In 2008 - the carbon tax's inaugural year - B.C. motor gasoline sales were 4,529.8 in thousands of cubic metres.

Last year they totaled 4,536.8 thousand cubic metres.

Gas sales went up, not down, under the carbon tax, despite a tough economic recession that reduced consumption.

Nonetheless, B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake claims success, arguing greenhouse gas emissions have dropped 4.5% between 2007 and 2010.

But even Lake doesn't deny that two-thirds of the GHG drop was "likely attributable" to the economic downturn, not the carbon tax.

Mark Jaccard, a Simon Fraser University environmental economics professor who strongly supports the carbon tax, forecasts it will take 20 years to determine if it works.

"It would be shocking if a carbon tax had made a difference in a couple of years and it hasn't."

It would also be shocking if the BC Liberals admitted their own hypocrisy and either fixed or scrapped the carbon tax.

While paying lip service to environmental concerns, this government's biggest single capital expenditure is building a new $3.3 billion, 10-lane Port Mann Bridge that will dramatically increase vehicle traffic.

And while Victoria claims it wants to reduce GHG emissions, last month it declared fossil fuel natural gas it previously condemned as "dirty" as "clean" now - in order to power liquefied natural gas plants.

So don't count on this government making the carbon tax disappear or using the revenue for anything that would actually help reduce fuel consumption anytime soon.