NDP backtracks on carbon tax, opposition to IPPs

B.C. New Democrats are backing away from their opposition to the government's carbon tax and their call for an immediate moratorium on independent power projects (IPPs).
B.C. NDP Leader Carole James says her party will work to make the carbon tax 'more effective and more fair.' ((CBC))

B.C. New Democrats are backing away from their opposition to the government's carbon tax and their call for an immediate moratorium on independent power projects (IPPs).

Premier Gordon Campbell couldn't be more pleased by the decision announced by NDP Leader Carole James on Thursday.

"I think Ms. James is now trying to repair a party that was badly damaged by the fact they were expedient instead of principled," the premier said Friday. "But they have been the most anti-environmental political party in the country."

James said Friday the party's "job is to make that tax more effective and more fair."

Rob Fleming, the NDP's environment critic, refused to use the word "moratorium" when asked several times by reporters at the legislature on Friday about the party's stand on IPPs, instead calling for a more thorough environmental review of the controversial projects.

"There are all kinds of renewable energy applications in British Columbia right now, and I think some of them are very interesting," he told reporters at the legislature.

Later in the day, after Fleming's comments were broadcast in the media, he called CBC News to indicate the party still supported a moratorium on IPP's while the proposed environmental review was conducted.

Both the carbon tax and IPPs were powerful issues during the recent provincial election. The NDP came under heavy fire from environmentalists, including the David Suzuki Foundation, for their opposition to the carbon tax.

Carbon tax gaining popularity

The carbon tax is gaining support within the province and across Canada, according to research presented at a three-day forum in Vancouver hosted by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions.

The forum of about 250 people, which ended June 10, heard from a wide range of climate-change experts and policy-makers from government and the business, academic and NGO communities, according to a PICS news release.

Michael Adams presented the forum with a new public opinion survey conducted by his firm, Environics Research, which found that the groundbreaking carbon tax — which has had a rough ride since being introduced almost 12 months ago — has recaptured public support over the past year, not only in B.C., but across the country.

In B.C., close to half (48 per cent) of residents now say they strongly or somewhat support the tax on all carbon-based fuels used by consumers and businesses as a way to encourage reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, Adams said. That compares with 47 per cent who oppose it. 

These findings reflect increased support since last July (shortly after the tax came into effect) when only 40 per cent expressed support versus 56 per cent who opposed it. Current support for the tax is close to, but not quite fully back to, the level achieved in February 2008 soon after the measure was announced by the BC government.

B.C. is the only jurisdiction that has implemented a carbon tax to date, but results from the survey reveal that Canadians across the country are also warming up to this approach to fighting climate change, the PICS news release said.

Support has increased since last July in every province, most noticeably in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Across the country, support approaches 50 per cent from the Atlantic provinces to Manitoba, and remains somewhat lower in Saskatchewan (41 per cent) and Alberta (44 per cent).

Call for action

While the poll’s trends back the comments made by speakers at the forum, forum co-chair  Nancy Olewiler said speakers also expressed concern about the current lack of action at the national level on pricing carbon.

"There are fears Canada may be competitively disadvantaged in the face of fast-developing climate change initiatives in the U.S.," the Simon Fraser University professor said in the news release. "We simply cannot sit back and wait for the U.S. to develop its policy without having our own concerted federal action on climate change." 

Stewart Elgie, a member of Sustainable Prosperity, which co-sponsored the forum, agreed.

"We need to put a price on carbon nationally — not just within B.C.," the Ottawa University law professor said. "B.C. has shown the kind of strong leadership we need to see across all of Canada if we are to build a stronger, cleaner economy, and if Canada is to have any real say in global climate decisions."

The survey was conducted by telephone from May 21 to 26, 2009 with a representative sample of 2,003 Canadians (250 of whom are in British Columbia). A sample of this size drawn from the national population would be expected to provide results within plus or minus 2.2 percentage points, 95 out of 100 times (plus or minus 6.2 percentage points for the B.C. sample).

PICS, created in 2008 by the provincial government, is hosted and led by the University of Victoria in collaboration with the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and the University of Northern British Columbia.

Its goal is to increase understanding of the magnitude and patterns of climate change; evaluate its physical, economic, and social implications; assess options and develop solutions; and communicate climate change issues to government, industry and the general public.

The forum co-sponsor, Sustainable Prosperity, is a new policy research centre that aims to build a healthy environment and economy.