Ever since the B.C. carbon tax was announced in February it's been attacked from both left and right as a tax grab that will hurt the average British Columbian.
One of the most persistent critics has been the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Their tax-grab argument, however, appears to be based on some questionable numbers.
In a series of opinion pieces in CanWest newspapers including the National Post, the Vancouver Sun and the Province, federation officials have argued that the carbon tax is going to hurt middle-class families.
For example, John Williamson, federal director of the Taxpayers Federation, wrote last month in an article that ran in the Post and the Sun that "a two-income family earning $90,000 with two kids will save $85 this year in lower personal income taxes. Yet, according to the B.C. budget, that same family will pay an additional $100 in gas taxes and another $35 in home heating costs.
"B.C.'s tax shifting translates into a middle-class tax increase."
Maureen Bader, B.C. director of the federation, said essentially the same thing in the Province.
The problem is, the budget doesn't say that.
It's got plenty of figures on how different people will fare under the carbon tax, which comes into effect July 1. But every scenario shows taxpayers coming out ahead, thanks to the income tax breaks that will be funded by the carbon tax.
Finance minister mystified by group's claim
The budget does talk about a hypothetical family making $90,000. It does say the carbon tax will cost them about $100 more to drive their cars. That's in 2009, when the tax will be in effect for the full year.
And the budget does say that this family will get $85 back in income tax cuts -- in 2008, when the carbon tax and the tax cuts will be in effect for only half the year.
According to the budget, the tax breaks for 2009 work out to $224. Total carbon taxes are $149 -- meaning that our imaginary family comes out ahead by $75 at the end of the year.
Furthermore, the Taxpayers Federation figures don't include the $100 one-time "Climate Action Dividend," the government plans to give every British Columbian in June. That's another $400 for our hypothetical family.
"I don't know where their numbers have come from," Finance Minister Carole Taylor told The Tyee. "I know a lot of people were mixing up the half year and the full year."
'Sort of a guesstimate'
The Taxpayers Federation's Bader told The Tyee that the group's figures are a "sort of a guesstimate" for 2008 based on numbers contained in the budget.
The carbon taxes associated with driving, for example, were based on the assumption that our hypothetical family drives a total of 40,000 kilometres a year in two cars that get between 10 litres/100 kilometres and 12.5 litres/100 kilometres, she said.
However, this assumption still doesn't give you an extra gas cost of $100 over six months, as the federation articles argue.
Even if both cars burn 12.5 litres/100 kilometre, over 40,000 kilometres that works out to 5,000 litres. Multiplying that by 2.41 cents a litre -- the starting price for the carbon tax -- gives you $121.
But again, that's for a full year.
Over the last six months of 2008, Bader's "guesstimate" would work out to $60 and change, tops.
(While 20,000 kilometres a year is often cited as an average figure for calculating gas consumption, Statistics Canada estimates that the average vehicle in B.C. travels 12,218 km a year. StatsCan says drivers in B.C. drive the least of any province.)
Bader said the scenarios given in the budget tend to lowball the impact of the carbon tax.
"Of course they're going to make assumptions that are going to look good for them. It's all a matter of what assumptions you make."
CTF's site links to global warming deniers
The Taxpayers Federation has shown considerable skepticism around the whole question of man-made climate change.
"Climate change is taking place; it always has. Yet the media and politicians present the view that climate change is bad and humans are solely responsible for destruction of the earth without any critical analysis or competing theories.
"Your CTF is a taxpayer, not science advocacy organization. But as long as the world is presented one viewpoint of so-called global-warming 'science' no tax-funded cost will be deemed inappropriate if it involves saving Mother Earth.
"Governments are now spending billions of tax dollars not only on questionable policy objectives of little measurable result but increasingly on alarmist propaganda. Please have a look at this Canadian-based website www.friendsofscience.org for more thoughtful information."
Friends of Science vs. Kyoto accord
The web site belongs to the group Friends of Science, which was "formed a few years ago in Alberta by academics and former oil industry insiders, among others, to challenge Canada's participation in the international Kyoto accord," according to the Calgary Herald.
Part of the group's mission is to "cast doubt on peer reviewed research that suggests human activity is causing dangerous changes to the climate and irreversible damage to Earth's ecosystems," the Herald said.
The Herald reported in February that Friends of Science took out a series of advertisements during the last federal election attacking the previous Liberal government's spending on climate change.
"They were financed through an elaborate system that allowed $200,000 to flow from a 53-year-old charity into a trust account at the University of Calgary," the Herald reported.
University officials shut down the account after an internal audit "that concluded its trust account had been used to 'support a partisan viewpoint on climate change,'" the Herald said.
Kevin Grandia, of DeSmogBlog, has complained to Elections Canada that Friends of Science broke the law by spending more than $500 on political advertising without registering as a third-party advertiser.
Tomorrow -- How will the carbon tax affect rural British Columbians?
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