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The political frenzy around the carbon tax continued as B.C. politicians returned to work this week.

The federally mandated carbon price jumped to $80 a tonne from $65 on April 1, an increase that translates into approximately three cents extra a litre at the pump.

Like his federal counterpart Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, B.C. Premier David Eby is in the eye of a political firestorm as the last provincial leader to back the carbon tax that puts a price on carbon pollution.

Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew recently confirmed he’ll craft an alternative to the carbon tax, joining seven other provinces — Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador — pushing to sink the carbon levy. Quebec has implemented a cap-and-trade system in place of the carbon tax.

On Thursday, Eby acknowledged fierce debate is underway over the carbon price but reiterated his commitment to measures that combat climate emergencies while unveiling a new wildfire training and education centre in Kamloops.

“Our province is in the middle of what I would say is an unfortunate debate about whether or not we continue to take action on climate change in this province,” he said.

The premier said staying the course would guarantee a future for younger generations and economic growth.

“It's going to [be] a low-carbon future and we need to be part of that if we want to be economically successful,” Eby said.

Implemented provincially in 2008 by the former BC Liberals — the now renamed BC United party — the provincial carbon tax was the first geared to reduce fossil fuel emissions and drive clean energy innovation.

B.C. Premier David Eby's loyalty to the carbon tax has landed him at the centre of a political maelstrom on carbon pricing, which the BC Green Party calls a distraction from the big-picture solutions needed for climate change.

BC United, however, has dropped any allegiance to the tax launched by former premier Gordon Campbell. Party members led a tag-team attack on the tax alongside the B.C. Conservatives in the legislature this week, arguing the price increase will aggravate the affordability crisis for gas, groceries and heating.

Conservative Party of Canada Leader Pierre Poilievre also joined the fray, timing a visit to the West Coast as the increase went into effect across the country Monday. Poilievre has been sparring with Eby after the premier rebuffed his call to join the fight against carbon pricing last month. Eby labelled the request a “baloney factory" campaign tactic. Leading an “axe the tax” rally in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, Poilievre promised to ditch the tax if elected and back the expansion of fossil fuels, including liquified natural gas (LNG).

Eby called out MLAs who have changed their stance on the tax earlier this week. In the legislature, he noted BC United MLA Shirley Bond’s opposition, saying she was once a very vocal advocate for the carbon price while in government.

“I think that all British Columbians see the forest fires, the drought, the impacts on farmers, on our province right now and they want a government that will continue to take action on climate change,” Eby said.

The premier and Environment Minister George Heyman dismissed the idea people would pay more as a result of the federal price hike.

Every penny is going back to people — low- and middle-income people — through the climate action tax credit, Heyman said.

The constant wrangling over the carbon tax is a distraction from measures necessary to address affordability and the climate crisis, BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau told Canada’s National Observer.

She too said it’s ironic that BC United is dropping its predecessor's carbon pricing strategy like a hot potato.

And the BC NDP is now the target of “axe the tax” crusades since former party leader John Horgan devised the catchphrase to campaign against the carbon tax in its early days, Furstenau said. “What goes around, comes around. B.C. politics can give you whiplash,” she said.

BC United and the provincial Conservatives reject all climate solutions, yet ignore the immense social and financial and social costs tied to climate impacts like floods, drought and wildfires, Furstenau said.

Canada’s economy may face a $5.5-trillion hit by the end of the century due to climate change, recent studies suggest.

And even the Eby government commits to climate initiatives like the carbon tax, but undermines them by pursuing the expansion of fossil fuels, like liquified natural gas projects, responsible for nearly a fifth of the province’s emissions, she added.

Political conversations around the carbon price ignore the bigger picture and obscure the fact that the oil and gas sector industry in Canada earned $70 billion in profits in 2022, Furstenau said, adding the biggest polluters need to pay their fair share.

The Canada LNG project, set to come online next year and become the biggest source of planet-heating emissions in the province, has carbon pricing fixed at $30 a tonne.

“The carbon tax goes up year over year for everybody in B.C. at a time when the single biggest polluter gets discount rates on their carbon,” Furstenau said.

“If we are serious about creating conditions for better affordability for people, the government would look at investing in a massive investment in public transit, ensuring that people can move around within and between their communities at a low cost.”

— With a file from John Woodside/ Canada’s National Observer

Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada's National Observer

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I sure hope David Eby's government doesn't cave in to this pressure to abandon the carbon tax. Please write letters to your MLA and the premier expressing your support for it.

The demand for LNG in Asia will decline as renewables take its place. The IEA has run the numbers, based on observed results, and their projections have been consistently less than the actual number of gigawatts produced worldwide that come online each year. IEA forecasters seem to always be shocked by the much higher rate of the advent of renewables, which was again recently catalyzed by recent advances in battery technology.

BC's LNG project managers and financiers would do well to conduct professional risk assessments. What can they actually afford to accomplish? My guess is that sales may be decent for a few years, then start to taper off likely around 2030.

The issues BC needs to deal with are the deep involvement of some First Nations in LNG projects with a best before date, the amount of public hydro electricity LNG will consume and at what rate, and old economic models fully open to foreign influence to keep Canada as a source of raw materials instead of a producer of advanced products.

Federal and provincial governments that are capable of foresight (doubtful, that) would find better uses for that public power. Reshoring steel making from China and electrifying it to produce low emission products would be, in my opinion, a great project for Prince George or Kamloops (both cities are connected to the continental rail network). The level of public subsidies would likely be no more than what is dished out to fossil fuel industry for stupid ideas like CCUS. First Nations should be welcomed as full partners. Innovative private industry delving into green steel today could be given ideal commercialization starting points in Canada. MIT spin-off Boston Metal is now developing smelter-sized furnaces that use a hydrolysis process to melt steel without using coal or limestone. They'll be ready for market in 2026. Sweden has plunged into green steel using green hydrogen for heat energy.

This is 21st Century stuff. But here we are, still firmly rooted in the 17th Century rip 'n ship natural resource economic model. Will Canada ever break free form its past?

Great comment, Alex! Thanks for the useful information about green steel!