I think [Gordon] Campbell won the election in spite of the carbon tax, not because of it, and that [Carole] James almost rode a brilliant strategy to an upset victory in an election that would otherwise not have been close. -- Professor Mark Jaccard, carbon tax supporter
Since the May 12 provincial election, many columnists, political pundits and observers have all argued the New Democratic Party was badly hurt by its plan to eliminate the B.C. Liberals' carbon tax.
Some have even suggested the NDP lost the election because of its gas tax position, saying it cost the party the environmental votes needed to win.
For example, the Victoria Times-Colonist editorialized on June 13 that: "The party's silly campaign to axe the carbon tax was a dud."
But all the evidence indicates exactly the opposite -- the NDP gained votes and had a fighting chance of winning the election because of its anti-carbon tax policy.
So with Premier Gordon Campbell about to raise the carbon tax on July 1 by 1.2 cents a litre on gasoline and 1.3 cents on heating fuel, it's worth looking at what really happened.
Why the axe was sharp
Mark Jaccard is one of the few who got it right, all the more noteworthy because he is a strong advocate of the carbon tax and criticized the NDP when it opposed the B.C. Liberals' introduction of an initial 2.4 cent a litre gas tax in February 2008.
The reasons why "axe the tax" made sense are simple -- one, the gas tax was an unpopular idea for most voters and two, a majority of those who felt it was their biggest issue actually voted NDP.
Ipsos Reid exit polls of voters showed that the carbon tax was "very important" to 26% of those surveyed -- and of those, 57 per cent voted NDP, 25 per cent B.C. Liberal and 13 per cent Green Party.
And polling last year by Ipsos Reid found a majority of supporters of every party, including Greens, opposed the carbon tax, while an exclusive 24 hours poll by Strategic Communications showed 73 per cent did not believe it would be revenue neutral and 71 per cent disagreed with the government sending out $100 "climate action dividend" cheques to British Columbians.
No, the NDP's real problem in this election was obvious from the start -- Ipsos Reid reports that 60 per cent of voters felt economic issues were very important -- yet the party avoided meaningfully addressing B.C.'s number one concern.
It could also be expected that if some NDP voters were very opposed to the party's position on the carbon tax they would vote Green to protest.
But in fact that Green Party vote dropped one percent while the NDP vote went up 0.6 percent and the B.C. Liberals stayed the same. And the fledgling B.C. Conservative Party, which also strongly opposed the gas tax, took two percent of the vote with only 24 candidates running.
Jaccard rightly points out the NDP were 12 to 18 per cent behind the B.C. Liberals throughout 2007 and only got ahead in November 2008 after launching the axe the tax campaign earlier that year.
So it's easy to see why Jaccard concluded that: "Pundits are now concluding that because James lost the election and because it cost her some votes, her anti-tax campaign was dumb politics. This is faulty logic... My guess is that it provided a significant net gain relative to where the NDP stood in 2007."
James drops a winner
Like it or hate it, the NDP position on the carbon tax was the right one for them to take -- and it almost paid off with an election win.
What's bizarre now is NDP leader Carole James' decision last week to drop her party's fight and try to make "that tax more effective and more fair" -- just before it goes up again!
Related Tyee stories: