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Carbon Tax Shift Gaining Favor Across Canada?

Posted by Anna Fahey

As British Columbia acknowledges the one year anniversary of the landmark carbon tax shift policy, the revenue-neutral tax recently bumped prices at the pump from 2.4 cents to 3.6 cents a litre. But the price change at the pump hasn't drastically altered public opinion one way or another. In fact, as reported in Sightline Daily today, carbon tax shifting appears to be gaining favor across Canada.

A quick refresher on carbon tax shifts: The plan literally shifts taxes, it doesn't add taxes. All revenue generated by the carbon tax in BC are returned to individuals and businesses through reductions in other taxes. But that's not always abundantly evident to consumers when they're standing at the filling station and opening their wallets. That's probably why public support has been moderate at the very least.

Here are highlights from recent Canadian polling by Environics on carbon tax shifting:

  • Almost half of B.C. residents support the tax (last July, 40 percent expressed support and 56 percent opposed it). Current support for the tax is close to, but not quite fully back to the level achieved in February 2008 soon after the measure was first announced by the BC government (but not yet implemented).

  • When asked how they would feel about the introduction of a B.C.-style carbon tax in their own province, opinions remain divided in every province.

  • Nonetheless, support has increased since last July in every province, most noticeably in Alberta (up 17 points) and Saskatchewan (up 13 points).

  • Across the country, support approaches 50 per cent from the Atlantic provinces to Manitoba, and remains somewhat lower in Saskatchewan (41percent) and Alberta (44 percent).

It should be noted that revenue-neutrality is not a concept that's readily accepted by the public--even in BC where it's already happening. One 2008 poll conducted before the provincial elections found that 71 percent of respondents and 64 percent of low income respondents disagreed with BC's Climate Action Dividend--likely due in large part to the fact that three quarters of respondents did not believe that the tax was really revenue neutral. Tax shift advocates will need to deal with this common misperception before the public embraces this smart energy policy.


The survey was conducted by Environics, by telephone from May 21 to 26 with a representative sample of 2,003 Canadians, including 250 in British Columbia.

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But is it working to reduce carbon consumption? The language used in this article suggests its largely going unnoticed.

Or is it too early to tell? The way I see it, the more successful the tax is at reducing consumption, the higher the tax will have to become to generate the revenues needed. This should drive down consumption even further.

Posted by: Derek Andrews on 6 Jul 09

I can only hope that the US considers a tax shift approach to climate change before it's too late.

Posted by: CTF on 6 Jul 09

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