BC Liberal leadership candidate George Abbott – photo: PNG
I was winding down a vacation and catching up on news from home when I learned that BC Liberal leadership candidate George Abbott was proposing to put the continuation of B.C.'s carbon tax to a referendum ballot. Abbott, as I saw it, was putting tax policy to a vote. As much as we all cherish our democracy, taxation policy by referendum has been very problematic – especially in jurisdictions like the State of California.
George Abbott is a strong candidate for Premier, but this issue is a showstopper for me. I responded by saying his proposal would not allow me to personally support his candidacy. To his credit we've now heard back from George, and below is his response.
I recently read your editorial posted on January 9 regarding my proposal to add a question on the carbon tax alongside the HST referendum.
Obviously, I was disappointed you disagreed with my position on the matter. In hopes that you may reconsider that position, or at least pass this response along to your readers, I wanted to offer my response to the five points you raised.
1. “We already had a referendum on B.C.'s carbon tax – it was the 2009 election campaign”
In 2008, we introduced the carbon tax. I supported that tax, I voted for it, and I stood for it in the 2009 election – an election that BC Liberal government has won. Some have argued that represented a mandate for the carbon tax among other things, and that is why as a government we remained committed to that program.
But let’s be clear on the program and the mandate. In 2008, the commitment was to introduce and escalate the carbon tax over five years – starting at around 2 cents a litre with the intention to hit a peak level of around 7 cents in 2012. After that time, government would have to make a decision – does it keep increasing that tax indeterminately, or should there be a review period?
So what is the mandate for the carbon tax beyond 2012? That is not clear. What I do know is that we have a significant opportunity to pursue and define a renewed mandate for this program using a rare tool that is now right in front of us – the HST referendum vote, which will hopefully be held as early as June.
Under my commitment, a second question could be added to the HST ballot asking people to make a choice on the following: should the carbon tax continue to grow after it reaches its scheduled peak amount on July 1, 2012, or whether government should hold the tax at that level through 2015 to allow for a full review and assessment of the tax’s impacts and effectiveness. To be very clear, this option does not include eliminating the carbon tax come 2012; this is a question about expanding the tax further.
Some have said this decision is too important to put to the people. Frankly, I think it’s too important not to put to them. Politicians often speak about engagement with the public; this is a case where we have to mean it. It is especially important on issues that clearly affect the quality of life for individuals and families.
I believe that at a time when people are facing a world that is very different than the one in 2008, we need to take these opportunities to ensure that the government’s mandate is the right one. And with this vote, whatever the outcome is, we’ll know that the next phase of our climate agenda will reflect a mandate from the people and from that perspective will ultimately be the right choice. If we truly want to “stand by British Columbia’s carbon tax – full stop” (your words), then I believe that means all British Columbians standing together.