The British Columbia government is reconsidering the income criteria for electric vehicle rebates it announced in August after receiving complaints they are unfair to single parents.
Victoria resident Jelena Putnik said she was among those “devastated” to learn the rebates are more generous for couples who live together than they are for single parents like her.
“It needs to get rectified quickly,” she said. “I am really frustrated. We struggle so hard as single parents and this was just such an obvious oversight.”
Under the policy, a “household” that makes as much as $125,000 a year is eligible for the maximum rebate of $4,000 when they buy a qualifying electric vehicle.
The government, however, only considers people to be a “household” if they are a “group of persons that is married or in a common-law relationship and who occupy the same dwelling in B.C. and do not have a usual place of residence elsewhere in Canada or abroad.”
A single parent with children, on the other hand, is considered an “individual” under the government’s criteria. They can only get the maximum rebate if they earn under $80,000 a year.
Smaller rebates are available for those earning more than the thresholds, but there’s a similar inequity as they phase out at $165,000 for a household and at $100,000 for an individual.
The government’s announcement said the income levels were set “To ensure that EV rebates are available for people and families who need them most.”
Putnik would like to replace her 17-year-old car, which is becoming unreliable and getting expensive to repair, with an electric vehicle. She needs one that has enough range to make it over the Malahat to the Cowichan Valley, where her former partner and co-parent lives, and back to Victoria. She makes the 180-kilometre round trip to pick up or drop off one of her children as many as three times a week.
It would be a stretch for her to afford the new electric vehicle she hopes to buy and getting the full $4,000 rebate would make a big difference, she said.
Putnik works in the public sector and adds to her income by renting space in her home, doing some contract work and selling produce at a stand outside her home. Her gross annual income is above $80,000, but below $125,000.
“I used to think $80,000 was a huge income, but not in this city now,” she said, noting that while many families struggle with the high cost of housing, affording a home is especially challenging for single parents.
The B.C. government has repeatedly said it carefully considers how its decisions will affect different people.
It uses a “Gender-Based Analysis Plus” tool intended “to assess how diverse groups of people may experience policies, programs and initiatives.” Decision-makers are supposed to examine their own assumptions, consider who they consult, think about who may be left behind and ensure equitable outcomes.
Putnik raised concerns about the electric vehicle rebate program first with Grace Lore, the MLA for Victoria-Beacon Hill and the parliamentary secretary for gender equity, then in an email to Finance Minister Selina Robinson and Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation Minister Bruce Ralston.
“This policy and definition of household is completely discriminatory against single parents that have an even more difficult time than dual-parent households in making ends meet,” she wrote to the ministers.
Under the government’s electric vehicle policy, a couple with no kids who may have lower housing costs than she does can get a larger rebate, she said. “This is inequity.”
The Tyee asked representatives of the various ministries involved in the program to explain why there are lower income thresholds for single-parent families than for other families and to give its reasons for defining “households” as only including people in married or common-law relationships sharing a home.
In response a spokesperson for the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation said the government is considering changing the policy.
“Since launching the program, government has received feedback from some customers inquiring about income thresholds for the vehicle rebate, in the context of single-income families with one or more dependants,” they said. “We are currently investigating the customer concerns and may adapt program design as necessary.”
The goal was to help British Columbians with low and moderate incomes “regardless of region, age, gender and ethnic identity” to buy electric vehicles that they wouldn’t otherwise have bought without the help of a rebate, they said.
Based on income tax returns from 2020, the province estimates about 90 per cent of British Columbians are eligible for at least a partial rebate.
The federal government also provides up to $5,000 to people buying a zero-emission vehicle.
Putnik said she is encouraged by the provincial government’s commitment to reconsider the policy, but added that it needs to act quickly so that people like her can get on waiting lists for scarce vehicles.
“It’s such a blatant inequity issue,” she said, noting that most single parents are women. “As a single parent you have so many other costs.”
If the government is really committed to expanding the number of electric vehicles bought in the province each year, she said, they should make it affordable for those who need the help the most.