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BC's carbon tax kerfuffle goes global

The gathering storm over B.C.'s first-in-North-America carbon tax has dominated the first week of this election, which saw Premier Gordon Campbell stumping for votes in the oil patch while NDP leader Carole James pumped hands outside a gas station in Burnaby.

Almost as interesting is how this only-in-B.C. battle played far beyond our provincial borders.

The New York Times' Green Inc. blog marveled at the debate:

While British Columbia has a provincial Green Party, the larger, left-of-center New Democratic Party is also closely associated with environmental issues. By contrast the British Columbia Liberal Party, a center-right group which is independent of the federal party of the same name, is generally viewed as a friend of business interests.

When the Liberals began a provincial election on Tuesday, however, those roles were reversed. Three major environmental groups attacked the New Democratic Party for its plan to eliminate carbon taxes introduced by the Liberals last year.

The National Post attacked the NDP:

British Columbia’s perennially bizarre political culture proved true to form this week, as several high-profile environmental groups rallied around Gordon Campbell’s right-Liberal government and pledged to work against Carole James’s NDP opposition.

The 'Post's Editorial Board called the NDP "insincere and cynical," and warned:

As bizarre as B.C.’s political circus has become, there is a larger lesson here for Canada’s mainstream left, which remains torn between its populist and elitist camps. While a specious environmental policy based on sticking it to the oil companies may play well on talk radio or in push polls, left-wing opinion-makes such as David Suzuki know better. And as this week’s goings on attest, they aren’t willing to keep their mouths shut just for old-time’s sake.

In the run-up to the May 12 B.C. election, many pundits have been speculating as to whether Mr. Campbell could win a third term for his Liberals. His odds have always been strong. But with the left running against itself, we don’t see how he can lose.

A Toronto Star editorial also argued for the tax:

The NDP is talking up the alternative of a "cap-and-trade" regime for carbon-based energy, but that would have a similar impact on prices while being much less transparent than a tax. A carbon tax is also more even-handed, as everyone would pay it, not just major emitters of greenhouse gases. And it is easier to implement.

That's why many American commentators, ranging from New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman to right-wing economist Arthur Laffer, are calling for a carbon tax as an alternative to cap-and-trade. "Since the opponents of cap-and-trade are going to pillory it as a tax anyway, why not go for the real thing – a simple, transparent, economy-wide carbon tax?" asked Friedman in his column last weekend.

Among the most thorough analysis came from Alan Durning of the Seattle-based Sightline Institute, which asked: Will BC Elections Turn on Carbon Tax Shift?

If the New Democrats want to contest Gordon Campbell's climate-change policy credentials, they have plenty of legitimate arguments at their disposal: the Liberals' support for expanding the oil and gas industry, for twinning the Port Mann Bridge, and for the highway-expanding megaproject Gateway. Instead, they have systematically misrepresented the facts, doing a disservice to the province's voters, not to mention the global quest for systemic solutions to the climate crisis.

Researcher Alan Durning called B.C.'s carbon tax "the single most progressive and environmentally responsible climate policy in the province--and one of the best in the world." His essay systematically refutes each of the NDP's leading assertions: that the tax is unfair, doesn't work, and lets big polluters off the hook.

"I hope this argument won't work," Durning writes. "The NDP... is playing fast and loose with the facts."

David Beers edits The Tyee.

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