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Carbon tax all smoke and mirrors

In early July, the Globe and Mail published an article by Ross Beaty, Richard Lipsey, and Stewart Elgie entitled: "The shocking truth about B.C.'s carbon tax: It works".

In early July, the Globe and Mail published an article by Ross Beaty, Richard Lipsey, and Stewart Elgie entitled: "The shocking truth about B.C.'s carbon tax: It works".

The opening line pulled a quote from Mark Twain: "Never let the facts stand in the way of a good story."

The authors opine that Twain might have been describing Canada's current climate policy debate and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's often-repeated claim that a carbon tax would destroy jobs and growth.

They contend the evidence from British Columbia demonstrates this is not true. That data from Statistics Canada shows B.C.'s carbon tax has been a real environmental and economic success after six years. They say "it is a world-leading example of how to tackle one of the greatest global challenges of our time."

Is a carbon tax a good idea? Does it make economic sense? Has it helped the B.C. economy? More to the point, is it really a way to tackle one of the greatest global challenges of our time?

I would suggest it depends on what aspect of the story one considers.

Since 2008, the consumption of fuels covered by the tax has fallen 16.1 per cent in British Columbia, according Stewart Elgie on the Sustainable Prosperity's website, which is in contrast to the rest of the country where consumption has increased by three per cent.

On this basis, British Columbia is well on its way to meeting its targeted 33 per cent reduction in gas emissions by 2020. The carbon tax would appear to be achieving its goal of driving down consumption by increasing costs.

However, some consumption is unavoidable. Home heating, for example, is not a luxury item. It is an essential commodity. Yet it is charged a carbon tax. It is also tied to the climate and the weather.

I could argue gasoline and diesel are essential as well but that gets us into a completely different discussion. In any case, Elgie points out that British Columbia has seen modest declines in gasoline and diesel consumption.

The decline in gasoline and diesel are mirrored by similar declines in the rest of the country. Gasoline and diesel consumption is down everywhere. British Columbia leads Canada and certainly our decreased consumption is significant but it isn't all due to the carbon tax. Many other factors come into play including changes automotive standards introduced south of the border.

Decreased gasoline and diesel consumption is also indicative of our sluggish economy. The authors of the Globe and Mail article state that British Columbia has been economically successful over the past six years.

Yet if one considers GDP, British Columbia's has increased from $203.9 billion to $219.9 billion since the carbon tax was introduced. That is 7.87 per cent according to Statistics Canada.

Canada's GDP, on the other hand, has increased from $1.6 trillion to $1.8 trillion or by 10.56 per cent. Indeed, the rest of Canada has seen an increase of just over 10.95 per cent. British Columbia is weighing down Canada's growth in GDP.

Put it another way, in 2005, British Columbia represented 12.35 per cent of the Canadian economy. By 2012, that number had dropped to 12.08 per cent. This is not a large decrease but it is an indication that our economy has struggled. It is not growing as fast as the rest of the country in either absolute or relative terms.

We have not been economically successful.

Further, the Globe and Mail article points out that B.C. taxpayers are coming out ahead with the lowest personal income tax rates in Canada. True but it has nothing to do with the carbon tax. (And, as an aside, we are paying for the "lowest personal income tax rates in Canada" by also having no money for health care, education and social services. We have run up $15.1 billion in debt in the last three years alone.)

The money from the carbon tax doesn't go into general revenue. It supports corporate tax cuts. How does this help with personal income taxes? It doesn't. The carbon tax, by legislation, is revenue neutral. It is not helping with the tax burden.

The carbon tax was not a good idea, it hasn't helped our economy, and it really doesn't make economic sense.

But my real concern with the carbon tax is that it sounds like a good idea and allows politicians to triumphantly proclaim that British Columbia is leading the way while doing little to address the real issue. It is smoke and mirrors.

Particularly if you consider that Premier Christy Clark has been proclaiming liquid natural gas (LNG) as our economic savior. LNG consumption results in carbon dioxide - less than produced by coal or oil fired power plants - but carbon dioxide nonetheless.

Charging British Columbians a carbon tax to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels while selling fossil fuels to China isn't the best way to tackle one of the greatest global challenges of our time.

But the facts should never stand in the way of a good story.