A new poll showing declining support for the provincial carbon tax is drawing a range of responses
The Innovative Research Group poll conducted for the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation shows almost half of surveyed British Columbians oppose the idea of a carbon tax.
Opposition is the strongest among voters of the Conservative Party of BC (72 per cent), among British Columbians 55 years older (59 per cent) and among those who earn more than $150,000 (58 per cent). Opposition also concentrates in the North/Interior with 58 per cent and among men with 53 per cent. Opposition against the tax is also strong among BC United voters with 61 per cent.
Opposition is lowest among voters of New Democrats and BC Greens with 33 and 34 per cent respectively, as well as residents of Vancouver Island with 44 per cent.
Opposition in vote-rich Lower Mainland and the Fraser Valley is 48 per cent. Overall support has been declining. Whereas 38 per cent strongly or somewhat supported the idea of a carbon tax in April 2023, that figure has dropped to 25 per cent. Those who somewhat or strongly oppose the idea has risen to 49 per cent in October from 35 per cent in April.
Carson Binda, BC Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said support is trending down because British Columbians can’t afford to keep paying the “outrageously high costs of the carbon tax,” adding that the carbon tax does not cut emissions, only budgets.
“Folks also understand how unfair it is for certain regions in the country — like the Atlantic provinces — to get carve-outs on home heating while the rest of us are paying through the teeth to stay warm this winter.”
Binda added that carbon taxes are regressive, hurting the poorest British Columbians.
The poll adds to a growing debate about the future of the carbon tax. Premier David Eby last week warned against pitting affordability against fighting climate change.
“So to tie that in with affordability, which every government knows we need to support people right now, is a mistake because if we want to be a prosperous jurisdiction in the future, we are going to have to reduce carbon pollution and be a leader in this space now,” he said.
Jens Wieting, senior forest and climate campaigner/science advisor with the Sierra Club of B.C., offers a similar message.
“Cost of living issues need to be addressed, but the carbon tax is not the problem as people in B.C. below a certain income receive hundreds of (dollars) in carbon tax rebates per year,” Wieting said. “The carbon tax is effective and suggestions to weaken this policy during an escalating climate crisis, instead of strengthening it, are worrisome. We are already faced with (damages worth billions) caused by climate change in B.C., year after year.”
Wieting was referring to a study that found B.C.’s heat dome, wildfire season and flooding cost the provincial economy up to $17.1 billion in 2021. Available estimates from the 2023 wildfire season peg the cost of fighting those fires at $1 billion. Wieting said B.C. needs stronger climate action on top of carbon pricing.
“There are opportunities to redirect misguided spending like fossil fuel subsidies to address affordability and make sure no one is left behind,” he said.
BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau agreed.
“The carbon tax shouldn’t be a scapegoat for affordability issues,” she said. While the tax might increase home heating costs, it is a key tool in fighting climate change, she said in urging British Columbians to look at the bigger picture.
“Instead of opposing the carbon tax, we should focus on cutting fossil fuel subsidies,” she said, noting that large companies like LNG Canada get what she calls a “sweetheart deal” that sees it pay $3o per tonne CO2 compared to $65 per tonne for ordinary British Columbians.
“If we’re all working to reduce our carbon footprint, shouldn’t large corporations do their fair share too?”
Conservative Party of BC Leader John Rustad said the poll is not surprising.
“When you are struggling to put food on the table, when you are struggling to pay rent or your mortgage and the cost of everything is going higher…it (the carbon tax) doesn’t make sense,” Rustad said. “When you think about there are three key thing that people need to survive,” he said. “They need a place to live, they need food and they need energy. Everything else is about your quality of life and right now, government processes and policies are making those three essentials of life more unaffordable and quite frankly out of reach for many people.”
The survey took place between Oct. 26-30 — so about one year before Oct. 19, 2024, the last possible date for the next provincial election.
When asked whether the carbon tax will still be an issue a year from now, Rustad believes the next election will take place in April rather than October 2024. “Even if it is in October, this is going to be an important issue,” he said. “By itself, it is not going to be the only issue that people vote on. I think affordability in general and…the economy in general is going to be a big factor.”
Rustad, whose party wants to eliminate the provincial carbon tax, also promised that his party would soon table its environmental platform.
BC United’s Peter Milobar said the poll reflects growing concerns about affordability and accused Eby of not recognizing those concerns. He also tried to differentiate his party’s position from that of the Conservatives, pointing out that their plan to eliminate the provincial carbon tax hinges on the federal Conservatives being elected two years from now and of course their own election.
“It (Conservatives forming government in) is simply not going to happen,” he said. “The next premier of British Columbia is going to be David Eby or Kevin Falcon. We have made it very clear where we stand on these types of tax measures.”
They include — at least for now — an immediate cut of the provincial fuel tax, which could have happen right after the next provincial election, and cancelling future carbon tax increases.
“I don’t think we are playing catch-up at all,” Milobar said. “The Prime Minister two weeks ago…changed the ground rules for carbon (taxation) in Canada in terms of home heating and we reacted,” he said. “But make no mistake about it — BC United and Kevin Falcon have made it clear that we will not be left at a competitive disadvantage on any level of taxation, let alone carbon tax.”