John Horgan spins leak on carbon tax hike to pump up NDP plan
Several of the New Democratic Party’s political anxieties were placed on the public record Thursday, thanks to a leaked copy of the planning document for Opposition leader John Horgan’s promise to increase the carbon tax starting in 2020.
The “not for circulation draft” of the NDP communications plan was obtained by the B.C. Liberals and released to the news media 90 minutes before the Opposition party’s own news conference on the subject.
Horgan didn’t disavow the document. He could scarcely do that when his presentation echoed numerous passages in the leaked copy word for word.
Instead he fell back on thanking the Liberals for drawing attention to his plan, saying it was deliberately crafted to address the failings of the government response to climate change.
For all that Horgan tried to minimize the embarrassment of the apparent act of treachery from within his own organization, I was struck by how the document revealed the behind-the-scenes political thinking that shaped Thursday’s announcement.
“We do not want to, and cannot afford to, leave this opening for the Green party,” said a telling passage in the list of strategic considerations that went into the NDP decision to hike the carbon tax.
Publicly, New Democrats dismiss Green party leader Andrew Weaver as a one-man show. Privately, they fret about him poaching their supporters, splitting the vote in swing ridings and perhaps crossing the four-seat threshold to gain official party status in the legislature at the NDP’s expense.
As well as the announcement on the carbon tax, fear of Weaver likely contributed to Horgan’s increasingly hostile stance on other issues, like Site C and liquefied natural gas development.
Another standout passage on the list of strategic considerations raised another fear: “If we do not have a specific proposal, Premier Christy Clark will make one up for us (‘They’re planning to raise your carbon tax, but they won’t tell you when or how much until after the election’), as she has already done in ads.
“The best defence is a good offence — the specific proposal. They are going to accuse us of having an increase planned whether we like it or not.”
After losing four elections in a row, New Democrats are understandably concerned about the governing party’s ability to brand them as tax-and-spend before they get around to branding themselves.
Witness the followup discussion on how things could play out after the decision to hike the B.C. carbon tax so it reaches the federal target for a Canada-wide rate starting in 2022.
“The B.C. Liberals will call it a tax increase — and they’ll holler from the rooftops in rural B.C.,” concedes the NDP planning document.
“We must holler back with: ‘Our plan puts more money in the pocket for a majority of B.C. families. Hers doesn’t. Our plan actually accomplishes the goals of a carbon tax — reducing carbon pollution. Hers doesn’t. Our plan creates good jobs that last in a more sustainable economy with more opportunities for the future. Hers doesn’t.’
“Our tone is loud and proud. It’s the right thing to do. Putting people before big corporations. It’s good for families. Good for B.C. Defends our environment. Check. Check. Check. A public policy hat trick.”
If the New Democrats win the May 9 election, they would leave the carbon tax at the current rate of $30 per metric tonne of emissions until 2020.
By then, British Columbians will have been paying $30 for eight years. When the Liberals reaffirmed that intention last summer, some environmental leaders blasted them for complacency. Perhaps standing pat at $30 will be more acceptable politically if done under the banner of the NDP.
In any event, Horgan proposes to increase the carbon tax to $36 in 2020, $43 in 2021 and $50 (in line with the federal target) in 2022.
Nor, for all his criticisms of the Liberal scheme, did the NDP leader announced any changes to the tax reductions and rebates brought in by the Liberals under the guise of making the carbon tax revenue neutral.
Though the audited financial statements indicate the carbon tax is bringing in several hundred millions dollars less than the value of the tax cuts — making the tax revenue negative as opposed to neutral — the New Democrats intend to leave the structure in place for now.
Horgan did promise some future relief from the tax for low and middle income British Columbians. The proceeds from that $6 jump in 2020 will be returned via rebate cheques covering 80 per cent of B.C. families.
The first cheques will go out in the spring of 2020 with a second round of rebates to follow ahead of the provincial election scheduled for May 2021.
George Heyman, NDP environment critic and lead spokesman for the Opposition on this issue, estimates that the rebate cheques would use up most of the money from the two increases in the tax.
As for the NDP promise to invest the balance of the proceeds in “job creation and green economic growth,” Heyman concedes that the tax probably won’t raise enough to do much in that regard until 2021, or almost the end of the first term of an NDP government.
Thus from the details announced Thursday, the Horgan plan is not as dramatic a departure from the Liberal carbon tax regime as the NDP’s “loud and proud” rhetoric made out.