On this day in 2008

Happy Canada Day! Happy carbon tax anniversary day!

Yes, on this day - 1st July - in 2008, British Columbia became the first jurisdiction in North America to introduce a consumer-based carbon tax.

Here's an old frame from Hansard - which appears in the film - of finance minister Carole Taylor announcing the carbon tax in the British Columbia legislature, the centre piece of a suite of policies aimed at acting on climate change. Beside Taylor are two key people in the film - over her shoulder is climate scientist Andrew Weaver, who was one the architects of the B.C. Liberal Party's climate plan, and in pink is Ida Chong, then MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head. Notice also Premier Gordon Campbell on the right who was the driving force behind the climate action plan.

While nobody likes being taxed, the BC carbon tax was set up to be "revenue neutral", meaning all the money raised through taxing fossil fuels is returned in the form of tax cuts to individuals and corporations, and subsidies for low-income households.

The BC carbon tax was introduced at a low rate of $10 per tonne of CO2 equivalent emissions and it was stepped up five dollars each year for the first five years, upon which it was to be reviewed:

  • 2008: $10 per tonne of CO2e
  • 2009: $15 per tonne of CO2e
  • 2010: $20 per tonne of CO2e
  • 2011: $25 per tonne of CO2e
  • 2012: $30 per tonne of CO2e

The idea of an escalating "polluter-pays" tax is to give people a chance to adjust their behaviour and minimise their carbon footprint.

The carbon tax got a mixed reception. The B.C. NDP party - the left leaning official Opposition - fought a campaign in the 2009 election to "axe the tax". The party saw the error of its stance after losing the election and came out in support of the carbon tax later.

Most climate change voters recognise that pricing carbon emissions is vital if we are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A rising tax gives a price signal to the market to take action or pay the penalty.

The BC carbon tax has been held up as a model the world over. Unfortunately, after Christy Clark succeeded Gordon Campbell as leader of the B.C. Liberal Party and Premier, she sent a different kind of message to the market: she froze the carbon tax at the 2012 rate of $30, where it's been ever since.