Sorry, George. I support the carbon tax and cannot support your leadership.

George Abbott wants to put the carbon tax to a referendum – photo: Vancouver Sun

This week I returned from a lovely vacation with family members to a sunny clime. I think the last time I left town while the Christmas lights were still hanging was 1994, so you can probably guess all-inclusive vacations are not something we budget for often. The beauty of it was that my communications to and from back home were hacked back to almost nothing.

When I finally did get back online on Wednesday I caught bits and pieces of a "policy announcement" from one of the five (now six) declared BC Liberal leadership candidates. I have to confess I have profound respect for George Abbott. Before I left on vacation I had a conversation with relatives which led me to think he might be a good choice among the current field of candidates.

However, George did something that surprised and disappointed me when he proposed that we put BC’s carbon tax to a referendum ballot. It smacked of desperate politics aimed at currying favour with the tax’s critics. There are just so many things wrong with Abbott’s proposal I almost don’t know where to start, but here goes…

  1. Note to George: we already had a referendum on B.C.'s carbon tax – it was the 2009 election campaign. I was immensely proud of that electoral victory because of two things. First, the BC Liberals refused to "go negative" during their campaign. This is almost unprecedented in modern campaigns. And second, we got a majority government with the carbon tax as a ballot question. There were many who wanted to kill that tax, but they lost.
  2. Tax policy by referendum ballot has been the ruin of California. It’s expected that the Golden State may go bankrupt in 2011, thanks to the ill-considered use of so-called ‘direct democracy’ when setting tax policy.
  3. British Columbians income taxes are lowered, and northerners get additional credits to offset the costs of that carbon tax. Are we going to increase personal income taxes, or are we going to use a progressive consumption tax to help us to reduce energy consumption?
  4. Cap and trade is coming, but it’s a much more clumsy tool for reducing energy consumption. Yes, other jurisdictions are looking at other methods for putting a price on carbon, but they are also looking at British Columbia’s leadership to see what happens here.
  5. The carbon tax will give British Columbia an important international advantage as energy prices skyrocket. The carbon tax will also get businesses, organizations and local governments to sharpen their pencils to find ways to reduce energy consumption. For the tiny amount which the carbon tax adds to the price of energy it has a big impact – why on earth would we want to challenge that?

Now, to be fair to Abbott, he does say, "I believe we should retain the carbon tax. The issue is … should we be contemplating beyond July 1 of 2012 additional incremental increases to the carbon tax when the rest of North America is not dancing with us on this important issue?"

George, it’s called leadership and you know that British Columbia has done many things to innovate our economy. It's the reason we're viewed with envy by many other parts of the globe. There is a clear future here thanks to our investments in built infrastructure, health, pre & post-secondary education. The carbon tax is an important signal that our provincial government is thinking long term, not just about what today's price of gas is.

Kevin Falcon has also opened up the carbon tax Pandora’s Box, but in a way that looks a bit more measured. Like other candidates such as Moira Stilwell, Falcon has dismissed any notion of setting tax policy by referendum. As Stilwell told me Saturday, the people asked to have a say on the HST, but we’ve already had a vote on the carbon tax in 2009.

In my quest to decide who I will support for B.C.'s next Premier, I will be looking closely at policy statements by all the candidates. The issue of the carbon tax is an extremely important one to me, and regrettably George Abbott's nuanced statements are not enough for me. To get my support in February you need to stand by British Columbia's carbon tax – full stop.

- post by Mike

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