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B.C New Democrat Leader Carole James says her party will stick to its plan even if it means losing support from environmental groups. ((CBC))

The B.C. New Democrats' election pledge to scrap the carbon tax is not sitting well with three high-profile environmental groups.

The environmental organizations mounted a pre-election attack Monday on the party and its campaign promise to drop the provincial carbon tax.

The David Suzuki Foundation, the Pembina Institute and ForestEthics — on the same day NDP Leader Carole James opened her local campaign office in Victoria — called on the party to reverse its position on the tax.

Thousands of jobs in the green economy will be lost, and the province will lose its position as an environmental leader if the tax is dropped, the groups said.

'We disagree with the environmental movement.... We believe a bad tax is a bad tax.'— NDP Leader Carole James

Last Thursday, as she unveiled her party's platform for the May 12 election, James said the Liberals' carbon tax was unfair, would not work and came at the worst possible time for the province's economy.

"The NDP has chosen what they think will be a publicly acceptable but climate-irresponsible approach. And that is, they want to step backward the pricing of carbon and backwards on the policies that are in place in the hopes that that may get them elected," Merran Smith, a climate director with ForestEthics, said Monday.

British Columbians currently pay a carbon tax of about 2.4 cents per litre on fossil fuels, including gasoline. The tax is set to rise 50 per cent in July. Environmental groups cheered the carbon tax, saying it puts a price on pollution and starts the economic fight against climate change.

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Provincial Liberals are running on the strength of Gordon Campbell's eight-year reign as B.C. premier. ((CBC))

James said Monday her party will stick to its plan even if it means losing support from environmental groups.

"We disagree with the environmental movement," she said. "We believe a bad tax is a bad tax."

Scrapping the carbon tax will mean "a lot of money... when you're an individual who's having difficulty with your budget," she added.

'Time to stick together'

James, who has led the provincial NDP for the last 5½ years, also said the No. 1 issue among voters in the election is the state of economy, and she rebuffed criticism that the NDP platform is not strong enough to deal with the current tough economic times.

"That's the opportunity on the campaign trail. It's a chance to be able to talk about our vision for British Columbia," James said.

"It's time for us to stick together and elect a government that will work for the many, not the few. We can do it. We will do it."

Premier Gordon Campbell's Liberals became the first government in Canada to adopt an escalating carbon tax as part of a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by one-third before 2020.

Green efforts

The provincial Liberals agree the economy is a key theme in the campaign. The party's candidates are also promoting themselves as friends of the environment and champions of aboriginal rights.

On the eve of the official start of the campaign, Environment Minister Barry Penner announced two new protected wildlife areas in the Fraser Valley.

The first is a 915-hectare site just around McGillivray Slough along the Fraser River, west of Chilliwack. The area is designated a wildlife management area to protect birds, fish and animals.

The other site, a 71-hectare piece of land, is located along the Serpentine River in south Surrey. It provides a habitat for a variety of migratory waterfowl and other species.

Votes matter

Some voters in Vancouver said Monday they are concerned about many issues.

 "I would have to say that the carbon tax — that's an issue with me," Gin King told CBC News.

"A lot of places I've been, you know, luncheons through work and various meetings, people are very concerned about what's going to happen," said voter Bev Ellingson.

"This is a bad time to have the uncertainty of an election kind of hanging over everyone's head on top of the other uncertainties," she said.

David Mitchell, a political historian, said candidate performance directly affects voter choice and turnout.

"Votes do matter. We've seen that in British Columbia," Mitchell told CBC News in an interview from Ottawa.

"In fact, this election on May 12 is likely going to be decided by voter turnout," he said.

Corrections

  • The David Suzuki Foundation, the Pembina Institute and ForestEthics refer to themselves as non-partisan organizations, not traditional allies of the B.C. NDP, as originally reported.
    Apr 16, 2009 7:40 PM PT
With files from The Canadian Press