B.C.’s Opposition United struggled to get public attention this week for a promised cut to carbon and fuel taxes, but the party’s rural MLAs say its positions are already registering as a big hit in the province’s interior and north.
Leader Kevin Falcon said he’ll eliminate the carbon tax on all home heating fuel, expanding upon Ottawa’s surprise move to end it only on oil furnaces in rural areas in some province (B.C. was not included).
“Our goal is to make life more affordable for people, and to do that you must reduce costs for people, it’s that simple,” said Falcon. “End the pain at the pump. Cancel David Eby’s planned carbon tax hikes. Provide affordable home heating. And lower grocery costs.”
Unlike Ottawa, which focused only on home heating oil, Falcon’s plan would cover propane and natural gas heating as well.
Only around 1.8 per cent of households in B.C. used heating oil in 2020, roughly 39,400 people, according to Natural Resources Canada. But more than half the province used natural gas for heating.
“This is huge,” said Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier.
“It’s been one of the things that ever since I’ve been an MLA people have been coming into my office complaining about the carbon tax and the impact it has, because they have no choice.”
BC resisting carbon tax cuts
The federal move was accompanied by financial assistance to transition to heat pumps. The BC New Democrat government also signed a deal with the federal government on heat pumps assistance this week, but has so far shied away from carbon tax cuts.
“People get really frustrated when they hear the NDP say put in a heat pump — well that doesn’t work in Dawson Creek in -40C in the winter time. People are forced to use their natural gas furnaces, There’s no option.
“I’ve already had people call me saying this will make a difference of $500, to $600 to $700 a year on their gas bill from carbon tax alone.”
BC United promises end to fuel tax at pump
BC United also promised to end the provincial fuel tax on gas and diesel, which, combined with a halt to future increases to the overall carbon tax, could save around 25 cents a litre at the pump or more than $30 a tank when filling up a pickup truck.
Those savings are also a big hit in the interior and north, where public transit is limited and driving is essential, said Bernier.
“We don’t have the luxury of rapid transit or the luxury of being able to ride bikes, we don’t have a choice but to drive our vehicles around to get our kids to events or work,” he said.
“Affordability hits everybody differently in different parts of the province, but saving on carbon tax on natural gas and gas that hits everybody in one way or another.”
‘We’re not going to react with a rash decision’
Premier David Eby made no promise to follow suit, saying instead his government is focused on climate tax credits to middle and low-income families.
“The federal government’s made a rash decision and we’re not going to react with a rash decision of our own,” said Energy Minister Josie Osborne. “So we need a careful, thoughtful approach.”
The United plan calls for the elimination of the carbon tax in agriculture-related fuels as well. That could lead to major savings for farmers who use natural gas for agriculture, such as grain dryers, large barns, storage facilities and more.
“A lot of our businesses, say a logging contractor, you have a shop and the heating cost drives up a lot of costs, their bills are astronomical,” said Coralee Oakes, MLA for Cariboo North.
“This is going to have a direct impact on resource based communities.”
The BC Cattlemen’s Association said it was still studying the BC United proposal to identify where its members might save money.
Eby says $5 billion in tax cuts too costly
Much of the debate over the carbon tax may become a moot point if federal Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre wins the next federal election and follows through on his promise to axe the tax entirely.
B.C. could still hang on to its own carbon tax though, even if that happens. Falcon said that would put the province at a competitive disadvantage and he’d follow Ottawa’s lead to end it. Eby said he’d keep the tax in place no matter what a future federal government decides.
Eby said the cost of the BC United tax cuts, at $5 billion over three years, are too expensive and challenged Falcon to identify where he’ll find the savings. However, the BC NDP have tabled a three-year budget plan for $14 billion in deficits as well.
“We’re going to continue to find ways to support people with the costs that they’re facing,” said Eby, when asked if he’ll match either Ottawa’s move federally on the carbon tax, or BC United’s proposal.
“But what we’re not going to do is what you’re seeing the federal government do, and what you’re seeing the opposition do, which is protect certain types of heat sources.
“The federal government wants to protect home heating oil for some reason. BC United wants to protect fossil fuel heating sources. We want to protect people from increased costs, support them with those costs and support them in switching to cleaner sources of energy.”
Falcon said he’ll take his carbon tax cuts to voters in next year’s provincial election to argue the NDP have twisted the program from what was once a $30 a tonne revenue-neutral tax, into a cash grab that’s set to rise to $170 a tonne by 2030.
“Government today has lost the plot,” he said. They now are marching that up to levels which will be devastating for families in British Columbia. And I cannot support that.
“When circumstances change, and you see the impact that it’s having on people, and importantly, you also do not see reduced emissions resulting from it, that’s when you’ve got to pivot and look at other things that we can do to achieve better outcomes.”