Thursday, May 28, 2009

Is the carbon tax now viable public policy?

In the wake of Gordon Campbell’s victory in British Columbia, there has been an initiation of punditry suggesting that the Carbon Tax is now a viable policy despite the post mortem of the Dion Campaign blaming the demise of the Liberal Party of Canada on the ill advised Green Shift. Now that a politician has won a campaign against perceived long odds in Canada with a carbon tax as a central platform issue, many who advocate that policy are drawing attention to its role in Campbell’s victory. First, I disagree that Gordon Campbell won because of the carbon tax; if that is indeed what Andrew Coyne was hypothesizing in a recent MacLean’s piece. A year ago when gas prices were high and the tax was introduced, polls showed BC went roughly 60% - 70% against the tax, which is why the NDP adopted "axe the tax" as its chief election issue. Since the tax was introduced, gas prices have fallen by just under 60 cents per litre. Now people are just less pissed off about it rather than supportive of it.

There are certainly people who support the carbon tax which I would peg somewhere between 30%-40% of the population. Did Gordon Campbell lure people who voted NDP or Green in the last election over to his side this time? It is difficult to measure. Popular vote (of the less than half of eligible voters who voted) has the proportions remarkably similar to the previous election. So if he won left leaning votes, it was offset by an exodus in the other direction (which would require right wingers to vote Marxist). I think it is safe to say that the right wing of Campbell's Liberals (who vote Conservative federally) stayed in his tent out of fear of an NDP victory. For example, someone decided to start a BC Conservative party which ran this time for the first time. This party ended up with about 2% of the popular vote, even in ridings where the Tories win over 60% federally.

As much as I enjoy throwing hyperbolic flaming bags of shit at the NDP, they governed BC from 1991 to 2001 and they really fucked up. Unlike Bob Rae, they were not governing at a time of world wide recession. In the late 90s there was a boom period everywhere but here. From 1951 to 1991 the Social Credit Party (which is ostensibly a breed of Libertarianism) won 11 of 12 elections, but eventually collapsed over scandal. When the Socred ship sank, the NDP won back to back elections; they proceeded to do what the NDP does best and devastated the BC economy. The right wing vote flocked en masse to the next best option, and out of the ashes of NDP Scorched Earth came back-to-back-to-back center-right majorities by Gordon Campbell.

To come back around to the carbon tax, the Green Shit of Stephane Dion was very unpopular out here because we already had a carbon tax. I do not support carbon taxes, nor do I support cap and trade. But for those who believe it is necessary to burn less fossil fuels, a carbon tax really is the most efficient means of attaining that goal. Cap and trade creates a massive bureaucracy to measure, regulate and enforce. Carbon tax accomplishes the same goal for a fraction of the effort. I voted for Gordon Campbell's party, and I can at least reconcile my opposition to his carbon tax under the guise of "fossil fuels are a finite resource and eventually we will require an alternative, and a carbon tax makes an alternative more profitable". Despite the fact that I believe the market will do that on its own regardless as the supply of dead dinosaurs dries up.

Remember, in the last Federal election BC voted 44% Tory, 26% NDP, 19% Liberal, 9% Green. The Liberals fell over 8% in BC popular vote from 2008 over 2006 under the Dion Green Shit. The hypothesis that Gordon Campbell won his third mandate BECAUSE of the carbon tax is just wrong; he was simply the lesser of two evils. Opinion polls showed every party leader was regarded unfavourably by the electorate, hence the low voter turn out. In my blog I called it the “none of the above” election. One radio guy joked that he could have won the election if he started the none of the above party. I think most pragmatic people out here recognized that a recession is a terrible time to put the NDP in the driver’s seat, especially considering that they crashed into the median when times were good. At the end of the nineties, they fell from in power to two seats, the second worst collapse of a sitting government in the history of Provincial elections. Unlike when it happened to the Tories federally, the NDP did not split in three. Their fall from grace was because they really sucked that badly.


  1. It's simple. If you introduce a carbon tax when gas prices are low and convince them someone else will pay to ease your conscience (Alberta) then you can sell a tax to a grateful population.

    If the consumer suffers the tax directly, then it's a no go. (Dion)

    Best to wait until prices drop again. (Campbell)

    Even better, make it complicated like a cap and trade scheme. Then, convince them someone else will pay (Alberta) and let the cost creep up on people over time. By then, it's too late to do anything about it. (Harper)

  2. But, the tax was introduced when gas prices were high in BC. It was not until the election that prices had fallen. Campbell did not wait until prices were low to introduce the tax, they were low when he had to fight an election that included the tax as a major issue.

  3. Exactly! No choice, except for a semblance of fiscal sanity. I was lucky in my riding to have a conservative. I knew the Liberal would win, so cast my vote for this fledgling conservative party - my wee protest against no choice: carbon tax #1 or carbon tax #2.