Climate change is becoming a hot-button political issue in British Columbia with opposition parties launching election-style attacks on the New Democrat government's clean climate policies.

B.C. Conservative Leader John Rustad told a news conference Wednesday at the legislature that the NDP's climate policies are taxing people into poverty and levies like the province's carbon tax don't do anything "to change the weather."

If elected next year, the Conservatives would eliminate the carbon tax, roll back climate-friendly building codes and consider nuclear power as an energy option, he said.

Rustad's comments come a day after Opposition BC United Leader Kevin Falcon called the NDP's CleanBC climate plan economically destructive and promised to replace it with "common sense" measures that fight climate change without hurting taxpayers or losing thousands of jobs.

BC United would dump the government's CleanBC plan, instead ramping up liquefied natural gas export infrastructure in an effort to replace reliance on coal abroad and reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, he said.

CleanBC is the NDP government’s plan to lower harmful emissions by 40 per cent by 2030.

"I don't know what's more disturbing," Environment Minister George Heyman said at the legislature, "John Rustad's continuous denial that human activity causes climate change and we don't need to do anything about it or Kevin Falcon's desperate attempt to win back voters from the Conservatives by ripping up our climate plan."

Rustad, who was ejected from the former B.C. Liberal caucus, now BC United, for his climate change views, said he does not deny climate change exists but called it overplayed in B.C., and far from an "existential threat."

"Climate change is definitely real, no question about it," said Rustad, whose Conservatives hold two seats in the legislature.

B.C. opposition parties heat up climate debate with attacks on NDP's plans. #BCPoli #ClimateChange #ClimatePolicies

"However, it is only one of hundreds of factors associated with the climate," he said. "I want to be absolutely clear in saying this: We are not facing an existential threat from our changing climate."

Rustad said climate change is not the most pressing issue in B.C. or worldwide, adding the Conservatives are committed to making life more affordable for people and will not enter the "rabbit hole of hype, taxation, scare tactics and false promises."

Falcon, citing an August 2023 Business Council of B.C. report reviewing CleanBC, said the document suggests economic growth could slow to 0.4 per cent in 2030, with B.C.’s economy $28.1 billion smaller in seven years.

Premier David Eby defended the CleanBC plan during question period in the legislature Wednesday, saying B.C. is posting strong economic growth and fighting climate change.

"We're through year five of the CleanBC plan, and what we have seen is very clear," he said.

"Just last year, we added 60,000 new jobs and this year, so far, 47,000 new jobs. So I'll say that we can protect the climate for our kids. We can fight fires by fighting carbon pollution, and we can grow our economy just like we've been doing, just like we have to do."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 22, 2023.

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